Some of our BoatBlurb readers have asked for details on setting “springlines” on their boat. I am always happy to spread boating knowledge, so let’s get into it.
Let me first clarify that attaching a springline does not mean replacing a docking rope with a bungy cord. Nor is it a special line that you use to tie your boat during ‘spring’ months. As you probably already know, tying a ‘springline’ is just one of the methods you can use to secure your boat when mooring.
If you look up how to tie your boat to a dock, you will find a host of methods, multiple diagrams, and differing opinions as to which one to use. So lets start by dismissing all of the procedures that you may have previously read and let me describe the easiest and best procedure for you to follow when tying up your boat.
Deciding exactly where you want to dock your boat is the first step in deciding how to tie it, and you should think about this decision well before you get to the dock. Remember, with the exception of your home port, no two docking locations are exactly the same. There may be different dock heights, cleat locations or available space. Therefore you can’t learn one way to tie up your boat and think you have it covered. Forget about a “one size fits all” approach to docking and tying your boat.
The process of securing your boat begins well before you get to the dock. At about 30 yards from your chosen ‘dock spot,’ you must consider four important conditions: wind, current, tide and traffic. Think about how each one of these conditions will effect how you need to handle your boat on the final approach and how you will need to secure it. This evaluation period is also the best time to attach the fenders and ready the lines.
We cover the process of driving to and parking at your chosen spot in other BoatBlurb articles such as “How to Dock a Boat“ so lets assume you are now stopped where you want and ready to set your lines. Consider again your previous evaluation of how wind, current and tide will affect your boat while sitting on the spot you chose. Since it is unnatural for a boat to remain floating in one spot, the lines you tie must be tied in such a way as to offset undesired movement. The names given to these various attachment methods are somewhat irrelevant as they are used for identification purposes. It is where the lines are attached and the directions they run that matters. Begin by attaching your lines to the cleats on your boat, then attach the opposite end to the dock at angles that will limit movement that could cause boat damage.
For example, if the wind is blowing directly offshore from the dock, you may figure that lines from your boat cleats directly to dock cleats will work well. FYI, such a line is called a “breast line.” Sometimes the wind, current, or tide will want to move your boat backwards or forwards along the side of the dock. To prevent this, simply tie a dockline from ‘midships’ to keep the boat from moving forward and/or back along the dock. Such a line is called a “springline.”
The direction that springlines run from the boat to the dock determines their designation as “forward spring” or “aft spring.” Because springlines need to be longer than a tie that runs straight to the dock, they provide a built-in adjustment for waves and tides that could cause boat damage. Then there is the question of which line to tie to the dock first? Logically, the answer is to figure which direction you don’t want your boat to move, and tie a line from your boat to the dock, in the opposite direction. This gives you the time you need to attach additional lines where you figure they should be in order to hold your boat securely.
But what if you pull into a place where there are no fixed cleats or bollards? Such situations are commonplace and most of the time it simply requires a little creative thinking. You may choose to run a line through the boards on a dock or there may be a pylon that you can tie a line around. Sometimes you may need to tie two of your lines together and run the extended line to a fixture several yards onshore. And sometimes you will need to evaluate the situation and the risk, concluding that it is not safe to dock at all.
When you carry more and longer lines in your boat, you will need a dedicated place to store them. I loop each line and attach a plastic clamp. This allows me to drop them into a clean locker without getting tangled.
Another tip for home docking is to position a set of lines where they will work to secure your boat in all situations. Then, when leaving home, leave the lines attached to your dock and they will be there, waiting in perfect position for you when you return.
Planning ahead is key in almost every boating situation. Tying your boat to a dock is no exception and it is the final important step in the whole docking process in which every docking scenario can be different.
After going through the process of securing your boat using this “evaluate before tying” process, it will soon become second nature to choose what lines are needed and evaluate where they should attached. Don’t let the terminology confuse you.
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