Balls and Boats

By Tom Neale, 5/12/2011


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I get to see a lot of neat stuff as I travel around on the water, and from time to time I like to tell you about something new, at least to me. This is an idea that’s inexpensive, solves a lot of problems, is easy to install and, from what I can see, works like it’s supposed to. And that last is a bit unusual for anything on the water.

I first learned of it from my friend Bob Adriance, as he stood on my dock and we talked about storm surges—a not so favorite subject for both of us. Bob is Editor of Seaworthy Magazine ( and Technical Director of BoatUS.

“It” really isn’t an “it.” It’s a “them.” They are balls. Yep, you read it right: “Balls.” They come in white or black. They’re made of tough polyethylene material which includes, I am told, a UV shield, and they float. But they’re also somewhat heavy. These balls come with a hole in the middle, the edges of which are contoured. All of this is important, as you’ll see.

You put your dock line through the holes, stringing enough balls along the end of the line to make a sort of necklace which will go around your piling. When you’ve strung on enough balls for the thickness of your piling, so that your line won’t chafe anywhere on the piling, you secure the balls in place with a figure eight knot at each end of the necklace. Then you secure your line with a bowline or splice. (Follow the instructions that come with each box of balls.) The concept is amazingly simple. Sold by Dr. Shrink ( , they’re called “TideMinders” ( and are the brain child of Larry Gray who’s done considerable boating. Mr. Gray tells me that there are around 33,000 of the balls out in service and that he hasn’t received any complaints of failures. He advertises a 10 year warranty. He also reports that entire yacht clubs and a wide size range of boats, including some which are quite large, use them.

Tideminder Box of Balls.
As the tide rises and falls, the balls simply roll up and down the piling, automatically adjusting your line for the tide level. The smooth slick surface of the balls and the contour of the holes diminish chafe on the line, as well as to the piling. These are handy enough on any given day in an area with rising and falling waters. You can have rising and falling waters where you dock even if there aren’t regular “tides.” Many areas have rising and falling waters just from the wind and the moon. Some areas, as you know have tides ranging 2-3 feet, some 6-8 feet, and some much more.

They help even more with storm surges. I’ve been in many a tropical storm and some hurricanes when the lines got so tight as the surge came in that I was afraid they’d break or break the cleat. But you can’t just go out on deck and adjust lines in that much wind. And hopefully you won’t even be on your boat anyway. With TideMinders your boat can rise and fall with the surge. But they do more.

Anytime a strong gust hits a boat at a dock, it jerks the lines tight and imparts severe strain on the cleats, chocks, line and whatever else is involved. I seldom like to tie to cleats on docks, preferring the pilings, because I’ve seen too many cleats pull out over the years. Because these balls are a little heavy, they pull your line down around the piling, the amount depending on how much slack you put out. You don’t need much slack with TideMinders. When a gust hits, the boat first pulls the necklace of balls rolls up the piling before the line becomes tight. It has the effect of a snubbing line.

I installed them in time for one of the tornado-producing storm systems in April, 2011. As I stood on deck watching them during very gusty winds, the first thought that came to mind is that I didn’t need the great length of rope that I customarily use when rigging for weather at a dock. If I use TideMinders I only need the length of line required for the distance from the piling to the cleat, plus what’s required to wrap around the piling and to make the knots and cleat wraps, plus a little extra for good measure. In my view this product makes tying easier, secures the boat more safely and can save money in the short and long term. When I purchase new permanent lines for my dock, I’ll probably get them shorter than I have in the past.

Tom’s Tips About Dock Cleats

1. I’ll never forget being tied to what appeared to be a very sturdy floating dock on a very windy day, hearing a cracking noise as I sat writing an article at my computer, going up on deck, and seeing the dock plank beginning to break because of the pull on the cleat.

2. When you tie to a cleat, check, if possible to safely do so, to see that the cleat itself is secure.

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If your pilings are short (they shouldn’t be), you’d need a stop to keep them from rolling over the top if a storm surge were higher than the pilings plus your deck. However, I wouldn’t ever want to be at a dock with short pilings and I don’t understand why so many docks have them. I’ve seen instances where boats simply floated away when tied lines came off over the top of the piling. It isn’t enough to rely on your line not slipping up the piling as the storm tide rises. Either it’s going to strain the line or piling or your boat’s cleat very likely to the breaking point, or it’s going to slip over the top of the piling anyway.

A set of 9 TideMinder balls retails at $49.99. They’ve been endorsed by various boating magazines and experts. Nine are said to be sufficient for most pilings. I found that I needed more for mine, but my pilings are unusually thick. It’s important that you have enough to ensure that your line isn’t going to chafe on the pilings or anything else. I understand some omit spring lines when they use TideMinders. I’ll keep using them. There is also the option of putting TideMinders on your spring lines. Fine tuning like this depends on your boat, circumstances and your evaluation. And I will continue regularly checking my lines for chafe and wear, including within the balls. Checking should be easy because you can leave a little space when you tie your figure eights, enabling you to slide the balls enough to see the line. But these balls are certainly more line-friendly than any pilings I’ve seen. And the strain on the line at the piling is spread around the loop by all the balls, rather than isolated at a cleat or ring.

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