Mooring 101: Best Practices, Worst Mistakes
It’s not just your mooring lines that require attention. It’s also what you tie them to at the dock.
You head into the harbor at the end of a voyage and tie up in the marina, looking forward to a well-earned meal ashore. But do you ever think about what you are mooring your yacht to?
Many of us take marina pontoons, mooring systems and posts for granted. When you think about it, though, the safety of your yacht depends on them being in good order. It is different when you anchor, because the whole responsibility for the safety of the yacht is in your hands. In marinas, you hand over a bit of the responsibility to the marina owners, who hopefully have maintained the mooring cleats and pontoons in good order.
Those mooring cleats or rings on the marina pontoon can look so safe and secure that you don’t even think about what they might be attached to underneath. Usually, they are attached to the pontoon with bolts whose hidden end is in a hostile, corrosion-creating environment. I would guess that the bolts only get looked at when the marina pontoons are overhauled, which might be every five years or so.
I contacted several marina pontoon manufacturers to try and find out what the safe working load on the mooring fittings might be, and how those fittings are secured. The response was dismal. Only one supplier said that the mooring cleats on its pontoons had a safe working load of 3 tons. That should be adequate for midrange yachts, but with mooring lines on larger yachts having a breaking strain many times that figure, the mooring fitting could be the weak spot in the tie-up system.
Now, to be fair, I am not aware of any cases when mooring cleats gave way. But there are certainly cases when ships were partially cast adrift because a mooring bollard on the quay failed.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize risk. The obvious one is to put mooring lines at one end of the yacht onto multiple fittings. If you spread the load between two or more cleats, then there should always be at least one line left if something fails. And, of course, you are reducing the strain on each mooring fitting.
In many marinas, though, you are not offered any choice about where and how to attach your mooring lines. With finger pontoons, you will be lucky to find two cleats: one at the outer end, and one toward the main pontoon section. The finger pontoons may only reach halfway along the hull of your yacht, putting extra strain on the mooring lines because they will run almost parallel with the hull and not at close to 90 degrees to hold the boat alongside.
In considering this overall situation, perhaps it’s a good time to look at the mooring fittings on board your yacht, as well. Some are made as small as possible and tucked away in tight corners; just bending down to manage the mooring line can be a struggle, let alone examining the fittings. Think about the stresses those fittings might have to handle if you are obliged to ask for a tow, or if you have to tow someone else’s boat.
Assuming that the attachment points for mooring lines are strong enough, what about the fairleads and fittings that take the line through the bulwarks or under the rails? I see so many that are much too small for the size of line they have to handle, forcing the line to take a sharp turn at the fairlead, and weakening the line considerably. Then there are those fairleads with sharp edges that can quickly chafe and and weaken a line. Those, just have replaced. They’re not worth the style points.
In any mooring system, you probably want the line to be the weak point so that it breaks before a fitting gets pulled out of the deck or before the pontoon end pulls out of the pontoon deck. A good, strong mooring line does have a margin of safety when it gets worn.
It is best to moor alongside using bights of the line rather than just sending the eye ashore to put over the cleat on the pontoon. I always send the non-loop end of a mooring line ashore if there is someone there to help. Get that dockhand to put the line through the eye of the pontoon cleat and then pass the line back on board to you. This way, the line or loop cannot jump off the cleat if there is wave movement.
As for the eye in the other end, put it over one of your mooring fittings. Then, you can always adjust the line from on board rather than have to go ashore to do the job.
And here’s another pro tip: When letting go the line, always let go of the non-loop end and keep the loop end on board. You can guarantee that if you let the loop end go, it will hook itself over the cleat when you try to pull it back on board.
Never take your mooring lines across to a fitting on the far side of the pontoon, and don’t jam up somebody else’s mooring line by winding yours over the top. Attaching several lines on top of one another not only makes it challenging when you want to let yourself go, but it also puts a considerable extra strain on that mooring cleat—which may or may not be secure in the first place.