Better Boating

The Art of Using Dockwa

As much was we love cruising with a guest couple on board, I have to admit that I love the way the My Buzzards Bay Flotilla has grown in the last year.

Our first trip was Nantucket with Doc Ruel on True North and the Iannini’s on Ducelet back in 2018.

The MBB Flotilla at The Nantucket Boat Basin

Since then we’ve added Ocean Drive, The Eighth Day, and Sea La Vie to the fold. And recently Precious Cargo and Vigilant’s new owners Tom and Terry have joined our floating social club.

A successful flotilla depends on everyone getting a slip and then docking near one another and in the heat of summer, dockage shortages can ruin the fun.

Vigilant’s new owner Tom asked me a few questions about using Dockwa and it occurred to me that there is an art to using Dockwa.

What is Dockwa?

If you’re following this site you’re probably into cruising and you’ve probably used Dockwa. But even if you used it, there are a number of subtleties that you may not know and that’s the story I want to share.

Back in 2018 I did a report called Dockwa The Disrupter! which was a basic introduction to what has been a true technological breakthrough in cruising. In that piece I described Dockwas as:

“Think of it as Travelocity for cruising. You create an account storing your boat details, contact info, and a form of payment. From there, you search for a marina, study details, fees, policies, and reviews from other boaters. Once you find one you like, you book it.”

My Buzzards Bay – January 28, 2018

I suggest you give this a read, but let me say right off the bat that as great a tool as it is, Dockwa is not actually Travelocity for Cruising…

What Dockwa Does and Doesn’t Do

Once you’ve set up your account, the user experience is somewhat similar to that of an online hotel booking service like Travelocity, but under the hood, it’s quite different.

First of all, when the confetti graphics come showering down, all you’ve done is successfully made a Request for a slip or mooring, not an actual booking. It’s not a booking until the dockmaster goes in and confirms it.

Also, unlike a hotel reservation, your credit card gets charged as soon as the Dockmaster confirms your booking.

Some major marinas and most Safe Harbor operated marinas will confirm within the hour. On the other hand, some places only check Dockwa first thing in the morning or even more sporadically.

A Dockwa booking is kind of a one-way street. Once it passes through each stage, it really can’t be modified.

And unlike Travel Reservation Sites – which are designed to enable rapid comparison shopping, Dockwa pretty much just gives you a list of marina’s in a geographic region and it’s up to you to look up availability, price, amenities, and cancellation policies.

I don’t know about you, but when I plan a multi-port cruise, it’s a bit of a mosaic whereby I consider all of the above before booking. Even with Dockwa it can take hours to decide when to go to Block Island, when to go to Newport and where to stay, etc…

Generally, my primary goal is to never lose a nickel of my deposit fees!

Sticking with Dockwa, the easiest way to do this is to focus on marina’s with cancellation policies that are reasonable enough to enable us to cancel our trip if the weather forecast looks bad.

Here are some of my favorites:

48 Hours is always plenty of time to size up the weather forecast and make a go/no-go decision.

At the other extreme are marina’s with cancellation polices that are truly onerous.

Here’s the worst one I’ve found…

This is pretty much the standard on Block Island, but I did find another Marina that cut me a little slack when the weather caused us to skip the first night of our stay (an unwritten policy).

In the case of Champlins, I messaged them seeking flexibility and discovered it was as bad as could be:

Having now made the trip to Block Island twice on Vigilant in 8-10 foot waves, I’ve come up with a different strategy for BI (more on that later).

Unwritten Polices

A few years ago my friend Paul mentioned that he had dockage credits at three different marinas and I asked him what that was all about. I learned that many (not all) marinas allow you to reschedule a booking to a later date. Some up to the last minute if the weather’s bad.

I’ve done this a few times and also asked about it (as I did with Champlain’s above).

I’ve found most will do something and some even outright cancel and credit back your deposit. Recently, I was thinking about taking a trip to Provincetown and checking out the updated marina when I discovered this…

I’m happy to see a marina publish a policy covering this topic and I think it will probably enable me to finally visit Ptown!

