sailboat docking

9 Tips to Landing your Sailboat- Sailing Back to Your Mooring or Dock


How do I Sail Back to Mooring?

Hook & moor, Boat Hook, HOOK&MOOR ADJ 2 MTR BOAT HOOK by New England Hook, moor hook

Pictured: Boat Hook & Moor ADJ 2 MTR

So…The trick is to always have a plan in place before trying to land your boat near or around any mass/object.  When the objective is to return your sailboat to a mooring/mooring buoy, it is imperative that you keep the crew abreast as to which mooring you plan to pick up. Have someone be in charge of controlling the line that is fixed onto the buoy. You may want to facilitate this for you or your crew member by utilizing a boat hook. Get a heavy duty one like this New England Hook & Moor so you never run the risk of going overboard. This also works as an aid when docking so you won’t need outside help. This pole will have a hook on the end and works to extend a sailor’s reach.

Many mooring lines utilize a tall pole that stays connected to a float, so that when you are ready you would sail up to the pole and pull the mooring line up and out. While you have someone in charge of this, the rest of your crew needs wait for a signal from you to start luffing your main and jib sails.

Tips for Mooring

Make sure you try and follow these guidelines as they have helped our crew many times to avoid problems:

  1. When you are ready, pass close to the buoy and make sure your point of sale is on a close reach. Helm the boat to an imaginary line a couple of boat lengths perfectly downwind from the buoy. This is considered the offset distance. This is where you need to really understand how your boat reacts as it begins to coast or stop. The lighter the boat, typically the quicker the boat will slow down. 20ft keelboats will slow down quicker than 30 ft keelboats, with everything else equal. With heavier boats, since there is extra weight, momentum will tend to make it harder for the boat to stop.
  2. Use your cognition and feel/experience to know exactly when to start luffing your sails to begin reducing speed. You will have to gauge wind levels, current and boat speed to help in the decision making.   Try luffing the jib sail (that is if you are using a jib) followed by luffing the mainsail. That way you leave yourself some elasticity in options when modifying your speed to its end.
  3. Once you are perfectly downwind in relation to the buoy and you are slowing down at the right rate, steer to a smooth (not too sharp, not too flat) in the wind’s direction and start to sail up next to the mooring and pointed right at the wind.  Remind yourself that if you approach too fast, break off trying to land it and have another go at it. If you are taking forever to approach, make sure to trim the sails and pick up some momentum. If you are having trouble spotting the buoy, delegate someone from your crew to point at it and hold so that you can have a good sense of where it is as you approach. When the boat finally gets up to the buoy, it will in a perfect world, come to a complete stop. If you utilize a boat hook it well aid the foredeck team in capturing the mooring buoy.
  4. Get your foredeck crew to link the mooring buoy to the sailboat. Make sure you use a very durable line here and make sure to secure it to both the sailboat and the mooring buoy. The way you attach it to the sailboat is by using some sort of or some rigid object (cleat) that you can wrap the line around bow-side. Make sure the helmsman knows when this is accomplished.
  5. Make sure to finally lower the sails, you are finished with needing them to luff! This is self-explanatory. Since the boat is now at a complete dead stop, you no longer need any movement from your sails.

When there is a situation where you are working with a main and jib together, the best course of action is to probably drop the jib completely, clearing it away from the deck before attempting to land. The reason for this is that you want to give your crew as much space to feel comfortable as they maneuver the landing and lessens the power coming from your sails (obviously) and allows you and your crew to see better. What you sacrifice without a jib is the extra you would have in maneuvering out of irons so make sure to stay steerageway.

How do I Land Dockside?

dock, sailboat dock , docking


Docking may be a little more advanced than maneuvering a mooring landing. Reason being is that a dock is usually in tighter quarters with other boats in play. So what is the action plan? Follow these guidelines when landing dockside:

  1. Make sure you came up with an outlined course to share with your crew so that they don’t get blindsided. communication is key here.
  2. Make certain that your dock lines and fenders knotted and prepped way before you finally land.
  3. Make sure you are on the leeward side if you can help it and avoid the windward side of the dock so that your boat doesn’t get impacted by smashing into the dock overtime and also making it easier on you to leave the dock when you are ready to sail again.
  4. Make sure to ease into the landing. Approach with caution but make sure to keep a little bit of speed as you get close. The problem when you go too slow is your propensity to lose steerageway when you come to a complete stop. You should avoid this at all costs!

If you can find a dock that isn’t so busy that would be optimal. Look for the dock to be longer than it is shorter. Make sure the wind is blowing in line and across (East/West) with the dock and if it is blowing perpendicular make sure you pick the leeward side of the dock to park your boat. Similiar to mooring , make sure you plan ahead and give your boat enough coasting cushion so that it has enough time to slow down and ease into docking position.


Once the boat is adjacent to the dock and has slowed down significantly, go ahead and step up onto the dock from where you egress off the boat (usually middle of the boat) so that you can start linking the dock line to the dock cleat. We wouldn’t play around too much here if you are getting someone else in your crew to get this job done. Let them judge how close they need to be to jump out of the boat safely. Depth perception is relative and so is athleticism. Last thing you need is to call out a “jump” demand, only to find the crew members injuring themselves in the process. Make sure the first line that is linked is the bow line. Then and only then should you start lowering the sails and tieing off any other secure lines to the boat as necessary.

What if I can’t find enough room to dock comfortably?

So you get to the dock but have to really maneuver your boat to find space on it. Have no fear, there is a solution.

