How to Tie a Boat to a Mooring Ball: How to Tie Up to a Mooring Ball

How To (Securely) Tie Your Boat To A Mooring Ball

Mooring balls are used in harbors as a cheaper, space-saving method for securing boats. Usually, it’s more affordable to tie off to a mooring ball than to anchor your boat at the dock in a harbor. However, some boaters may hesitate to tie off to a mooring ball, especially if they've never done it before. Why? For starters, if you do so incorrectly, this can lead to collisions with other boats. That’s why knowing how to tie off to a mooring ball properly is essential to prevent damage to your boat or others.

Here's everything you need to know about mooring buoys to help you securely and confidently tie off your boat.

What Does a Mooring Buoy Look Like, and Where Can You Find Them?

A mooring buoy is a spherical ball that floats in the water. They are usually painted white and will have a blue or orange stripe on them. Mooring buoys are generally found in harbors or anywhere that boats are anchored. In some locales, restaurants catering to the boating community or a yacht club will have mooring buoys for boaters to tie up to.

Can I Moor My Boat Anywhere?

Most mooring buoys (if well maintained) will have some kind of markings on them. Private mooring buoys will have the owner's and vessel's names or a mooring permit number. Buoys at private yacht clubs may have "GUEST" printed on them for visiting boats.

Public mooring buoys often have a VHF channel so that you can contact the harbor manager. Before tying off to a mooring buoy, you should always contact the harbor manager. They'll let you know whether a particular buoy is anchored strongly enough for a vessel your size. If not, they'll direct you to one that is.

What is the Best Line for a Mooring Buoy?

A three-strand nylon rope has a bit of stretch and can easily be looped through the ring on the pickup buoy or mooring ball. You will need two strands of rope to tie your boat to a mooring ball properly, and each should be ten or more feet long.

How to Tie a Boat to a Mooring Buoy 

1. Approaching the Mooring Buoy

Mooring buoys will be spaced a reasonable distance apart in the harbor. You should always approach at idle speed so as not to create a wake. You don't want to rock the other boats with your wake, and there could be people swimming or scuba diving nearby. Cruising at idle speed to approach your buoy will also prevent you from overshooting the target.

2. Assess the Mooring System

Check the condition of the mooring buoy, the pickup buoy, and the pennant that attaches them. Do they look well-maintained? Are they covered in seaweed or barnacles? If they don't seem to be in good shape, it's probably not a good idea to tie off here. Ask the harbormaster for another buoy. Public moorings are usually well-kept, but that's not always the case.

3. Prepare Your Boat

You will need at least one crew member with a boat hook on the bow of your vessel. One end of your tie-off ropes should be attached to a boat cleat on the port and starboard sides of the front of the bow. Have a system of hand signals worked out with the crew member at the front before approaching the buoy. Before reaching the pickup buoy, these signals should let the captain know how many approximate boat lengths are left. You should also have a signal that lets the captain know when to cut the engine(s).

4. Grab the Mooring Buoy

After approaching at idle speed and adjusting for wind and current, your crew member at the front of the boat should be able to grab the pickup buoy with the boat hook. It's easiest to grab the underside of the pickup buoy and pull it up onto the boat.

5. Thread Your Mooring Line

The pickup buoy will have a ring attached to it to which you will thread the mooring line. Remember that you must repeat steps five and six on both sides of the boat to be tied off at two points. When you thread the first mooring line, you want to leave some slack in the water.

6. Attach the Mooring Line

The rope that has been looped to the pickup buoy can be threaded through a fairlead (if you have one), although it's not necessary. The mooring line that is now looped through the ring on the pickup buoy should be tied off on the same boat cleat that the other end is tied to.

Move the pickup buoy to the opposite side of the bow. Thread the second mooring line through the ring, but don't leave any slack this time. Tie the second mooring line to the second cleat.

7. Adjust Tension

You can now untie one end of the first mooring line and adjust the tension to equal the opposite rope. Tying off to two points like this provides more safety. If you use only a single point, the ring on the buoy might saw through the line overnight. You don't want to wake up to the sound of your boat colliding with something because it drifted away while you were sleeping below deck.

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