Whipping The Problem

Protecting your boat from dock damage using mooring whips.

Photo of powerboat using mooring whips

The boat parade past your dock, towing wakeboards and tubes, sometimes inadvertently trailing large wakes. Your boat gets tossed like a cork, crashing it against your dock. That leaves a mark — rub rail damage and “dock rash” (gelcoat chips and scratches) that are expensive and tough to fix. What to do?

If yours is a single-pier dock and you can't center your boat between two piers so it won't hit either, and a boat lift is impractical for your waters (perhaps it's too shallow), then mooring whips may be your solution to protecting your boat from high winds and passing boat wakes.

Tension Mounting

Mooring whips have been around for many decades, and they're extremely effective. Basically, mooring whips are like big fishing poles mounted to the dock. Most consist of two large, tapered fiberglass poles affixed to the dock at a specific angle, connected to your boat via light nylon lines that can be adjusted. Properly tensioned, the poles arc downward when hooked to the boat, using that spring tension to hold the boat a couple of feet away from the dock — and keep it there even when wakes come crashing.

The entire setup can appear intimidating, not just to hook and unhook the boat, but to board and debark as well. Never fear — releasing the boat and pulling it into the dock only takes a minute. Four docklines (two securing lines and two spring lines) and the two whips, and you're done. As for boarding and debarking, that's done with the whips disconnected. Of course it can also be done by simply pulling on one whip's line for a minute, which brings the boat in closer to the dock momentarily so you can board. Release the line and the whip's reactive spring force moves it back away from the dock again. Today's fiberglass mooring whips are very similar to those offered decades ago, with subtle refinements, and some newer systems don't use tension poles at all. Some of the more common options are shown below. One precaution: Don't select whips that are too small for your boat's length and weight. They won't have the strength and tension to be able to keep the hull away from the dock if hit by large wakes or moderate winds, and will break prematurely due to the oversize load.

Proper Installation

The most common problem with mooring whips is improper installation and tie-up.

Photo of Taylor Made mooring whipsTaylor Made's Premium line features adjustable mounting bases that angle straight up when not in use, and line keepers that make it easier to pull the boat in for boarding.

Installation requires a significant base area with good strength and ability to spread the load of the whip's bases out over a greater area on the dock. This can be accomplished by reinforcing the dock underneath the whips' mounting bases, especially if your dock is an old-school wooden one with thinner top treads. Whips bolted to treated pine top boards will soon pull out or break under the stress of the boat's pulling from wind and waves. A large aluminum plate or thick plywood board, strategically placed under the top treads and through-bolted, works well. This is necessary to prevent the whips from pulling the mounting bolts right through the decking in high wind and wave conditions.

Photo of Monarch mooring whipsMonarch's systems offer angle-adjustable bases and removable poles for easier storage, as well as a pivoting base that stands the poles up straight when not in use.

When securing your boat to the whips, follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter when fashioning and positioning your tie-up lines. The proper tie-up involves a bow line and stern line plus two spring lines; the placement and tension of these four lines are critical to keep the boat properly oriented and the whips from bending sideways. They can't bend in two directions at once, so keeping them straight is mandatory.

Care And Maintenance

Whips require little in the way of maintenance or care; often they get abused and forgotten, yet many are still in service after 30 years or more. This author's Monarch whips were purchased in 1979 when I was a teenager, and after over 30 years, countless boats, and a replacement of the dock they were bolted to, they're still in excellent shape today. Replacing the whip lines is common after a few years or so, and keeping the whips and aluminum mounting bases coated with wax will prevent them from getting chalky after years in the sun. If possible, remove them from the dock in the off-season, and store them inside to keep them protected from the sun, snow, and wind in winter.

Photo of Dock Accents Wake Watcher Mooring SystemThe Wake Watchers system from Dock Accents uses steel arms swivel-mounted to rigid steel bases, which position the boat away from the dock but without the tension mounting of fiberglass poles, and no spring lines to add confusion. It's a neat system, and reasonably priced.

One caveat: Mooring whips are not strong enough for real storm duty unless the boat is also held in place with anchors or shore lines. If a hurricane is on the way, get the boat out of the water and take it inland.

Cost-Benefit

A set of whips for a 24-foot boat will cost between $250 and $600 depending on the manufacturer and the vendor. Some larger manufacturers, like Monarch and Taylor Made, even offer special whip sizes for the smallest PWC all the way to larger cruisers and sailboats. Online vendors typically sell for less; however, watch carefully for high shipping charges as most whips are too long to ship by UPS or FedEx. Truck shipping can easily add a few hundred dollars or more to the final cost.

Photo of SlideMoor Boat Docking SystemThe SlideMoor system features extruded aluminum rails mounted vertically to the dock poles, and bumpers that slide up and down with the boat tied tightly to them. This system is ingenious in its simplicity, but the dock must have posts or pilings to mount the slide assemblies to for it to work.

The benefit after installation is nearly priceless. For less than a grand and some time thinking through installation and hookup, you'll rest easy knowing you won't have to sand and buff out dock dings and scratches or replace your boat's rub rail. 

— Published: October 2014

Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at BoatUS.com.

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