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Docking and Mooring

When it's time to leave your boat, you need to know how to dock or moor it safely.

Docking Your Boat

When you have to tie your boat up to a dock, you want to know what you're doing. Not only can you damage your boat if it hits the dock, but you also want to look cool as you expertly tie those knots. To keep your boat from crashing into the dock, you'll need to know how to use dock lines and fenders, which are the cushions you put between your boat and the dock.


You should have at least six dock lines: two for the bow, two for the stern, and two spring lines, which are pivot lines that keep the boat from moving forward or astern. The dock lines should be at least 2/3 the length of your boat, and the spring lines should be at least the same length as your boat.

The diameter of the lines depends on the size and weight of your boat. If your boat is under 20 feet, use lines that are 3/8-inch in diameter. For every 10 feet of additional boat length, add another 1/8 inch to the diameter. Your boat won't be damaged by having its dock lines too large, so when in doubt, choose the next larger size.

Nylon rope makes the best dock lines. Nylon line comes in two types. Three-strand twisted rope, also called laid line, is strong and stretches to help absorb shock. Unfortunately, it kinks easily and is hard on the hands. If you coil a laid line clockwise, it will kink less.

The other type of nylon rope is braided. Although it rarely kinks and is much easier on the hands, it wears out faster and costs more.

Once you buy your lines, you need to take care of them. Whenever you put your line through a chock, use a chafing guard around it. You can buy chafing guards or use a piece of old garden hose.

Inspect the lines for wear and replace when necessary. Also check for knots in the lines. A knot can reduce the breaking strength of the line by as much as 50%. If you find a knot in the line, untie it before you use it.

If you don't already know how to tie a proper hitch knot, ask someone to teach you how. You can also find websites with animated directions for tying all kinds of knots.

Preparing to Dock

  1. Be sure at least one of the bow lines is attached to the boat, and the fenders are out in position.
  2. Slow down.
  3. Whenever docking or undocking, strict attention should be paid to conditions at hand. Your safety and the safety of your passengers depends upon attention to boating traffic, water current and depth along with the strength and direction of the wind.

    If the wind is blowing toward the dock, stop your boat parallel to the dock about two feet away. The wind will blow you in. Throw the bow line onto the dock and secure it.

    If the wind is blowing away from the dock, head for the dock at a 20° to 30° angle. When you get near enough to the dock, throw the bow line onto the dock and secure it.
    • If you have an outboard motor, turn the engine toward the dock and put it in reverse to bring the stern into the dock.
    • If you have an inboard motor, you will use the rudder to bring the stern in. First attach a forward spring line to keep the boat from moving forward. Then with the engine idling forward, turn the wheel away from the dock. The rudder will push the stern in.
  4. Secure the rest of the lines as shown below. Be sure the lines run cleanly from the cleat or chock to the dock.

Mooring Buoys

A mooring buoy is a float in the water that is attached on the bottom end to the ground, either by an anchor or by being drilled into the ground. The top end of the buoy has some way of connecting a line to your boat. There are advantages to using a mooring buoy instead of throwing out the anchor from your boat:

  • Your boat is less likely to drift and end up running aground, hitting another object or drifting into an unsafe area.
  • The mooring won't cause damage to the ground like your anchor would if you anchored near a reef or other fragile area.

Docking to a Mooring Buoy

  1. Slowly approach the buoy from down wind and/or down current. If the wind and current are going in different directions, decide which one has more effect on your boat and approach against it.
  2. Use a mooring line about half the length of your boat. Tie one end of the line to a cleat on the deck of your boat and pass the other end through the eyebolt of the pick-up line on the buoy. Then secure the second end to the same cleat.
  3. Check to see how your boat is pulling on the buoy. If it isn't a horizontal pull, increase the length of the mooring line.

If your boat is small, you can tie off to another boat so that larger vessels have access to the buoys.

If you have a sailboat, do not leave large sails up to steady your boat. This puts too much strain on the eyebolt in the buoy.


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