sailboat mooring, sailboat dock, dock, sail dock, sailboat docking, sailboat spring off, spring on dock

Launching a Boat- Springing On and Off a Dock or Mooring with your Sailboat P1

What we’ve learned to be the toughest part of sailing would have to be hands down, getting familiar with launching a boat correctly (springing off) and bringing your sailboat back to the dock safely (springing on). If you are just getting started, you may agree with us here. It’s tricky. Typically, no matter where you launch, you will be restricted in space (for example: around the dock) and there will usually be other boats densely taking up much of that space. Get lessons if this gives you agita! If lessons don’t help let someone else take the helm.

When you first take off, your rudder won’t maneuver you much since you are going at insignificant speeds. Have you ever had the feeling that everyone was looking at you at a restaurant hoping that you would faux pas so that they can laugh and possibly fill their lame dialogue with their date? No, we are not being paranoid! Ok, maybe we are. You will get the same feeling when other sailors nearby are loading up. It’ll almost feel like they are watching you waiting for a mistake! Have no fear! Stay confident, and spring off like a boss! Again, if you are too scared, have a friend who has some experience come along the first few times.

Picture: Mooring whipped on a Dinghy

Sailboat Docking Tips/Equipment- Mooring a boat

Practice! Practice! Practice! It is ideal to start practicing on a sailboat with the mast rigged up already with the boat tied up to a dock/mooring whips, already in the water. Mooring whips are pretty popular these days.  Dock Edge co. uses fiberglass for their whips and their lines are of great quality. You can also go with an anchored buoy mooring. We like Taylor Made’s buoy at just over 100 dollars. It’s more traditional but at 12 Inches it does the job of permanently anchoring your boat dockside.


Picture: Mooring Whips by Dock Edge

Casting Off- Springing off Mooring/Dock

So how does one get underway and cast off from the dock/mooring? The unfortunate answer is that it depends! If you have an inboard/outboard engine (cheater!) you can simply release the mooring line, buoy, dock line, etc…and vroom away using the motor as your accelerator.

Then all you would need to do when you have coast clearance is to hoist those sails/turn off motor. But what if you want to do it without using the engine? We actually recommend training without using the engine because one day that engine can give out somewhere while at sea and you will be stuck maneuvering your sailboat back onto the dock without the necessary practice of doing so. Even more embarrassing would be getting to your docked boat and having the engine not start up!

Picture: Transom Fender by Taylor Made

Then what do you do? Although this is not an attempt at a proof, you will appreciate and feel good that you can do it without the aid of a motor. Good luck and have fun! Oh and don’t forget undue your transom fender (cushion that stops the transom from smacking into the dock!) If you plan on taking your boat out for poker night, or sailboat clubs (frequent trips) get yourself a fender. We like Taylor Made’s transom fenders. They do the job and are just small enough to stow away once you spring off the dock.


Motorsailor concerns- Sailboats with outboard motors

One of the bigger issues concerning engine use on a sailboat is the tangled mess it can produce if a line, cable, rope etc gets stuck in the propeller. So be aware of the lines and make sure they aren’t loose, flimsily draped off the side of the boat waiting for trouble! Do not forget to release the mooring line if you have a mooring buoy.

This is the cable that connects itself to the buoy, on the windward end and so releasing it stops you from running it over when the boat is sideslipping picking up speed. You will find the there are certain moorings with anchors (stern side) in which all the boats are made to face one uniform angle. What you want to do in this case is to 1. let go of the anchor line (this line will typically have certain weights attached). Make sure the anchor line sinks and is not in the way of the boat before continuing your journey.


Springing Off a Mooring Buoy- Leaving a Mooring Under Sail

A lot of people ask me which platform is easier to spring off (leave). From our personal experience, mooring off is way easier than leaving dockside. Reason being is that the boat isn’t knocking into the dock while moored and is typically in relatively open water.

Mooring buoys, mooring, mooring under sail, mooring buoy

Mooring buoys

With that being said, your boat will potentially naturally be stuck in the no-sail zone when moored and it will be a challenge to get out of that zone. Typically you will have your boat fastened at the bow and your sails will already be rigged/hoisted facing the wind. Here are a few steps to consider when sailing off a mooring:

  1. Make sure you have pre-planned your wiggle out journey before trying to cast off, whether it be off a dock or mooring-The key here is to plan a reach route ahead of time. The reach direction typically gets you sailing the fastest and picking up speed is key to wiggling out of the no-sail zone!
  2. As the mainsail luffs, make sure to back the jib sail-This is done by first trimming the jib using its sheet, but on the opposite side, you intend to sail. This creates a jib backwind! All this means is the the the jib is filling on the backside which allows  you to force the bow away from the dead zone (no-sail)
  3. Make sure to walk the mooring line on the windward side in order to heave the boat ahead- While you have the crew taking hold of the mooring line, walk the line in unison towards the stern/windward. The idea here is you do not want the line to get caught under and around the keel or even worse, engine. When the weight of the crew shifts to the back, your boat is yanked forward.
  4. Make sure that whoever you have crewing the bow side of the boat, to uncleat the mooring line while still holding onto it-This is critical. When you are sailing on larger boats with elements at a high (strong winds, current, etc) it will take more than one crew members muscle to tug and carry this mooring line. Make sure to prep the line by wrapping the line around the base of the horn/jam cleat bow side. This will allow you to hold onto the line yet be prepped to spring off way faster. This is especially true with boats 20ft or smaller (keelb’s and dinghies). You will discover the difficulties of holding the mooring line on a bigger boat once it is uncleated. So the best thing to do in this situation is to chuck it away from the boat as the helmsman gives you the nod that he is about to cast off.
  5. Have the crew let go of the mooring lines then right after, trim in the sails– This takes a little bit of patience. Hold off until the exact moment when your steering, the might of the backwinded jib and the luffing starts to rotate your boat as it starts to reach POS all happen concurrently. Next, make sure the backwinded jib is released and trimmed to the normal side (no longer backwinded jib position). As the sailboat begins to speed up, trim off the luffed mainsail and you are set!

