Mooring a boat - A step-by-step guide

5th November 2021 Elena Manighetti

Mooring a boat - A step-by-step guide

Mooring a boat means securing her to a fixed object, such as a mooring buoy or dock. New boaters can find this process intimidating at first. It’s not particularly difficult, but you need to know what you’re doing. In this article, we will look at how to do it easily and safely every time.

How to tie to a mooring ball

Before we dive into the practical steps, we need to mention that not all mooring balls are safe. Free mooring buoys are generally less well-maintained than rental ones. However, maintenance usually happens on a yearly basis, so not all moorings are well-secured. 

If you can, ask around about the quality of a mooring field before trusting it for the night. Alternatively, you can dive on the mooring to check its condition once the boat is secured and the engine off.

Before making plans, make sure to research the mooring field to check that it’s deep enough for your draught.

To tie to a mooring ball, follow these steps.

  1. Approach the mooring field slowly and look for a good spot for your size of boat

  2. Once you have chosen the buoy, motor towards it, going against the wind

  3. Keep an eye on the depth sounder, if you have one

  4. Position yourself on the bow with a boat hook

  5. Guide the person at the helm towards the buoy with clear hand signals

  6. Grab the tether with the boat hook and drag it on board

  7. Tie the tether to a cleat on deck as quickly as possible

  8. Inspect the mooring equipment - is it in good condition? 

  9. If it all looks good, settle in.

Some buoys have instructions attached to them, which state the maximum size of boat they can accommodate.

If you’re just staying just for a few hours or for the day, you can get away with using the tether only, if it’s in good shape and fits well around your cleat. 

If you’re spending the night, however, you’ll want to tie two lines, one on each side of the boat, on cleats, pass them through the eye of the buoy, and re-tie them to the cleats. Adjust each line until they are of even length. It’s always best to have a backup, in case the wind picks up. This arrangement will create the least amount of chafe.

How to moor to a dock

Mooring to a dock is slightly more complicated. You need to consider:

  • The wind direction and strength

  • The amount of windage of your boat 

  • If there are any currents, such as a tidal current

  • Any shallow spots near or around the dock.

For docking at a marina, in a harbour, or a public dock, follow these steps.

  1. If you have crew on board, run through the docking plan and give clear instructions

  2. Tie fenders around the hull - try to guess where the dock will touch the topsides

  3. Tie bow, stern, and midship lines on the side of the boat that will be next to the dock

  4. Make sure the lines don’t fall into the water and are nicely coiled

  5. Approach the slip or dock as slowly as possible; go into neutral if you pick up speed

  6. Turn into the slip and once you’re almost fully in, go into neutral

  7. Put the boat into reverse just before you need to stop

  8. Don’t use your body to stop your boat from moving - you could get seriously injured

  9. Step off the boat with the bow and spring lines in your hands

  10. Tie the mooring lines to the dock to secure the boat in place.

When approaching the dock, if you’re going against the wind, head in at a steep angle to the pier and turn sharply at the last minute; this will prevent you from being blown out by the wind. 

If you’re going with the wind, come into the dock at a narrow angle and let the wind push your boat up against the dock.

If you have more than one engine, apply more reverse than forward to spin in place, while if you have a joystick, move it in small increments to create momentum.

In windy conditions, you will need to maneuvre a little faster. If it’s too windy, you may have to wait until the conditions improve. It can be hard to counteract and account for the force of the wind, especially if there are strong gusts. 

If you absolutely have to dock, try to go to a marina and ask for the staff's assistance. While fellow boaters may be able to help, they may not know the best way to moor your type of boat in high winds.

Where to tie mooring lines 

There are many ways to tie a boat to a dock, which vary depending on the conditions. The principle is to use the mooring lines to limit the boat’s motion, in order to keep her in place. You will need to consider the wind strength, any swell, the tidal range, and the amount of time you will be away for.

As a rule of thumb, if you leave the boat for more than half a day, you will need to account for tide changes by leaving some slack in the lines. In windy and swelly conditions, you will need to tie extra lines that will stop the boat moving in any direction. 

You can tie up to nine lines from one side of your boat to a dock:

  • stern line

  • aft quarter spring

  • quarter breast

  • forward quarter spring

  • midship breast

  • after bow spring

  • forward bow breast

  • forward spring

  • and bowline. 

Breast lines come off the boat at a right angle to her and regulate how much the boat can move toward or away from the dock. Springlines run at a shallow angle along some of the length of the boat and stop her from moving forward or backwards. Bow and stern lines do a little bit of both.

Where you tie each line depends on the weather and how your boat is docked. The best way to learn how to do it is to observe how your boat moves at the dock and use as many lines as you think are necessary to keep her in place. If there is no wind to help you decide, push her in various directions and see how she is affected. Make adjustments until you’re satisfied.

If you plan to leave the boat for more than a few days or there is some heavy weather in the forecast, you’ll want to add some chafe gear to your lines. Sliding some plastic water hose onto each line is a cheap and easy solution. Check that your fenders are well tied up and can’t chafe on anything. If they drop in the water, your topsides may get scratched. 

That’s it. It may seem a little overwhelming at first, because there are so many things to bear in mind, but once you memorise them, you will do everything instinctively. 

Download the Deckee app from the App Store or Google Play to plan your next boating adventure. You can measure distances on the map, log and record your trips, inspect marinas and boat ramps, and more.