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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 reading...

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.

If 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 practical.

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 better solution.

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.