Connecting to a Mooring Ball

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

Tying up to a mooring ball is pretty simple, but this one piece of advice from Boot Key Harbor will make your boat much more secure

Most mooring balls have a pennant with an eye that you tie up to. And here in Boot Key Harbor (Marathon, FL) the marina staff is emphatic about teaching the right way to tie up to one!

What seems to be the obvious way to tie up is to secure one of your dock lines to the forward cleat on one side of the boat, pass the line through the eye, and then cleat it to the forward cleat on the other side of the boat. And that is wrong.

The problem with doing it that way is that as the boat swings and moves in the wind and current, the dock line will quickly chafe on the eye . . . and pretty soon – at night when it’s blowing, of course – it’ll break. That’s actually worse than having an anchor drag – if your anchor drags, it slows your motion. If the line breaks, the boat moves downwind much faster.

The “much-less-chafe” way to tie up is to pass a line from each forward cleat through the eye and then back to the cleat it came from. This way, neither line saws back and forth on the eye.

Tying up to a mooring ball is pretty simple, but this one piece of advice from Boot Key Harbor will make your boat much more secure


Tying up to a mooring ball is pretty simple, but this one piece of advice from Boot Key Harbor will make your boat much more secure

Here at BKH, marina staff make a point of telling you this as you check in and the pump out boat staff also checks boats as they go through the anchorage. They’re not being nasty or just sticklers for following the rules, they’re making sure that no boats go “floatabout” or go through the anchorage bouncing off others.

Even if you don’t totally chafe through with one line going from side to side, it puts a lot more wear on your (expensive) dock lines. Using two lines is safer and less costly in the long run.

The other mooring fields that we’ve been at – whether on our boat or on charter – haven’t said much about the proper way to tie up. The charter companies in the BVIs didn’t tell us a thing. Last year, I was talking to one of the office staff here at BKH and she said that since they’d been making a point to tell people to use two lines – and why it’s better – they’ve had almost no boats break free.

TIP: When you first tie up to a mooring, don’t worry about getting both lines in place. Just do one. Then when it’s secure, you can do the other. Finally, adjust the length of both so they’re even (in BKH, they request that there is no more than four feet from your bow to the eye. This way, all boats swing in roughly the same way).

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  1. Limiting the length of the lines to the pennant also makes sure that the boats don’t “bump butts” when the winds and tides have all of us headed weird directions. There is also a recommended storm configuration for tying off. There is an example up on the wall at the marina between the desk and package closet. You might want to add a picture of that too.

    Great post!!!

  2. My version, for a catamaran. My best try at preventing chafe and twisting.

  3. Locals here tie up stern to ( motorboats) drives us crazy.

  4. ^^^ yes i was going to say. .. we use all metal to prevent chafing… we’ve had a boat run away on us due to not properly securing metal on metal

  5. Carolyn,
    I would add that it is also very wise to snorkel the mooring to be sure it is in good shape and looks substantial at the bottom and not just a line tied up to an old engine block or several concrete blocks—–believe it or not this does happen sometimes down the island chain. A boat pays 30$ for a night and when it breaks loose no one is responsible for the mooring line! Even in the BVI some are not well maintained, but we have always found the ones on St John to be impeccably maintained.

  6. I was taught what I consider and even better way. When catching the ball I do just like you stated. However once secure, one line at a time I change the tie. I pass the eye splice of the line through the pennant, then the tag end throughthe eye and back to the cleat. Then the eye clinches to the pennant leaving to room for chafe at all on that side of things. And just because I’m a nervous Nelly, I have a soft shackle and pennant attached as well.

    • I agree Totally with this system up here in Victoria BC Canada we have very nasty storms and quite exposed mooring fields. Many boats have hit the beach and of all the boats I have secured with putting the bite [loop] through the eye and then the ends back to the cleats have never failed…. one boat had 2 lines through the eye… All 4 lines broke under pressure @ the cleats but the mooring EYE with this lines did not suffer anything and was easy to remove the ropes. NOW on my boat I have the same system and have a “positive” length of chain hanging loose but attached to Shackles and to the mast through the bow roller just in case the two mooring lines fail.

  7. I used to keep my boat on a mooring. 2 independent lines is a must. If one gives, you are still attached!

  8. Thanks

  9. Kent Takacs interesting article and comments

  10. We use an 8000 lb rated carabiner to prevent any possibility of chafe. In addition we run a secondary safety through the eye.

