Sailing onto a mooring buoy

Here are some handy methods for sailing onto a mooring buoy, it’s quite often used to test your skills as a yachtsman but it’s a great skill to have when the marinas or anchorages are full. 

First look at other yachts on the moorings to determine which is stronger, wind or tide. Then observe the direction of tide with relation to the direction of the wind. 

Once you have worked these out, there are four main scenarios:

  • Into tide, into wind
  • Into tide, across wind
  • Into tide, downwind
  • No tide

A sail by is also worth doing to determine the features on the buoy, i.e. does it have a pick up line with a float? Does it just have a large shackle on the top?  This will determine the method to be used to fasten the yacht to the buoy, we don’t recommend using a lassoo.

The key to success for this manoeuvre is fully understanding the conditions, making the correct sail plan and approach, making sure mooring lines are prepared well in advance and also making sure the crew are fully away of what you intend to do. They need to know what their respective rolls are and consider an exit strategy if it starts to go wrong.  It is always better to bail out of a manoeuvre when it starts to go wrong, rather than trying to force it!

The other big consideration is managing the approach speed. If the buoy is run over there is risk of damage to the hull, the keel, the rudder or the propeller.

So let’s see how to approach when:

Into tide into wind (the most challenging):

  1. Use the main sail to keep the yacht moving.
  2. Use a transit to check forward motion on the buoy. The yacht will ferry glide towards the buoy.
  3. Try to keep the yacht on a close reach, avoid pointing as this will slow the yacht down and fall behind the bouy, which will mean starting again.
  4. Keep the bouy on the lee side of the yacht, with the bow being part of the transit from the buoy to the other stationary observable feature. 
  5. When the buoy is in range of the crew member on the bow, put the bow into the tide and let the main fully luff.
  6. When the yacht has stopped, the crew member should be ready to pick up the smaller ‘pick up buoy’ with a boat hook.
  7. As soon as the buoy is made fast, drop the main, so that there is no risk of it powering back up.

The biggest complication with this method is if the yacht cannot sail faster than the tide with just the mainsail alone.  In this scenario the headsail will also need to be used. Be aware that as the headsail is sheeted out, to de-power the yacht, it will interfere with the person on the bow picking up the mooring.

Into tide, across wind.

  1. Use the headsail only, as the main sail will be impossible to de-power. ( If the main is not de-powered, there will be a possibility of gybing around the buoy, causing possible injury and damage).
  2. De-power the yacht by sheeting the headsail out and letting it fully luff.
  3. Follow steps 2-7 as above.
  4. As soon as the mooring has been picked up either drop or furl away the headsail.

Into the tide, downwind - patience needed!

  1. Use the headsail only.
  2. Follow steps 2-7.
  3. As the yacht approaches the mooring, drop the headsail on deck, or furl it away.  If you have a furling system it is easy to match the speed of the yacht with the speed of the tide.
  4. As soon as the mooring has been picked up fully furl or drop the headsail.

No Tide.

If you are in an area with no tide, then it’s a case of into the wind, with the mainsail, filling and spilling, as with sailing into the wind and tide.

Are you secure?

Finally, when the buoy has been collected it’s advisable to use a bridal from the cleats on the bow of the yacht.  This allows you to quickly release the line and let the mooring go in a hurry if needed.  If, however, you need to tie a knot onto a mooring buoy, make sure you use a round turn and two half hitches, as this knot can be untied when under pressure.  It is recommended to use two lines on either side of the bow to tie to the mooring.  This will reduce some swinging, will give a back up if one line slips undone or breaks and will also make departing easier as you can choose which side to let off first.

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