Springing off from Dock- How Do I Leave Dock on my Sailboat without Embarrassment!?

The biggest thing to take from this section is: Try to avoid roping off your sailboat on the windward side of the dock. You want to avoid the upwind zone so you can easily come and go pretty easily. If you are trying to take off windward dockside you will find that the boat will get loose on a sideways track and will speed up and rub against the dock-What a drag! Not a good look! So make sure you fasten your boat to the leeward side of the dock. That way you will have wind pushing away from the dock, keeping your boat scratch-free. The last thing you want is to taint the paint job on the hull. It is not a good feeling. If there are no other options but to tie the boat windward facing the dock, then hopefully you utilize an engine to help cast off without ripping up the boat. However, if you leave the boat docked on the windward side, overtime the boat will knock into the dock enough times to at least cosmetically damage. So if you can help it, always try and use the leeward side of the dock!

Picture: Pushing off on leeward side while climbing on board

To help if you are forced to dock on the windward side, try manually moving (boats 25 ft or smaller) them using the dock lines or shrouds to pull them to a more ideal location. Reminder: shrouds are the mast lines that work as the masts support). For bigger boats (25ft or bigger) make sure to use your engine, hoisting the sails when you have clearance. Do what you can not to leave the dock until your boat is in position to safely leave the no-sail zone. If you have enough space by the dock, you can then start to twist the boat around by pulling in the bow cable. Then from their, you will want to walk the boat steadily in order to get the boat to start it’s momentum forward. You need the momentum to activate the rudder, otherwise, you would steer to nowhere.

The idea is to keep the main 100% in luff mode, as you make your way out of the dead zone and into the sailing zone. And, if you are utilizing a  jib sail, backwind it by doing the same thing as you would when you are mooring above. This will essentially help turn the boat exactly in the direction you want it to turn. If you are lucky to have ample amount of space, you might be able to steer your way to speed. This phenomenon is called steerage-way (Which is the necessary speed needed to steer). Try to get your crew to help fend and push while hopping on board. You can also use a nearby stationary “anything” to get a push in order to help.

…Once you get going, remember to undo the fender and stow it away somewhere out of site. Also, undo any dock lines and spin them up for storage/out of the way until you need to tie back up.

Sailboat Docking Techniques- How do I get back to the dock in style?

Ok, so you’ve managed to spring off either a dock or mooring platform and you have the time of your life out at sea! Now it is time to come back to shore. Is there an art to this? Of course! There is always a way to start then stop in any sport. Learning only one half can become catastrophic in the long run! We don’t want you running into other boats, docks or into the ground. So let’s talk about some ways we can get this done smoothly.

What you need to focus on is speed control and easing up at a controlled rate on the way to the dock. Getting to slow down= luff your sails! Anytime you are looking to slow down you should think about ways to luff your sails and allowing the boat to gradually come to a halt. So the key here is to know exactly when you should begin to luff the mainsail in that you keep enough distance between your boat and the dock to perform the maneuver. If you wait too long to begin luffing the sailboat might not have enough time to luff and slow up. minimizing the ramming speed is key to this maneuver.

We recommend that if you miss misread, it’s better to misread by slowing up too quickly. Reason being you can always retrim your sails and pick up a little speed to get to the dock. Make sure that you don’t slow down all the way because if you do, this typically means your boat is in the no-sail zone and you may be stuck! Moderation is key, don’t slow up too much and don’t keep crazy amounts of ramming speed. 

What if you are not slowing down and you feel like you are going to ram into the dock. Do not panic! The easiest/quickest solution is to turn the boat around and sail out far enough to try approaching again. This will give you practice in timing so don’t get discouraged. You need to learn how to time your luff to make for a smooth landing! This takes time to master. Especially when you are sailing on a new boat. Every boat will decelerate differently than other boats. A smart sailor will use marks such as buoys to practice on.

How to slow down my sailboat?

luff sails, slow down boat, sail boat, slow down

Picture: Luffing sails on the way back to dock

Here are a few tips on how to slow up if you need more options:

  1. try backing the mainsail on smaller boats: When you backwinding the main, you will notice that it works very much like a windbreak. in order to backwind the main, push the boom in the direction of the wind, and the sail will fill up with the backside windward. You really need a sense of how to control the boom, as it can easily push back! Make sure you have had experience with boom control before attempting this. If the boom is pressing heavily back at you, make sure you get out of its way. Be careful!
  2. You can use the rudder to slow your sailboat down! Time to turn hard! If you think you came in to fast, use the rudder to get out of straight mode in order to give the boat enough distance to ease up. Make sure everyone on board is bracing against something when turning!

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