Securing your boat in its slip
Let's start this one with a quiz... which line
do you secure first when you return into your slip, whether you
back in or bow in ? The bow lines, the stern lines, the spring lines...
What are spring lines you said ? This article is for you ! Keep
Let's take the typical boat slip... at least one
pair of pilings near the bow, a dock at the other end and if you're
lucky, one or even two more pair of pilings in between. If you're
very lucky you may also have a finger pier on one side. When you
come back in, the only lines that will stop you from hitting the
dock are your spring lines so they should be the first one you grab
and secure. Typically, they will run from the forward most pilings
to the midship cleats on your boat. Once they are set, you don't'
have to worry about hitting the dock; you could even leave the boat
in reverse, it will not go anywhere... you can then take your time
to secure the stern lines and bow lines...
There are other cases where the spring lines are
very handy... imagine that you have a finger pier on one side but
that your slip is open on the other side so that as a good neighbor
you don't' want to hit or rub against your neighbor's boat. Well,
if you grab and secure the spring line the side away from your neighbor's
boat and put the boat in reverse it will naturally pull towards
the side of the spring line and away from the other boat. Even if
the boat is blown aside by then wind in position two in the diagram
below, it will still come back in line once the spring line is taught.
Adjusting the lines
Adjusting your lines the first time you move into
a new slip is critical to ensure that the boat is kept centered
in the slip, away from the dock, pilings and other boats. Even in
areas with minimal tides, like 2 or 3 feet, it pays to hang around
or come back a few hours later to check on your lines at high and
low tide. You just can't park the boat and walk away like you would
with your car... Try to visualize what will happen as the tide changes
and if the wind picks up. Pull on one line to simulate the effect
of the wind.
your spring lines (red) are adjusted correctly, you can usually
set the boat close enough to board yet be 100% sure it will not
hit the dock should the wind pick up.
When adjusting the bow lines (blue), keep
the in mind what will happen as the tide changes; you want enough
slack but not too much so that the boat doesn't repeatedly rub on
the pilings. Tie your lines on the pilings around the middle of
the tidal range to minimize the effect and so that you can limit
how much the boat will move back and forth.
Stern lines (green) will normally be crossed
to limit the boat movement however some boats may have gear that
will get in the way, like boarding ladders, dinghies, etc... If
that's the case, try to tie them to cleats as far aside as possible.
In most cases your stern lines will limit the forward movement of
the boat and eliminate the need for forward spring lines.
Eye or bitter end ?
This is an old debate among boaters... some prefer
to have the eye on the boat while others prefer to use the bitter
end... For the most part, it's a matter of personal preferences
although as you get into larger vessels, one option becomes more
Using the eye on the boat, around a cleat, seems
easier and guarantees that the boat will always be in the same spot,
however, it doesn't work if you need to adjust your lines (for a
storm or to facilitate boarding). More importantly, as boats gets
bigger and heavier, it becomes difficult to pull on a line to bring
the boat in a position where you can pass the line on the cleat,
especially when the wind picks up. It's much easier to work the
line against the cleat, almost in a ratcheting motion. Also, when
you have to pull hard on an eye to pass it on a cleat, you can easily
get a finger or two caught between the line and the cleat. So as
boats gets bigger, using the bitter end and a few extra feet for
adjusting and working the line makes a lot of sense.
For spring lines, you can usually use the eye
since there are lines that are secured before the boat is all the
way in, giving you plenty of slack; by using the eye you are absolutely
sure the boat isn't' going to back in even an inch too far.
Mark the lines
If you are using the bitter end of the lines,
like for your bow and stern lines, make your job easier and mark
your lines. You can mark the line either at the point it first comes
aboard or makes contact (fairlead, chock) or where it gets on the
cleat. Use either a few wrap of electrical or self bonding tape,
or a nylon tie...
Fenders or no fenders ?
99% of the time, fenders in a slip with wooden
pilings are absolutely useless; they simply roll around the piling
providing no protection at all. Sometimes you see owners using bundles
or grapes of fenders but they usually find a way to slide aside
anyway... Don't waste your time, and your fenders, instead secure
your boat so that it stays off the docks and pilings, it's a much
When you come in, again assuming you are dealing
with typical wood pilings, there is nothing wrong about letting
your rub rail rub against the wood, that's why it's called a rub
rail ! If you feel it's not up to the job, well, then maybe you
bought the wrong boat... Once the boat is in it's slip, you can
just use your lines to adjust the boat positions and make sure it
doesn't repeatedly rub on one side, making fenders no necessary.
Obviously, if your slip is set up in such a way
that there is chance for your boat to rub against your neighbor's,
then you should rig fenders on that side before coming in.