Master the Art of Docking Line Lingo

Make docking easier with these tips on docking line lingo from Captain John of www.skippertips.com.

How big a role does clear communication play in docking a boat? It’s everything! Unless your sailing crew understands basic line handling terms, docking at a pier or in a slip can go downhill fast. Use this easy guide to learn the secrets of the pros.

Spring lines are the most important lines for any close-quarters maneuver. Use springs to pivot alongside a pier, dock in a slip, or leave a pier with only inches to spare between two other yachts.

Success depends on your crew being able to understand “spring-lingo” without hesitation. Remember this single statement. Your crew must react to your commands right away and know without hesitation what your words mean. In docking or undocking, timing is everything.

There are just four spring lines in line handling. Each spring line has a first, middle, and last name–just like most of us. Sure, abbreviations are used in some places, but that can cause confusion. Make it a habit to refer to any spring line by its full, three-part name.

Look over the table below. Each column shows you one part of the name. The column headings define each part…

Spring Line Lingo Made Easy
Lead Direction Boat Attachment Point Type of Docking Line
After Bow Spring
Forward Bow Spring
After Quarter Spring
Forward Quarter Spring

* Lead Direction

The lead (pronounced “leed”) of a spring line defines how it moves from your boat attachment point (cleat, bit, winch) to another attachment point ashore (dock cleat, piling). If it moves aft, it’s given the name “After”. If it moves forward toward the bow, it takes on the name “Forward”.

* Boat Attachment Point

This defines where you tie the bitter end of the spring line on your boat. Spring lines attached to a boat cleat between the beam and bow are given the middle-name “Bow”. Those attached near the stern are given the middle-name “Quarter”.

* Type of Docking Line

Lines that lead in a diagonal direction to the boat’s centerline are given the name “Spring”. Unlike springs, bow and stern lines lead in a direction almost parallel to the centerline. And breast lines lead perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to the centerline.

Here’s an example from the table: After-Bow-Spring

After tells you that the spring line leads in a direction aft (toward the stern) from your boat to an attachment point ashore.

Bow tells you that the spring line attaches to a boat cleat near the bow.

Spring tells you that the line will form a diagonal line with the boat’s centerline.

Now when you tell your crew to rig an after bow spring on both sides of the boat, they should know just what you mean. Look over the rest of the table and follow along with the illustrations…

To the left, an after quarter spring leads from a quarter (stern) cleat aft to a shore-side piling. To the right, a forward quarter spring leads from a quarter cleat, forward to a shore-side piling.

To the left, an after bow spring leads from a bow cleat aft to a shore-side piling. To the right, a forward bow spring leads from a bow cleat, forward to a shore-side piling.

Now that you know your spring line lingo, you’re ready to charge ahead to learn how to dock between two million dollars yachts like a pro, ease your boat into a dock or slip if you lose an engine, or back out of a slip under control in a stiff cross-wind. Learn all this and much more in the popular eBook “Dock a Boat Like a Pro” by Captain John.

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