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Becoming an expert boathandler Part 3 - using spring lines

Spring lines help with tight docking like this
Spring lines help with tight docking like this
T. Wyand

Spring rouses Richmond area boaters into getting their boats ready for the warmer weather on its way. But there is another kind of spring that boaters should be aware of – spring lines.

A spring line is NOT a new rope you just bought in April. Spring lines are mooring lines that lead forwards or aft (forwards or backwards) along your boat. When used at the pier, they prevent your boat from surging ahead or back along the pier. But spring lines can make you a much better boat handler, even if you are alone, if you know how to use them.

First, always use a strong nylon rope for a spring line; the spring line gets a lot of pull on it and the stretch of nylon is an advantage as a spring line. Make sure your cleats are up to the job too – hardware flying back at you can injure or kill! The cleats you use must be securely bolted through the deck, not just screwed down.

Your line should be made of nylon, because the stretchiness of nylon will help your spring line do its job. Use the largest line that will fit the cleat on your boat, up to ½ inch diameter, or 3 inch circumference. The line should be at least ¾ as long as the boat; for example, at least 15 feet of rope for a 20 foot boat. Keep it no longer than the length of the boat, as the excess will just get in the way.

Since we are discussing using a spring line for boat handling, let’s rig it that way. Fasten the spring line to a cleat near the bow, using a round turn and figure eights around the horns. Lead the line along your starboard (right) side, outside of any railings all the way back to the helm, where you can reach it easily while operating the boat. Check that your spring line won’t press against any railings as that could chafe the line or damage the railing. The best setup is an eye splice or bowline knot at the working end of the line so you can drop it over a piling or a cleat on the dock.

Spring lines can be used to do two different things; stop your boat from moving forward and make the boat pivot without going forwards. Let’s look at backing out of a crowded berth, and you have an inexperienced crew, or none at can a spring line help?

First, rig your spring line as described above along the boat’s starboard side and drop the end loop over a post or piling near your helm or other location where you can easily reach it on the dock. Don’t leave much, if any, slack in the line, unless you want the boat to go forward! Put out fenders along your starboard side, if you have them. Start the engine and place it in forward gear, idle speed. Turn the steering wheel all the way over to the left and the boat will pull against the spring line and push the stern into the dock. Now the boat will not move, even if you take in all the other mooring lines.

Remember, rig the line, place engine in forward gear at idle speed and turn the wheel away from the side the spring line is on. For example, if your spring line is on your starboard (right) side, turn the wheel to port (to the left). Now you can take in all the other lines and the boat will remain where it is. This is called a “tugboat moor”, since many tugs use this technique while waiting at a dock for a short time.

When you are ready to leave, just shift into neutral gear; the nylon spring line will pull your boat slowly backwards and move the stern slightly away from the pier. Take in the spring line – don’t forget that! Because you rigged the line to stop right at the helm, you should be able to do this without leaving the wheel for more than a second or two. Now you can back out as you normally would. Lastly, bask in the jealous and admiring looks from the others along the waterfront, marveling at your boat handling skill.

Next time we will look at how to use that spring line to get alongside a gas dock with a strong wind blowing. Leave a comment if you liked this article or if you want to see something in a future article! Click on the “Subscribe” button above and you will get an email notice and a link to my new articles – no waiting!


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