How To Tie A Sailboat To A Mooring Ball Ring

How To Tie A Sailboat To A Mooring Ball Ring | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Beth York

June 15, 2022

Mooring balls are generally found in areas where traditional anchoring isn't an option. By learning how to tie your boat to a mooring ball, you can increase your cruising grounds. This presents you with new and exciting experiences. Don't miss out on snorkeling an amazing reef or visiting an island hot spot! Learn to safely and easily tie to a mooring ball using the instructions I lay out below.

By using a loop of heavy sinking line, you can easily capture any mooring ball, regardless of its setup. This method allows you to take your time and properly attach your boat's lines to the mooring ball.

Armed with a solid understanding of mooring ball design and knowledge of how to effectively use them, you will be able to approach, capture, and secure to any mooring ball with success.

My personal preference has always been to use my own anchoring system to secure my sailboat in place, but there are times when that just isn't the best option. Due to inhospitable bottom structure, crowded harbors or local laws, sometimes using a mooring ball is the only choice.


Table of contents

Mooring Ball Set-Up

The general setup of almost all mooring balls is the same. On the sea bottom is some form of anchor with a chain going to the ball. The ball will have a ring on top. Some mooring balls have a pennant (or line) coming from them, while others will not. If there is a pennant, you will attach to the eye or loop on the end. If there is no pennant, you will attach to the ring on the top of the ball.

There are innumerable ways in which mooring balls can vary. Their anchor may be a cement block, an old engine block, some form of mushroom anchor, or a screw system into bedrock, etc. The gauge of the chain will vary as well as the placement of the chain shackles. Occasionally, the rode from anchor to buoy is part heavy chain and part rope.

The equipment used may be unique from mooring field to mooring field, but the general design is the same. Moorings are inspected periodically by their owners. However, be sure to do your own inspection of all above water parts of the system. If possible, dive the anchor system as well to confirm it's proper placement and strength.  If any aspect of the system appears worn or faulty, be sure to notify the owners.

Capturing  Mooring Ball

You may feel uncomfortable when approaching a mooring ball for the first time. Let me put you at ease and teach you a technique that will allow you to capture any mooring ball on your first attempt.

To prepare in capturing the mooring ball you will want three lines at the bow. Two of the lines will be used to secure your vessel for the duration of your stay. The third line should be a heavy line which sinks quickly. It is used as you approach the ball. You will use this line to capture the ball temporarily while you assess the condition and set up of the mooring system.

You will create a loop, or a bight, with the third line as you approach the mooring ball. You then toss the loop over the ball, much in the same way you might toss a line over a piling. The line will sink down below the mooring ball.

As your vessel drifts back due to wind or current the line around the mooring ball will hold your vessel in place temporarily. This gives you as long as you need to get a clear idea of the mooring ball set up and connect your lines in a secure and proper method.

Solo Sailors

If you are planning on tying up to a mooring ball as a solo sailor, the technique of capturing ball is basically the same. However, you may find it easier to slowly pull alongside the mooring ball until you can see the mooring ball from the cockpit.

You will then toss your heavy capturing line over the mooring ball.  While your boat is in neutral you will walk to the bow while holding both ends of the heavy line and secure both ends to one bow cleat.

Tying Your Vessel To The Mooring

Since you now have a temporary line connecting you to the mooring ball, you can take a deep breath and relax, and think clearly aboutt what to do next.

You will have two lines on your bow. Attach one line to your port bow cleat and the other line to your starboard bow cleat. The other end of the lines will be fed, one at a time, through either the eye at the end of the pennant or the ring on the top of the ball. Bring the line back to its original cleat and cleat the line off.

If the mooring ball has a pennant and your bow is not too high off the water, you may be able to use a boat hook to catch the pennant.

If there is no pennant, you will grab the ring on top of the mooring ball with your boat hook and pull the ball up to your bow. Once at your bow, you will thread one of your lines through the ring and back to its original cleat. Repeat for the opposite side.

If you are unable to grab the ring using a boat hook or unable to lift the ball to the bow, consider bringing your dingy to the bow and, while in your dingy, thread the lines through the mooring ball ring.

Using two lines to secure to the mooring will greatly decrease the amount of chafing and friction incurred from your boat's movement due to wind and current.  Many boats go walkabout due to lines being chafed through. Prevent this from happening to you by using two lines. One line from the port bow cleat to the ball and back to the port bow cleat, and a second line from the starboard now cleat to the mooring ball and back to the starboard bow cleat.

Once you have secured your vessel for the night, be sure to keep an eye on your boat's movement. It is your responsibility to ensure that the mooring is holding you in place and that you will not make contact with any nearby vessels.

Releasing The Mooring

When it comes time to depart from the mooring, releasing your vessel is very easy. Simply uncleat one end, either port or starboard, and pull the line back through the mooring ring or pennant loop. When you're ready, undo the opposite bow line and pull the line back through the mooring. You are now free from the mooring ball and ready to continue cruising!

Mooring Balls And Storms

If you decide to ride out a storm on a mooring ball, you'll want to do your due diligence to ensure that you are fully secured to the mooring ball. Be sure to fully inspect all aspects of the mooring system you're able to and contact the owner about when the submerged parts were inspected.

The best way to be confident that your lines will not chafe during a storm is to use dock lines with a spliced eye or loop in the end to secure your vessel to the mooring ball.

Instead of having your line pass through the pendant or ring and back to your vessel, you will pass the loop end of the line through the pendant or ring then feed the other end (also called the bitter end, working end or running end) of the line through the loop. Secure the bitter end back to its starting cleat and repeat the method for the opposite bow cleat.

A third line can be added in the same fashion as a backup in case either of the primary lines fail.

Preventing Chafing

Besides using two lines to secure to a mooring ball, here is another tip for preventing chafing to your lines.

On our boat, we use rubber hose to protect lines from chafing. We have rubber hose on our anchor line so that chafing doesn't occur on our bow roller. When at the dock, we use hose to keep our spring lines from chafing on our towrail.  Anytime there is any chance that our lines may be chafed, we protect them with rubber hose.

I recommend that you protect your lines in the same fashion so that you never encounter a situation in which a line fails you due to chafing.

To create rubber hose coverings for your lines cut a 1-2 foot section of rubber hose of the appropriate diameter for your line. Feed the bitter end of your line through the hose piece. Slide the hose to a location on the line that requires protection. You may find that tying the hose to the working cleat will also help the hose stay in place.

I use a heavy duty needle to sew a strong string through the hose.  I then tie one end of the string to the hose and the other end to the cleat. This keeps the section of hose from sliding it of place.

How To Tie A Sailboat To A Mooring Ball Ring
Beth York

Beth York

Beth lives on board her 1983 30ft S2 sailboat with her husband, 6 year-old son, and her two fur babies. She has been sailing and boating for most of her life. Beth has been blessed to experience cruising in the Great Lakes, the Bahamas, and in Alaska. She loves to travel and adores living on her tiny boat with her family.

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