Once you bring the boat right up and near the dock, try tying a spring line which is a line that links the widest part of the boat (usually the middle). The reason why you start with this line is that it is the most effective line in stopping the boat in it its tracks. The bow and stern lines do this but not as effectively as the spring line. So when you approach nearside or side-on DO NOT secure the bow line first because you will find the boat coasting forward with the bow in and stern side of the boat will swing out! But, when you spring, the boat stops in its tracks and there is no forward momentum or swinging action!  Since it is pulling from the middle section/widest point, you will not have to catch the boat from hitting other boats in a chaotic frenzy! This is what you want in the case where the going gets tight. 


When should you begin lowering the sails?

We get this question a lot from newbie sailors. Our answer is, well we believe, most logical.

The best time to start lowering the sails will be exactly the point in which you know everyone in your crew is safely on the dock . Also, whatever direction the angle of wind in relation to the dock is and if your boat is at all windward, using more line to secure the boat may be highly recommended. If you have ample space on the dock , try releasing the sails and tidy up the sailboat before you leave it in its final parking space!

What about other boats coming up from behind ours?

The best way to combat accidents or minor collisions when sailboats start lining up with each other to land dockside is a rather simple plan of action.

To avoid being in the way of other boats, get one of your crew members to hold the dock line and loop that line around the dock’s cleat. This cleat is usually, a horn cleat but sometimes may be a piling. This way the boat can stop by means of friction rather than just the sailboats weight! Once the line is cleated, the crew member should then gradually pull it out. This way the boat’s weight power jerks on it rather than just linking the line and having the sailboat stop waaaayy too quickly and in the path of other boats coming up to dock! Make sure to never put any body part (limbs, feet, hands, face or special parts!) in between the dock and the sailboat. If your sailboat is made up of mostly fiberglass, always remember that it is much less painful to fix the fiberglass hull then it is to put your body parts back together again!

Last Resort Docking

sailboat docking

If the only choice is to land the boat windward, then make sure to steer into POS directly upwind of the dock itself, start lowering your sails and allow the wind to gradually force you down to the dock. Again we highly recommend you find a leeward position. You will be so much happier in the long run with how your boat has held up to the elements!

How do I Dock when my Sailboat has an Engine?

Something to always remember- It is much better to be going slow then it is to go fast when approaching a dock! Worst case if you are going to slow is to have to pick up speed but worst case when coming in to fast is CRASH! It is much harder to stop a boat in its tracks when in the moment and things are happening too quickly!

Always remember that just because you have an engine doesn’t mean your sailboat is as easy to control as your motor vehicle on land! The truth is that when you are sailing at slow speeds, the propellers rotational mechanics allows the sailboat to swing to one side in pulling/turning fashion.  The key is at “slow speeds.” Otherwise, the propeller will have a tough time pulling because of the waters force running through it. So practice turning the boat via propeller at slow speeds, in open water.

When you are docking, the momentum of your sailboat, the wind stats, current levels and other outside factors affect how well you can control your vessel. Also never forget to grab all of your lines that are in the water, out of the water before turning on the engine. The last thing you want is a line to be torn up into the propeller, damaging the engine. Also, if you are coursing upwind (close reach angle where sails aren’t fully luffed) make sure to drop the sails before you get to the dock while your engine is on. Another bit of advice would be to not rely just on reversing your boat at too high speeds but also to ease the boat to the dock and take a slow approach.

How do I Dock Between Pilings?Dock Piling Bumper

Picture: Recommended dock piling bumper

So, more than likely, you won’t have the easiest time to dock your boat in a wide open space because most docks will have traffic from other boats. That is unless you are on some unknown island you just discovered and built it its own dock station! When sailors get to use pilings for guidance they are thrilled. These pilings are usually grounded into the body of water’s floor.

Typically your lines (dock lines) are used in such a way, depending on how the pilings are oriented in relation to the dock. You need to stay on point and get your creative juices flowing as you maneuver the boat between the pilings and dock, so as to not bang the hull into the dock or piling itself. So the wind and current flows are important to keep in mind, but the first thing you need to keep abreast of is to avoid smacking into any wood! Look to have the dock on one side and the piling pieces on the opposite side.

Tie the dock rope as well as the spring lines to all 4 corners. The reason you do this is so so that you avoid the boat from incessant bumping against the dock and damaging the fiberglass. Look for fender boards (many marinas have these boards, which act as long wooden planks around parts of the boat) and connect them to the outside of your sailboats fenders. That way when the tide picks up, your boat will not bump into the piling. If you tend to have strong variable winds at your dock then first, look to dock at another location. If there are no other locations available, try to ease up on the boat right up on the dock and send your sailboat with an anchor and toss the anchor right at the center(half) line of your boat. Make sure to mark your anchor with a floaty or fender to indicate to other boats of your location so they can stay away and avoid issues.

How to heave a line?throw a line, heave a line, throw rope sail

So long as you help other sailors dock line their sailboat, you will find that other sailors will do the same for you. It is the proper thing to do to help throw a line to an oncoming sailboat ready to dock or moor. The toss matters! If you toss it to them and miss, you will have to pull back hard on the line which is now in water and will feel heavier! Follow these instructions when tossing!throw a line, dock rope, throw dock rope, throw dock line



Make sure the rope/line is coiled enough so its center of gravity is more defined. Then pull off a few coils from one hand to your throwing hand and make sure to get at least 2oft of line in your throwing hand and take your other hand and hold it open and pointed to the boat for a guidance and in case the line needs to extend past 20ft for some reason. Finally, throw the coiled part and target higher then straight in line.

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