Ten Tips for Tying Up Inside a Narrow Slip

Even for the most seasoned skippers, it’s always good to brush up on your docking skills. Captain John from www.skippertips.com shares his tips for docking in tight spaces.

If you tie your boat up in a marina slip, make sure your lines allow for tidal rise and fall, are chafe protected, and don’t strain deck fittings. This will add years to your expensive mooring lines and save you lots of money on cosmetic or structural hull repairs.

1. Set long spring lines

Make spring lines as long as possible (yellow). Cross stern lines (red) to ease the strain in large tidal ranges. Position fenders to cushion and protect the vessel .

Make spring lines as long as possible (yellow). Cross stern lines (red) to ease the strain in large tidal ranges. Position fenders to cushion and protect the vessel .

Diagonal lines that run sideways along the boat are your best protection against the boat moving forward or backward.

Run your springs from both boat cleats and both stern cleats (all yellow lines in the illustration are spring lines).

2. Position the boat inside the slip
After you set the springs, use bow and stern lines to square the boat between the slip pilings. Keep the bow and stern lines slack so that the boat doesn’t hang on her lines at extreme low tides. Cross the stern lines if possible.

3. Make the docking lines taut at low tide
When the tide gets to its lowest point, adjust the spring lines so that they are taut but not bar tight. Allow an inch or two of give. Adjust the bow and stern lines in the same manner.

4. Wrap line with chafing gear
Nylon braid of any type tends to wear like the devil when it saws back and forth in your boat chocks. Protect your line by wrapping split garden hose, split soft PVC or even duct tape around the line. Extend the chafing gear 6″ past the chocks on each side.

5. Keep line angles small
On many boats, lines are lead (called a “fairlead”) through chocks back to a cleat. The sharper the fairlead angle from chock to cleat, the greater the strain on your lines. Keep all fairlead angles as straight as possible to prevent life-shortening wear and tear.

6. Use boat cleats or a samson-post
Most manufacturers use hefty backing plates beneath the deck on bow and stern cleats or a sampson-post (a vertical bit with a horizontal pin). Use these fittings when you tie up–not your winches! You’ll see sailors do this, but this puts a shear (sideways) load on the winch. Boat wakes or a ground swell could place shock loads on your winch. Stick to cleats or bits and you’ll have no problems, even in the toughest weather.

7. Hang more fenders than you think you’ll need
Slips are tough to fend inside. Hang fenders on your boat where you think they might contact the slip pilings or finger pier (see illustration). Better yet, hang or lash the fender in a horizontal position onto each piling. This protects the boat no matter how she lies in her slip.

8. Re-adjust lines at spring tides
Extreme low and high tides occur twice each month at most locations. Check your local paper and note the days that you see a full moon(solid white circle) or new moon (solid black circle). Make your line adjustments the day before and you will be well prepared for these events.

9. Nudge the stern into clear water
If you expect the water will be so low as to ground your boat, move the stern out a foot or two (if you are moored bow first). Check with the dockmaster first, because this means your stern will stick out from the slip a bit. This keeps your propeller and rudder in deeper water. Heel the boat with crew weight to decrease your draft and slide out of the slip with ease.

10. Tie large bowline knots onto pilings
Tie two to three foot bowlines onto each piling (see illustration). Install chafing gear (see 4. above) onto the bight of each eye. The bowline knot allows the line to ride up and down the pilings to distribute chafe and loading better than any other marine knots.

You want any marina slip to be a safe, secure, temporary or permanent home for your small cruising boat. Put these ten tips into play today to protect your valuable investment from scrapes, scratches, or more costly repairs.

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