Dockwa Cruising Strategies

I started this report talking about flotillas. One thing is for sure, Flotilla’s only work if everyone gets a slip. So let me walk you through some of the techniques I’ve used over the years to make sure I get a slip, get everyone in the Flotillas near each other, and most importantly, avoid losing deposits!

  1. Request on Dockwa Then Call – As I mentioned above, not every marina works on the same turnaround schedule, so I generally call the marina a few hours after I send my request in on Dockwa. You will typically get a yes/no right away. If everyone in the Flotilla has also processed a request, this is a good time to tell the Dockmaster the other boats you’re traveling with. By the way, it’s kind of a waste of time to call before you’ve processed a request on Dockwa.
  2. Chart Your Cruise Around Cancellation Policies – The cruising season is a short here in New England. Many boaters still work for a living and thus cruise on weekends. For this reason, I like to plan my weekend stays at the marinas that have the most forgiving cancellation policies. I also like to book them well in advance. Then I can “pencil in” visits to the marina’s with the more onerous cancellation policies for the weekdays before or after.

    Example:
    – Book Friday and Saturday at the Newport Yacht Club a month out.
    – Book Wednesday/Thursday on Block Island at the last minute based on weather.
    – Add in Cuttyhunk or Menemsha for cruising to/from BI

    You can do the same thing for Provincetown. Book the weekend at Sandwich or Plymouth and then add in some weekdays at Provincetown at the last minute (once you know the weather forecast.)
  3. Learn Each Marina’s Unofficial Reschedule Policy – As I mentioned above, Ptown Marina is the first marine I’ve seen that actually publishes a reasonable policy on rescheduling a reservation inside the cancellation window, but other than Chaplin’s, I’ve found most do. I’d love to publish my own list, but I’m not sure it would be a good idea.

    First of all, I’m not sure they’re actually policies, it could just be that I got lucky the day I called and the person I was dealing with had a big heart. Second, I have seen them change these unwritten policies in just few weeks time. Third, I’m afraid if they are due to someone with a big heart and the boss finds out, they may no longer be available.

    I suggest you simply ask each marina you stay at and write it down in your log book. And if you have a question about the reschedule policy of any of the marina’s I’ve reviewed on My Buzzards Bay contact me and I’ll try to answer you ASAP.
  4. Go Onerous Early in the Season – As you get to know marina’s official cancellation polices and develop your own list of marina’s with more flexibility, you can use this information to plan your cruises.

    Plan your visits to the marina’s with onerous 14-30 day official cancellation policies (and offer some rescheduling flexibility) for your early summer trips. Most will not allow you to reschedule beyond the current season, but if you book June/July and have to reschedule, you can still catch August.
  5. Survival Strategies – Suppose you followed all of my proceeding tips and you still find yourself in weather related jam (as I have many times).

    There are a few survival strategies that will help you avoid flushing hundreds of docking fees down the drain…

    Leave at the crack of dawn: We have done this many times when heading to Nantucket on a day with Small Craft Warnings. Buzzards Bay is notorious for beautiful mornings that turn into holy hell at 11:00 AM.

    Leave a Day Early – We did this the first year we took Vigilant to Block Island. We were scheduled to arrive on Saturday and there were Gale Warnings forecast for Rhode Island Sound. Fortunately, Friday night was open at Ballard’s (since people were cancelling) and we simply enjoyed a lovely run over and then hunkered down for the storm.

    Layover – If we had not been able to get into Ballard’s a day early, there are still other ways to mitigate rough weather. When it comes to Block Island, the Town Dock, Payne’s and Champlain’s all raft on their docks and will generally take in all comers, so if you’re booked at the BI Boat Basin or Ballard’s and you can’t get in, you may still be able to head over a day early and then move.

    Another option would be to go a day early and stop somewhere closer.

    Heading to Block Island – Stop in Newport

    Heading to Nantucket – Stop in Edgartown

    Heading to Boston – Stop in Sandwich or Plymouth

    Taking 2 hours off your trip will enable you make a quick run to your destination during early morning (hopefully) calm seas.

That’s all I can think of for now. If nothing else, I hope you now realize that planning your trip doesn’t just mean clicked Book Now on Dockwa!

Categories: Better Boating

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