Mooring double-handed can be a stressful situation, so sharpen your skills with Pip Hare’s top tips

Mooring can be a stressful situation and mooring double-handed takes thought, preparation and calm heads. As the average couple’s cruising boat gets bigger the challenge of coming alongside safely at the end of the day is getting harder.

High topsides result in reduced visibility, increased windage and freeboard heights that make jumping off with a rope neither practical nor safe. Beamy boats with engine controls offset to one side can make judging distance difficult and voices cannot easily be heard from bow to stern. Here are my tips for keeping berthing relaxed.

Do your research

Don’t rush in. It always pays to recce a situation, hang back in open water and make a decent plan that you both understand before heading for a new berth. The use of satellite images is invaluable for understanding the layout of a new port or marina – use the satellite layer on your charting software or look at pictures from Google Earth.

Once you have identified where you will be berthing, discuss the effects of the wind/current on your berthing plans, discuss how things could go wrong and agree an ‘escape plan’. No matter how well you know each other, telepathy rarely works in stressful situations but a well thought-out plan keeps you both in control.

One line strategy

On most occasions when either coming to or leaving a mooring your boat will sit comfortably and safely against a single line with gentle pressure from engine – you just need to figure out in which position this line should be. Consider how the elements will act on your hull and how the boat will pivot around a single mooring point, remembering the bow blows downwind faster than the stern.

Keeping the line short is often key to keeping your boat in place, so rig up your first line with the inboard end leading to a winch. If you have electric winches, which can be controlled from the helm’s position, this will free up the crew to go for the second line.

When mooring alongside, a midships breast line is often the best solution; once this line is on, and pulled tight, the helmsman can drive against it, using either the bow thruster or prop wash to bring the stern and then the bow into the pontoon in turn.

For downwind or down-current alongside berths, and fore and aft box berths, a single, short stern line will do the job. For leeward alongside berths, reverse against a stern spring to stop the bow blowing onto the pontoon.

When windward berthing in strong conditions a short midships line is preferable, though if space is limited it may be better to fender up and rest gently in the opposite leeward berth – even if alongside another boat – then wind across afterwards.

For boats with high topsides, lassoing cleats or bollards from the deck is often easier than having your crew get off and guards against the risk of leaving your crew on the dock if it all goes wrong.

When using this method, the helmsman should steer the boat into the pontoon as close as if your crew were going to get off. The natural tendency to ‘hang off’ otherwise creates an inevitable delay as the crew has to pull in larger amounts of slack – in windy conditions this will allow the boat to travel, and pivot around this single point.

Hand signals

Agree a method of communication that does not include shouting. Words can be lost in the wind, misunderstood and the force with which they are delivered can be misinterpreted.

The bigger the boat the clearer your communication should be, so set out what information the helm will need and how and when it should be delivered. If relaying distance, hand signals using fingers on one hand held clear out to the side work well. Agree units (boat lengths/metres/feet) and from where they are being measured.

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My experience suggests that advice on direction and speed is only useful when picking up a mooring buoy or in situations where there is no other point of reference by which the helm can judge their speed or angle of approach.

In these situations, the crew can be a long way off on the bow and facing forward so ensure your hand signals are delivered with an outstretched arm and make them exaggerated. A clenched fist is usual for hold, a wagging finger for slowly forward and flat palm pushing downwards for slow down.

If your helm has not asked for information on speed and direction then try not to dish it out. In all cases, don’t forget you are a team, so working together and good communication is as important as boat handling skills.

Whos on the helm?

It’s still unusual to see women taking the helm and there are many reasons why changing this status quo could only be a good thing for the average cruising couple. If both partners in a double-handed crew understand how to manoeuvre the boat, berthing becomes intuitive and a lot smoother. If one member of a crew is stronger or more physically confident than the other, then it makes sense for them to handle ropes when mooring rather than being stuck behind the wheel.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut so try to find opportunities to swap when berthing. If one of you lacks confidence, then try a day or weekend with an instructor to kick-start the change. Having the flexibility to decide who will drive in different scenarios will be liberating, leaving you able to bounce ideas off each other when faced with a challenge.