If picking up a mooring ball, also called a mooring buoy, is something new for you, it can be a bit daunting the first time; especially if there are many onlookers. Read these steps to picking up a mooring buoy so that you understand the procedure and then consider a few tips below to avoid making common mistakes.
Steps to Picking up a Mooring Ball
1. After locating a mooring field, or bay filled with mooring buoys, determine if the buoys are private or for public use. Also determine if there are any weight or length restrictions – often buoys are color-coded (white might be private but yellow could be public), provide restrictions and/or have phone numbers written on them. Information prior to arrival can often be obtained from pilot books, plotters, maps, cruiser guides and cruiser websites.
2. Before entering a mooring field, take note of any empty mooring buoys and pay attention to how other boats are lying at their buoys. If there are no other boats to visually inspect, make a note of wind direction and the flow of the current. You’ll want to aim into the wind or the current when picking up a mooring buoy.
3. Position a crewmember at the front of the boat, preferably with an extendable hook. Also ask them to attach a line each to the bow’s port-side and starboard-side cleats reminding them to make sure the line goes from the cleat away from the boat and then back over the guardrail (in preparation).
4. Approach a free mooring buoy in the direction that surrounding boats are laying. If there are no other boats, head into the wind or current (whichever is stronger).
5. Ask the forward crewmember to count down the distance between the bow of the boat and the mooring buoy while using verbal clues or hand signals to indicate the boats direction. (Remind the crewmember to aim his or her voice towards the back of the boat so you can hear him or her).
6. Shift into neutral when you feel the boat will drift close enough to hook the mooring buoy.
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Tips to Avoid Making Mistakes when Picking up a Mooring Ball
1. We position a third person midway between the helmsperson and the forward crew to help with communications. We’ve also seen other couples that use hands free head sets to provide instructions to each other. Within the cruising community they’ve been aptly named ‘marriage savers’ and it reduces the shouting that happens without them.
2. Never do you want to use only one line to affix your boat to a mooring buoy due to redundancy purposes. Lines can easily chaff and by having two lines affixed the chances of coming unhooked are drastically reduced. Furthermore, if you use only one line chances are that another boater will visit you and ask for you to add another line – especially if you’re lined up to hit them if you come unattached.
3. If possible, dive on the mooring line and make sure that the integrity of the rope and ‘anchor’ – usually a cement block – look in tact. In many areas of the world, mooring buoys are not serviced or maintained. It’s important to find out what you’re tying your boat to!
4. There is no local or international standard for mooring buoys. One bay will have buoys with long ropes and easy to lift pennants and others will have heavy buoys with only a metal ring at the top! In some cases it’s impossible to pull the buoy up to the deck to tie a line on. When that happens, make a very large loop with one of your lines, throw it around the whole buoy and tie the line back to the boat. Make sure that the wind and/or current keep the line tight and then drop your dingy or jump in the water to physically feed the unused line through the metal hoop. Once one line is secured, remove the other line and properly feed it through the hoop.
5. Note that some mooring buoys have floats near the end, or in the middle, of the line that needs to be picked up. Often these floats are a bit of a distance from the actually mooring buoy. The forward crewmember needs to direct the helmsperson to a position where the floating rope can be picked up.
6. It can be advantageous to back into a mooring buoy instead of going bow first. The same set-up and directions apply however it’s easier for the helmsperson to see. It’s also easier for the crewmember to simply grab the buoy line out of the water. Care needs to be taken in relation to any ropes getting caught in the prop. The crewmember needs to be careful not to fall in the water! An added benefit of picking up a mooring buoy from the stern is that the wind will blow through the cabin. This will provide more fresh air down below decks.
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