The intricacies of mooring balls and bareboats

photo from How to pick up a mooring in your bareboat like a pro!Boat on a mooring ball

Over a 14 year period of captaining a large charter yacht in the Virgin Islands, I have picked up moorings hundreds of times. We may have missed hooking up maybe 1 in 50 times. From the helm I lose sight of the mooring ball at about 40 feet out.

For Charter captains it seems so easy to do, but we all go through the learning process. All captains will joke how watching Bareboaters picking up moorings is their cocktail hour entertainment. Being prepared is all about having everything that you need ready and also having a clear plan in place with your deck crew before you get to the mooring ball.

Make sure you have taken care of the dingy before you get there, tie it alongside and make sure that you have no line dangling in the water. The last thing you want is to miss the ball, have to reverse and run over your own dingy. That will get you score cards of a 0 from the smug captains who are watching you.

The deck crew are in charge of the operation not the helmsman! They can see whats going on and it should be like you are under their remote control at the helm.


Attaching to the mooring ball

How to pick up a mooring in your bareboat like a pro! Crew picking up mooring ball

The tools you need to pick up a mooring are just your boat hook and 2 mooring lines. If you are a monohull you need to secure a line to both the port and starboard bow cleat.

If you are a catamaran then it’s the same, one from the port side and one from the starboard side. These 2 lines are going to be passed through the mooring balls pick up pendant and go back to the same cleats.

The port line will have both of its ends on the port cleat and the same for the starboard side. They do not cross or the mooring ball pendant will slide from port to starboard and saw through you lines.

Now to pick up the mooring it is your job to approach the mooring from dead downwind. This is important! It is also your job to do what the bow person is telling you, not what you think should be done.

The bowman should point his boathook straight at the mooring ball as you approach it, this lets you know which way to steer. The bowman, while still pointing the boathook, will hold up his other hand and hold up 5 fingers when you’re 50 feet away from the ball. Then 4 at 40 feet 3-2-1-0. This lets you know how fast you are approaching the ball.

You want to end up at a dead standstill, when he gets to zero you should have zero forward speed. Look to your side to see how fast you are moving through the water as your approaching, you can not tell by looking ahead. Chances are you are going to need some reverse to stop.

If the bowman has done his job correct and you have come to a complete stop. The bowman can now simply pick up the mooring and slip one of the mooring lines through it. Once he has one secure then he can work on the second one. He may need you to momentarily slip into forward if the wind has set you back.

If you’re on a catamaran the bow man should stand over on the side that you are on so you have a clear view of him. His task will be a lot easier if he has a helper. When he picks up the mooring ball pendant, he should drop the boat hook on the trampoline and thread the mooring lines that is on the side he is standing through the pendant. He should immediately hand that line to his helper and start on the second line.

Releasing the mooring line

When coming off from the mooring, also be prepared. Have the dingy alongside on the opposite side to which you intend the mooring ball to pass. Drop off the opposite mooring line to the direction you intend to leave the ball on.

That is if you intend to have the ball go down the port side as you motor away, then already have the starboard line released and put away. When you are ready to go, nod to your bowman that you are ready and with the helm turned to the direction you intend to leave, click the motor into gear and give a tiny rev of the engine then back into neutral.

This will take the strain off the mooring line for your bowman and start the process of heading you away from the ball. If you are in a catamaran, only use the engine on the opposite side to which you want to turn. Have the bowman point to the ball and signal you to go ahead when you are in a line that will not have you drive over the ball. Then straighten your helm and drive forward.

Have the helmsman walk down the side of the boat continuing to point at the ball until you are past it. If your in a cat, do not be tempted to drive over the ball and have it pass through the middle, chances are you will wrap it around your prop.

Please do not try to sail of a mooring! I have watched a boat sail off a mooring, T bone another boat, bounce back and T bone it again, slide along its side to only gain speed and clip another boat. That will also get you a low score from the onlookers.