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 Around The End Of A Dock

You've entered the aisle where you're berthed and need to make the turn to enter your slip and tie up on starboard. The wind is pushing you down the aisle and will blow you away from the dock once you're alongside. Your slip neighbor's new trawler is tied up in the berth next to yours. Be careful, or the wind will induce some embarrassing paint swapping. The figure below shows how to handle this situation.

Illustration: ©2013 Mirto Art Studio ©2013 Mirto Art Studio,

Coming in to a slip

1. Have a crew member set up a forward spring line at the midship cleat on your starboard side. The line shouldn't be cleated off but passed under the horns of the cleat so the crew can control it. Heave the other end of the line to someone on the dock. Have that person cleat it to the outermost cleat alongside your slip at the end of the dock.

2. As you approach the dock cleat, your crew should take up the slack in the line without putting any pressure on it. When the cleat on your boat is near the dock cleat, have the crew member gently snub off the spring line as you turn into the slip and gently apply some throttle.

3. As the bow swings around and points into the dock, your crew can control the boat's movement with the spring line, slowly letting it out to allow the boat to move forward into the slip. You will need to apply more throttle to keep the boat moving forward if the bow starts to blow off. Once in the slip, have your crew cleat off the spring line while you continue to power against it. You may need to steer as if to turn the bow away from the dock to keep the wind from blowing the stern off. The boat will remain in position long enough for your crew to put out additional lines.

Close-Quarters Docking

Illustration: ©2013 Mirto Art Studio © 2013 Mirto Art Studio,
Coming into a dock.

A spring line can also be used to get into a tight space on a fuel dock. When you're approaching the dock, have the bow crew set up a spring line off the bow cleat on the side nearest the dock. The line should be looped under the bow cleat, not cleated off, so that the bow crew can control it as you pull into the slip. The figure to the right shows how you get into that tight space.

1. Bring the boat almost alongside the boat behind the space where you want to dock with the rudder amidships and at dead slow speed.

2. Turn into the space with the bow at a 45-degree angle to the dock. Have your bow crew pass the spring line to a person on the dock, who should secure it on a cleat near where your stern will end up. As the line is secured to the dock, ease back on the throttle and turn away from the dock. Your boat will come up against the dock.

3. As your crew slowly lets out the spring line, the boat's momentum should carry it forward into the space. The bow crew can snub off the spring line to stop the boat when it is perfectly "parked." To help swing the stern in, apply gentle throttle. Finish tying up at your leisure with the engine and spring line holding the boat in place.

You and your crew need to learn to coordinate the use of the throttle and the tension on the spring line to get the boat to move in the direction you want. Your first few attempts may not be pretty. Airplane pilots spend a lot of time practicing "touch-and-goes" to improve their landings: At the moment the wheels touch the runway, they apply throttle and take off again. You can do the same thing at a quiet dock. As soon as you've successfully come alongside the dock, head back out. Once you understand the principles, you'll find other ways to use spring lines to make docking less stressful.End of story marker

Greg Jones lives in Massachusetts and is preparing his 1979 Gulfstar 37 for full-time cruising. His plan is to head south in the fall of 2013.

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