    Mark & Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

  11. Some mooring fields don’t want you to add your own lines and instead want their
    pendant only on a cleat.
    Ft myers has that ruling and we found out the hard way to shorten that pendant line
    which very long compared to most others and in Ft Myers the wind and current
    work against and will allow the pendant to wrap around the keel when the current and wind fight each other.
    Most mooring fields have very short pendants and 2 lines work really well and always wear good gloves when grabbing that pendant line to prevet getting your hands cut up.

  12. Luigi

  13. All moorings are definitely not created equal. I’ve been around moorings all my life in California and never seen the type in this article.

  14. Thanks.

  15. Kalib Steele

  16. Great info! Thanks!

  17. Thanks for the great tip! We’ve yet to learn how to do all of this, but will definitely remember this when the time comes.

  18. Great info. Thanks for sharing!

  19. We go one step further–some pennants are extra long for trawlers with high freeboard. Too long of a pennant can leave you with a mooring ball banging against the hull at current/wind shift (Beaufort, SC comes to mind)–sometimes resulting in “running over the ball” in our cat. In these cases, we skip the pennant and go straight to the eye on the mooring if possible.

  20. Thanks, great info. Will use it later.

  21. Cruising 2 years, we never picked up a mooring ball unless it was absolutely the only choice. Too many other boats too close, you don’t know what’s down there so no amount of clever tie on and anti chafing is going to protect u from that…carry a big anchor, lots of chain and a bigger faster dinghy so u can be away from crowded spots…when things get snotty and u decide u want to leave picking your way, in the dark invariably, through a crowded mooring field will add to your headaches…just my 2 cents!

  22. Excellent info…. Will make this standard operating procedure moving forward…..

  23. Thanks!

  24. One quick question: that large line with a thimble– what did you use to make that up? Love this idea!!

    • That is the pennant on the mooring ball. It’s not ours. Our lines pass through that thimble.

    • Michael Carstensen says:

      The eye in the picture is made up using a nylon thimble. Nylon thimbles properly spliced are strong and serve to avoid chafing and damage to fiber glass better than galvanized steel. The nylon thimbles come in a variety of sizes and are very cheap to purchase through the internet.

  25. We just launched over near Coco Plum last night to cruise the middle keys for a week. We will be in Boot Key later today. Let us know if you have time to connect today or tomorrow before we head further south. – Steve & Brandy, The Sailing Rode

  26. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Nice tip thankyou

  28. We have always done it this way… best for a catamaran.

  29. Would be interested in techniques to get the line through the eye. Many boats don’t have a low enough vantage point to grab and loop- how goes everyone do it?

    • It helps if the mooring ball has a long pennant, but basically the way we do it is for Dave (stronger, longer arms) to be on the bow with the boat hook. I’m at the helm (it’s what I’m best at). I sloooowly motor up to the mooring ball, with Dave using our headset to talk me right up to it. He has one end of the dock line already cleated on the boat, with the free end passed over the gunwale and looped back onto the deck with the end easily “grabbable.” He uses the boat hook to pull the pennant up (I am at the wheel keeping the boat in position — using a little reverse first to stop the boat’s motion, then perhaps just a touch of forward if it’s windy), grabs it in one hand, quickly sets the boat hook down and grabs the end of the line, passes it through the eye and cleats it. It doesn’t matter how long the line is at this point. Then he will pull on the first line to get the eye in reach again and put the second line through. If it’s windy, I may have to use a little forward so he can get to the eye in the pennant again. Once both lines are through and cleated, I leave the engine running but in neutral and go forward to help adjust them, put on chafe guard, etc. When it’s particularly windy, we only adjust one side at a time so both are never uncleated at the same time.

      • This is our method too but I’m the one with the boat hook. Sometimes easy, sometimes less so. But we’re switching tactics. We watched a couple on a big Selene with high bow. She used a grapple hook on the end of a length of rope to catch the pennant. It worked a charm. Will be trying this soon.

    • The Boat Galley thanks!

  30. Sharon Scott Dow says:

    I wish they made the pennant eyes a little bigger in the BVI. It is sometimes hard to get two lines through them. A tight eye also makes it harder to release sometimes. Thanks for this info.

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