Berthing boats can be quite scary until you get the hang of it. The secret is to be well-prepared and ensure everyone is briefed on what’s expected. As you become more experienced, it can actually become a pleasurable experience berthing a yacht in taxing conditions.
There’s no use having fenders in the lockers. If you’ve got them, use them! There are a wonderful selection of these brightly coloured air-filled plasticised rubber balloons to choose from. They even come with little socks to stop them squeaking. You should get in the habit or scribbling the name of your vessel on the fender and may find that the stray fender is returned if lost.
Preparation for berthing
Before berthing make sure you have eyed-up the height of the pontoon or quay that you are going alongside and appropriately position your fenders at the correct height. Spread your fenders along the vessel, usually with one tied on the guardrail between each stanchion. It’s good sense to have one crew-person dedicated with a roving fender near the position of first expected contact with the pontoon.
You should also have bow and stern breast warps ready for taking ashore from a midship position and hold onto stays for personal stability. It is common practice to hail marinas on VHF informing them of your vessel’s length and draft and asking them where they would like you to go.
If uncertain of visitor berth location it is common practice to go alongside the fuel berth but you are expected to head into your allocated berth as soon as practicable. When coming alongside always consider personal safety and remind everyone that jumping is out of the question – crew should be able to step onto the hard stuff without risk of injury.
Bow and stern breast lines
Separate bow and stern breast lines are attached to the forward and aft cleats, then taken ashore to a suitable bollard or ring on the quay. The breast lines are ideal for getting a “line ashore” and temporarily holding the vessel. Breast lines will not stop the vessels bow or stern stepping out out with the tide or current, potentially causing damage to the vessel gel coat. As soon as there are lines ashore you can “walk’ the hull along the quay to a suitable spot to securely tie the vessel up.
After your breast-line has been attached it’s time to get some springs on. It is really important that you firmly grasp the use of springs as they can greatly reduce the damage done to a vessel if it scrapes along the quay. If properly placed, they will also help you get a good night’s sleep by reducing snatching.
The springs should do all the work and the breast-lines should have some slack in them so the vessel can ride over any waves that may be reaching it. The bow spring not only stops the boat moving forwards along the quay but also pulls the bow back towards the quay when blown off. It’s normal to also use a stern spring which works the same way, except it’s the boat’s stern which is stopped from moving along the quay and the stern is pulled back to the quay when it drifts out.
Springs are a fantastic way of taking the pressure off the fenders if you are being blown onto the quay by the wind or have a raft of yachts on the outside of you. When you tighten-up the springs they actually help spring the boat out like opening scissors. You must tighten springs carefully or all you do is pull either the bow or stern close to the quay.
The use of full-length springs is vital if you want to build a stable raft from the quay . Again most of the strain should be taken-up by the springs with the breast lines left with a little slack so they don’t snatch. To secure the raft better it’s prudent to run shorelines from the bow and stern from the outside boat back to shore.
Properly placed shoreline and functional springs help large rafts from snaking and bending with the wind and currents. It also takes the pressure off the cleats of the inside boats and reduces wear and tear.
It is bad practice to raft large, heavy boats on the outside of smaller lighter ones. It is polite and good etiquette to ask the inside vessel if it is ok to raft alongside them. If you are in a busy harbour you must expect this and allow vessels to raft on the outside of you.
Mooring alongisde a wall
When mooring alongside a tidal wall you must ensure you have spring lines as long as possible to compensate for the rising and falling tide. Normally about 4x the height of the tide is required. It’s quite disconcerting to see your vessel hung-up or have a cleat ripped-out by the boat’s weight when you get it wrong. Breast lines will need to be long enough to gap the distance from quay to vessel at all states of the tide.
Stern to mooring is popular in Mediterranean and an excellent way to squeeze many vessels into a limited amount of quay space. The vessel is ‘reversed’ using the anchor to hold the vessel off the quay. Two stern lines are used to attached the vessel to the quay. These lines are usually run back to the vessel as continuous slipping lines.
Leaving a vessel unattended
When you leave your vessel unattended it is always a good idea to double-up your warps or use permanent heavy duty shorelines. If left on a mooring, rig a secondary line around one of the heavy shackles on the mooring to guard against any failure of the mooring system. It is un-seamanlike to leave your vessel if you are on the outside of a raft and may find it drifting about in a harbour when you come back.