Skills | Boat Handling Techniques


Docking With Spring Lines

By Greg Jones
Published: February/March 2013

You don't need a bow thruster to gracefully bring your boat alongside or to leave the dock, you just need to master the use of spring lines.

Springing Off A Dock

Illustration: ©2013 Mirto Art Studio ©2013 Mirto Art Studio,
Leaving the dock bow first.

Let's go through, step by step, how to get off a dock where you're tied up with a boat directly in front of you. The dock is to port, and a breeze is piping up from the starboard-side bow quarter, pushing you aft and onto the dock. You need to swing the bow out while keeping clear of the boat in front of you.

Begin by briefing your crew on the maneuver. Double back the forward spring line (the one running from the stern diagonally forward), and cleat off the bitter end on the stern cleat. Designate one crew member to handle the forward docklines and to be ready to deploy a fender if you get too close to the boat ahead. Designate another crew member to handle the stern docklines and to be ready to deploy a fender between the stern and the dock. Now you're ready to spring off the dock, which you do in three steps as shown in figure to the right.

1. With rudder amidships, start the engine and put the transmission into reverse. When the boat comes up against the forward spring line, all of the other lines should be slack and can be retrieved. The only line left holding the boat to the dock is the forward spring line.

2. Have the stern crew take the fender and place it between the boat and the dock, holding on to the fender's line. With the engine still in reverse, steer as though to back down into the dock. The boat will want to back to port, and prop walk will exacerbate that, but the spring line will prevent the boat from moving backward and pull the stern into the dock. Apply gentle power astern. The bow will slowly pivot out, away from the dock, and the stern crew's job is to keep the fender deployed properly.

3. When the bow has fully cleared the boat ahead, bring the rudder amidships and shift into forward as the stern crew pulls in the spring line. Steer to starboard if necessary to clear the boat in front of you while the bow crew stands by with the fender until you are past.

Illustration: ©2013 Mirto Art Studio ©2013 Mirto Art Studio,
Leaving the dock stern first.

If it's the stern of your boat you need to move out first, the technique is the same but now you pivot on the aft spring line. Prop walk can make a big difference. If the boat is lying starboard side to (with the dock on the right), the prop walk on most boats will swing the stern away from the dock, accentuating the pivot around the spring line. But if the boat is lying port side to with the dock on the left, the prop walk will pull the stern into the dock, and the spring line may not be able to overcome the prop walk to swing the stern out. So when you're docking, think ahead and try to put the dock to the right of the boat. The figure to the right shows how to leave the dock stern first.

1. When the boat comes up against the aft spring line, the bow crew releases the bow line and mans the fender, keeping it between the boat and the dock. The stern crew retrieves the other lines, leaving the boat held in place by the engine and the forward spring line.

2. Turn the wheel or tiller as though to turn the bow into the dock. Power gently forward. The aft spring line will hold the bow against the dock. The stern will swing away from the dock.

3. When the stern is clear of any obstacles aft, retrieve the aft spring line, bring the rudder amidships, put the engine in reverse, and continue astern until you are clear.

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