How to Moor Safely in a Small Harbor

By Joshua Bremmerer, CEO at Komodo Covers
Boaters often associate the idea of reaching a harbor with marking the end of an arduous voyage. After all, the ocean is fraught with so much danger that surely this calm and idyllic setting couldn’t pose any threat? The reality is that boaters must remain extremely vigilant to moor safely in the confined walls of a small harbor.

The walls of a harbor are significantly harder than a boat’s hull, and any contact could be very damaging. Additionally, waves within a harbor are not always tranquil—some of them inadvertently align with a sea’s current, driving rough conditions into an area that should ideally be like a mill pond.

So how can you navigate your way through a potentially tricky mooring situation while competing for space with other boats? Let’s walk through some valuable tips.

How to moor safely: approach with caution

The easiest method to moor involves dropping your anchor far enough from shore, backing up to the quay wall, attaching your stern lines, and then pulling in on the anchor to place the boat properly. 

If you need to drop your anchor and reverse into a harbor, line up your boat’s stern to the wharf and begin carefully reversing. When you are about four boat lengths distant, drop the anchor and slowly begin to move the vessel astern. In a tightly packed small harbor, you don’t have much room to maneuver, which is why a steady pace is crucial. And if you’re faced with a violent cross-wind or other unforeseen weather, you don’t want to be approaching the harbor at any speed as this could career the boat out of control. 

Once you are ready to reverse in, go easy on the throttle. Thrusters in the bow and stern are helpful for placement, but keep in mind that the boat pivots around the middle, so short bursts of force are much more useful.

How to moor safely: communicate with everyone on board

It’s vital to keep your crew in the loop about any moves you will make. This can sometimes be a challenge if they are on the other side of the boat, and the noises of the elements or even a winch are particularly loud. 

Establish what information the steerer will require, and how and when it should be supplied. Remember that your method of communication should depend on how big the boat is—finger signals made with one hand held far out to the side work well when communicating over a distance.

Once you’re close, a fellow designated crew member can use the bow mooring rope to climb ashore. You should make them aware of taking their time and not jump on what could be a slippery or uneven quay/bank.

Consider conditions when leaving

Obviously, it’s also essential to consider the process of departing from a successful moor. There are three key factors to bear in mind during the departure process:

  1. Tide: A safe departure from the harbor frequently depends on the direction of the tide flow, whether it is rising or dropping.
  2. Wind: Is the boat being blown away from the pontoon or toward it? The order in which you cast off the ropes holding the boat.
  3. Forecast: It’s always a better idea to postpone leaving if a huge gale forecast has been predicted.

Follow the tips above, and you’ll feel you can safely navigate mooring, no matter the stormy conditions that are thrown your way. 

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