We gathered together a panel of experts to bring you their top advice on mooring a boat from security to skills and protection
You can moor in the heart of the city when cruising Newcastle. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Mooring a boat can be difficult for even the most experienced yacht owner, and for those who are just starting out on their boating journey it can be a, frankly, daunting exercise.
Mooring can come in all shapes and forms. For many, particularly those in the UK, berthing in a marina in a berth or against a finger pontoon is likely to be the most common mooring method you will come across. This is relatively simple compared to other types of mooring, but there is still quite a lot of skill and understanding of your boat’s manoeuvrability in such close quarters.
Even mooring in a marina you will often have to deal with tide and almost always will have to cope with head, stern or cross winds all making the process rather more difficult.
For those looking to sail in the Mediterranean will need to get familiar with mooring stern-to or perhaps the less common (though popular in scandinavian countries) box mooring.
And that’s all before we even get onto the subject of mooring different types of boat from long keelers, to multihulls all require a subtly different approach.
Although it is not possible to provide advice for every situation, we’ve gathered together a panel of Yachting Monthly’s experts to give you some useful tips and tricks covering many different types of mooring.
Lazy lines can be heavy to haul. Credit: Vyv Cox
Throughout the Mediterranean, boats berth stern-to in ports, harbours and marinas that are equipped with lazy lines, sometimes known as ‘slime lines’, although in many cases ‘barnacle lines’ might be more appropriate.
These lines, usually one per boat of less than about 38ft but often two at berths for bigger boats, comprise rope that is attached below the water to chain.
In most cases the chain will be fairly short lengths of large stuff, at least 1 inch, attached to an even heavier ground chain running at right angles to the berths and made off to large concrete blocks.
The usual arrangement is that boats motor astern to the wall, making off warps from each stern cleat to bollards on the quay, positioned close enough so that crew can step off, then carrying the line forward and making it off on a forward cleat.
Hauling the lazy line aboard, especially if the ground chain is only a short distance ahead of the boat, requires effort.
It is common to see two crew members hauling on this line in their efforts to pull it tight, especially in the customary cross-wind of so many Mediterranean harbours.
A greatly preferable method is to pass the stern warps around whatever bollards are available, then let them out to their maximum length while the lazy line is fully hauled in, but without great effort.
The boat is then motored hard astern while the stern warps are tightened, lifting the chain off the bottom quite comfortably.
If it proves that the stern lines pull the boat too close to the wall the process is repeated until everything is tight.
Should a big blow ensue, your boat will be one of the few that remain steady in perfect safety.
Make sure fenders hang clear of the water when you moor a boat
Any mooch around boats left berthed on marina finger pontoons will manifest an astonishing array of diverse mooring arrangements.
While most will be securely left with a proper range of lines and springs, some owners seem to be content to leave their craft attached with sundry bits of randomly arranged string.
A similar range of fendering techniques can be seen: too many, too few, too short, too long, and often misplaced.
At the very least use bow and stern lines with a pair of springs preventing surge fore and aft.
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Use one line per job, doubling up to combine a bow line and a spring precludes individual adjustment.
Most finger berths are not of generous proportions meaning that the use of breast lines is superfluous – the bow and stern lines will usually be adequate.
Protect against chafing, and make sure your sensibly spaced fenders won’t get tangled and hang clear of the water.
Finally, resist the temptation to use old sheets and polypropylene rope.
Proper bespoke nylon or polyester mooring lines give the stretch, strength, and abrasion resistance necessary for you to be confident of finding your boat where you left it.
Old fire hose provides excellent protection to mooring lines. Credit: Rachael Sprot
We go through an awful lot of mooring lines on our trips. We’re often tying up on concrete walls in fishing ports or commercial wharves in the high latitudes, and the lines take quite a beating.
We’ve tried every form of anti-chafe out there, from sanitary hose to extremely expensive ballistic sleeve, but so far old fire hose has been the best.
It has just the right balance between being flexible and tough, and at around £1 per metre it is some of the cheapest material around.
If you want to make it easier to use you can ask your sail maker to cut it lengthways and stitch a piece of Velcro up the edge to make it easier to wrap around a line.
A chain of fenders is better against a post when you moor a boat. Credit: Ken Endean
Quaysides with vertical posts can be tricky mooring proposition for small craft because their fenders are reluctant to stay in place against the posts.
The timber staging at Steamer Quay, Totnes on the River Dart, is a particularly annoying example of this type of structure, as it was promoted as a suitable mooring for yachts but its posts are widely spaced.
The conventional solution is a fender board, rigged outboard of the fenders.
When we moored at a ladder, we rigged our fender board amidships, where it gave protection against the ladder and an adjacent post (see below), but it was clear the gunwale also required protection against the next post, and we only carry one fender board.
A fender board can provide some protection when you are mooring a boat against posts. Credit: Ken Endean
The best answer is a necklace of fenders, laced together end to end, and slung below the gunwale.
At Totnes, we managed with only two fenders but we have used up to five in the past, especially in harbours where swell or gusty winds were causing boats to surge fore-and-aft.
The fenders must obviously be sausage-shaped, with eyes at both ends.
If each fender lanyard is led through the ’empty’ eye of its neighbour and then up to a lifeline, the row is likely to remain stable.
Tip for mooring a boat: Remember to do a full OXO to keep your boat secure, not a hybrid of the cleat hitch, shown here . Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly
Before we set off on our Atlantic crossing, my wonderful RYA instructor was emphatic that locking turns on a cleat were both unnecessary and potentially dangerous unless the boat was being left for some time.
In any procedure, be it routine or urgent, being unable to release a line from a cleat in a timely manner can cause nautical embarrassment and sharp words from the skipper.
One of my friends is a devotee of locking turns, and on one occasion in my absence he kindly adjusted the tension on my mooring lines, leaving them secured with a pile of locking turns.
When I returned to the boat it was a real struggle to release them – Aurial’s surging in the gusty conditions had tightened the hitch and the locking turns had locked.
My instructor held that the only acceptable method of cleating off was using the time honoured ‘OXO’ method – a turn around the base, a criss-cross over each horn, and a final turn round the cleat.
This leaves a neat, secure, and compact hitch that won’t come undone and leaves enough space on the cleat for another line on top, if needed.
I’m happy for a final single locking turn on top of the OXO if I desire extra security, but never more than one when mooring a boat.
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