Boat Handling Tips for Mooring Ball Mastery

Safely picking up a mooring will put you in the heart of harbor scenes that only boaters can enjoy.
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In some coastal areas, there are almost as many boats on moorings as there are in slips tied to piers. Knowing how to handle a boat in a mooring field and secure a boat to a mooring ball will provide for a good night’s sleep and worry-free trips to shore.

Just like making a reservation for a slip, it is important to give the marina staff or harbormaster accurate information about your boat. Moorings are precisely spaced to allow boats to swing with the wind and current, without interference from surrounding boats. Rounding down when giving the harbormaster your boat’s length overall won’t save you any money, as it might with a marina slip; moorings most often have a fixed rate for the boat length they can accommodate. This pricing is specifically intended to address the safe handling of your boat in a mooring field, so be honest.

It is critical to pay attention to wind and current when entering a field of moored boats, with current usually being more important than wind. To have maximum control over your boat, approach the mooring ball with your bow into the wind or current. The mooring field at the municipal marina in St. Augustine, Florida, for instance, sometimes has a current running through the moorings at almost 2 knots. If the mooring field you’re approaching is in an area of extreme tidal movement, plan your arrival for slack current.

Effective communication between the helm and deck crew is critical when securing to a mooring. As the boat approaches the mooring ball, the skipper will frequently lose sight of the ball. Using agreed-upon hand signals or, even better, two-way headsets, will help the crew guide the skipper to the mooring ball without running over it.

Most moorings will have a line called a pendant attached to the ball, with a thimble eye or loop in the end of the pendant line. To secure your boat to the mooring, a crewmember needs to pick up the pendant with a boathook and bring it up to the bow of your boat.

This maneuver may be problematic for some trawlers with a high bow. In such cases, resist the temptation to catch the mooring ball from a lower point at the side or stern of the boat, with the intention of walking the line forward to the bow. Doing so sounds like a good idea until you realize it may require movement of the boat in a sideways motion to get closer to the buoy or stay clear of it. Given that a boat at idle wants to turn beam-to the wind, this maneuver is difficult at best; there is too great a risk of fouling your prop, rudder or stabilizer in the mooring lines. Keep the bow to the buoy, and work from the bow with a boathook.

Prior to entering the mooring field, position two lines on the bow. Secure one end of each line to a cleat on either side of the bow. Catch the pendant with a boathook, and then bring it to the bow of the boat. Run the free end of one line through the pendant eye, and then let the pendant go. Secure the end of that line back to its own cleat.

You now can use that line to pull the pendant back up and repeat the process with the line on the other side of the bow. Having two lines running through the pendant reduces chafe on the lines and minimizes swing on the mooring.

Hanging on a mooring ball in the harbor is a special experience boaters get to enjoy. The peacefulness of a morning cup of coffee in the cockpit of a moored boat is worth learning to do this maneuver safely.

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