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Warping a Boat Around at the Dock

The Resourceful Sailor has given us lots of tips and tricks about conducting repairs on our boats. Recently he’s been up to something different and has sent us the following post and video describing how to warp your sailboat at the dock. Wondering what that means? Read on …

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the third entry of “warp,” as a verb, defines it as: “to move (something, such as a ship) by hauling on a line attached to a fixed object.”

I have warped Sampaguita, my Flicka 20 sailboat, many times at various places. I sometimes find it easiest and safest to move the boat around in tight spaces with guiding lines while remaining on the dock.

Sampaguita is full-keeled. Under power, she makes wide turns and can be temperamental about going backward. The outboard motor is mounted off-center on the transom, so no propeller wash is flowing over the rudder. I can angle the prop side to side for maneuverability, but prop walk effects are atypical, and the traditional technique of ‘back and fill’ does not apply. (What are those, you say? Subjects of a different article.)

At times, the outboard engine has been off the boat for some DIY maintenance. Or I have been at shallow docks and wished the boat were pointing the opposite way. Or I was just feeling that the process of rinsing and flushing the motor afterward was too much trouble. No problem, I warped it around.

Warping a boat
Warping Moment — Sampaguita being warped around in her slip.
© 2021 Joshua Wheeler

Warping the boat takes some planning. A couple of long lines on opposite sides are necessary, as are fenders. Each location will take a different approach, and nature has a way of constantly changing the variables. I like to imagine my way through the process first and test the boat before I fully cast off the lines. I factor in wind and currents and try to use them to my advantage. If they are too strong, opposing each other, or pinning the boat to the dock, I may wait for a more favorable time or get some helping hands. Improvisation on the theme is often necessary.

The following video is just one specific circumstance. In this particular case, there is no wind, but a slight current is flowing into the slip. The boat drifts back to the dock, so I pivot it around with my foot. A Flicka 20 is a ‘big’ little boat. With the weight and windage, choosing the wrong time or trying to hurry can be trouble. I have had to drop emergency hitches onto nearby cleats, feeling the boat would get away from me or pull me in. I go slow, feel how the boat will handle, work with the natural forces, and guide it.

Video by: The Resourceful Sailor

Usually, I can do this maneuver by myself. I imagine there would be a bit more of everything with a larger boat. Happy warping.

The Resourceful Sailor aims to offer tips to help keep fellow boaters on the water. Remember, keep your solutions prudent and safe, and have a blast.


  1. Damon Cruz 3 years ago

    We’ve had to warp a time or two, and even been pulled out of a slip with a line to the opposite dock, with a dinghy pushing our nose around, to get out of a slip we were lucky to have entered without scraping or grounding. It’s a good thing for everyone to know.

    With a smaller boat like your Flicka, a sculling oar (Chinese style) or a pair of oars, either type being shortened by disassembly.

    • Joshua Wheeler 3 years ago

      Damon, thanks for reading. Yes, I have been considering making a yuloh. I think it would be easier to store than oars.

  2. Cliff C. 3 years ago

    We (my wife and I) have warped our 30′ Newport around in a tight fairway many times. I am always on the dock providing the power and turning force with the lines while my wife is on deck as a safety in case a line comes loose/breaks or fending off another boat or obstacle is needed. Many people in our marina have never seen or done warping before.

    • Joshua Wheeler 3 years ago

      Cliff, thanks for reading. Happy sailing.

  3. Jim D. 3 years ago

    With 3 of us, we have warped a 46 Morris in a tight slip several times. Took long lines and slows she goes. Just a reminder, always put those lines around dock cleats; have seen a few “strong” men pulled off the dock by their mistress.

  4. Leigh Burrows 3 years ago

    Nice job. That was pretty smooth.

  5. Michael L Workman 2 years ago

    When I’m not hauling out the boat for winter, I scrub the hull at the dock with a Scrubbis device. This year I have a slip mate, and I need to warp my boat to clean the other side from my finger dock. I Google ‘warping’ a boat at dock and find your site for warping a Flicka 20. And wouldn’t you know it – I can now warp my Flicka 20 – Citadel referring to you warping your Flicka 20 – Sampaguita. How serendipitous is that!

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