How to Moor a Sailboat

01
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Sailboat Moorings

sailboat
rudigobbo/E+/Getty Images

In many areas, sailboats are kept in the water on moorings when not in use. A mooring is in essence a large, heavy anchor (often a concrete or stone block, a large mushroom anchor, or a device bored into underlying rock or mud). A mooring ball connected to the heavy mooring line floats on the surface. The length of line from the ball to the boat is called a pennant. Often a small pickup buoy floats at the pennant at its outer end to make it easier for someone on the boat to get the pennant when the boat returns to the mooring.

It can be easy to use a mooring when there is little wind, current, and waves—but it can also become difficult to stop and hold the boat just beside the mooring long enough for someone to get the pennants from the water and secured at the bow.

Follow the next steps to safely pick up and leave a mooring.

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Prepare During the Mooring Approach

Mooring step 2
Photo © Richard Joyce.

Approach the mooring from downwind or against a current. Note how other sailboats are lying (such as the one moored ahead in this photo). Use the wind or current to slow your approach.

Well before reaching the mooring, have a crew ready at the bow with a boat hook. Even if the mooring has a pickup buoy with a pole that reaches deck height (called a mast buoy), it’s good to be prepared with a boat hook in case the wind, waves, or a current moves the sailboat before the crew can reach the pickup.

03
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Approach the Mooring Slowly

Mooring step 3
Photo © Richard Joyce.

On your approach, make sure your bow won’t cross the mooring pennant between the mooring ball and the pickup buoy, which could make it difficult for the crew to pull up the pennant. Approach slowly to ensure that you do not overshoot the mooring and possibly foul the pennant in the prop or pull the pickup buoy from the crew’s hands.

Tip. If you have an accurate speedometer or use your GPS to indicate speed, slow down to about a half knot while reaching the mooring. In gusty conditions, especially in a small boat easily moved by wind or waves, you may have to go a little faster to maintain steerage, but always try for the slowest maneuverable speed so that the crew does not struggle getting the mooring pennant up on deck.

04
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Catch the Pickup Buoy

Mooring step 4
Photo © Richard Joyce.

Ideally, as the bow reaches the mooring, the crew simply grabs the pickup buoy mast and pulls up the pennant and secures it at the bow cleat. If the pickup mast cannot be reached, use the boat hook to catch the pennant underwater between the mooring ball and the pickup buoy.

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Secure the Pennant

Mooring step 5
Photo © Richard Joyce.

Finally, pass the pennant through a bow chock to prevent chafe, and secure the pennant’s loop over the cleat.

Tip. For added security, make a cleat hitch over the cleat with the length of light line that ties the pennant to the pickup buoy. This prevents any risk of the pennant loop “jumping” off the cleat if tension on the pennant is not continual.

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Leaving a Mooring

When leaving a mooring, the most important thing is to avoid accidentally running over the pennant or pickup buoy and fouling the prop or rudder.

When wind or a current is present, the sailboat will be pulled back from the mooring ball. With the skipper at the helm, the crew at the bow gradually lets out and then releases the pennant as the boat drifts backward. Once free of the mooring, the skipper can motor ahead past the mooring, or the sail can be pushed out to enable the boat to start gathering speed.

If the boat is not pulling back on the mooring, the skipper can back down with the engine, or the crew holding the pennant tight can walk back to the cockpit, thereby pulling the boat forward and past the mooring into the clear.

With a guest or new crew, be sure to tell the person in advance not to simply drop the pennant over the side. A surprising number of boats become entangled in the mooring line or pennant this way. The skipper must always know where the mooring ball and pennant are located, even when out of sight beneath the bow.