Boat Mooring Guide

Boat Mooring Guide Graphic Illustration

So, you bought the perfect boat, now where are you going to keep it? Many owners choose to store their boats at home in a driveway, yard or garage and simply trailer them down to the boat ramp each time they go out. But for daily boaters it may be better to store the boat on the water, allowing for more accessible, faster launching. Of course, this is usually the more expensive option as space at marinas and harbors can get pricey quickly.

If you’re new to boating and plan to keep your boat on the water, setting up a proper boat mooring is an important subject to study in order to ensure you moor your boat safely and properly. It can get confusing with all the various parts, ropes, and chains required – but don’t worry, we’ve got your covered. We’ll take you through the process of actionably mooring your boat and help you learn about the types of moorings, where you can park and the equipment you’ll need along the way.

Boat Mooring Basics

Most marinas and harbors have three different options for boat storage – from “dry dock” storage (where the boat is stored on land) to on-the-water storage at either a dockside “wet slip” or a mooring. The dry dock is usually the cheapest, followed by the mooring, while the most expensive is usually the slip. A slip is a designated space next to a dock that enables passengers to easily board the boat on foot. A mooring is a type of semi-permanent anchoring system out in the water and requires a tender (or dinghy) to reach the boat from the dock.

Unlike a traditional anchor that is stored onboard a boat and thrown overboard when needed, moorings are fixed to the ground and marked with a floating buoy that the boat is then attached to. It’s important to know the difference between mooring, anchoring and docking, and when the right time is for each.

Improper mooring can result in a lot of damage to your boat or other boats nearby if you aren’t careful. No matter how much boat insurance you have, this is a hassle you just want to avoid if you can.

Types of Boat Moorings

There are as many options for mooring your boat as there are potential water and weather conditions. A small concrete block might serve well for a quick mooring in calm waters, for example, but it wouldn’t hold up much to a storm. A mushroom mooring gives you added strength, and on the most secure end of the spectrum are helical anchors that actually screw into the floor of the body of water to keep your vessel anchored during the roughest conditions.

It is important that you understand the different options that you have for mooring your boat in different situations. Fortunately, it’s not that complicated if you take the time to understand the differences. While you could spend hours learning all the types of mooring situations and names of the equipment involved, it really just boils down to one thing: strength.

Boat Mooring Equipment

Depending on how you want to moor or dock your boat, there are a number of pieces of equipment that you will need. From shackles and chains to ropes and mooring whips, let’s take a look at some of the most common required equipment of any good mooring system.

Mooring Anchors Versus Regular Anchors

Let’s take a look at some of the more common types of anchors and mooring anchors, to give you an idea of how they differ from one another and when each type should be used. Keep in mind that small boats moored in shallow, protected or calm waters may be fine with lighter-weight mooring anchors, while heavier vessels moored out in deeper, open water with strong currents will require much heavier mooring anchors and potentially more complex mooring systems. Of course, the heavier the anchor the better, but the more difficult it will be to remove.

Danforth / Cruising anchors

With wide, flat and sharp flukes this type of anchor readily digs itself into mud and sand when it is heavy enough but offers little resistance during the burying operation and also when it is being broken out again. It has the advantage of folding flat for deck stowage making it ideal for use with smaller vessels, such as boats and personal watercraft that can be trailered.

Note: This is not considered a mooring anchor, and should not be used for a mooring system.

Plow-style anchors

Usually stored onboard a vessel these anchors can hold effectively in grass, mud, and sand and offer a lot of versatility.

Note: This is not considered a mooring anchor, and should not be used for a mooring system.

Mushroom anchors

The most common choice for boaters when mooring, these mooring anchors are available in weights from 25 pounds up to 1000 pounds or more. These anchors dig in deep while the shape adds suction, giving you extra staying power.

Pyramid anchors

Constructed of steel with a more concentrated weight design and smaller size than mushroom anchors these anchors offer a holding power is up to ten times their weight. These are often used in long-term, permanent, mooring systems at many marinas.

Helix anchors

The most difficult to install but also the strongest. They allow for optimum protection of marine wildlife and habitat thus are considered the best eco-mooring systems. Because they’re screwed into the ground they offer the most holding power, with 4-5 times the holding strength of other mooring systems. They are ideal for heavy vessel mooring systems.

Navy/Kedge anchors

Used exclusively by the massive navy and military barges and vessels, due to their heavyweight.

Mooring System Parts

Mooring Chains And Ropes

Along with a good mooring anchor, you also need the right gear to connect with, starting with two high-quality galvanized chains: one lightweight and one heavy. The lighter chain will connect to the heavy one with a swivel shackle to allow for maneuvering, and measures about as long as the water is deep. The heavy chain is connected to the mooring anchor and will rest on the ocean floor to provide additional weight. The length of the chain should be equal to 1.5 times the depth of the water to provide enough weight for mooring.

Mooring Shackles

Mooring shackles are designed to securely connect ropes and chains to other fittings while supporting the weight of the load adequately and safely. There are many types of shackles available including screw pin shackles (for non-permanent applications), safety bolt shackles (for long-term applications) and other derivatives and varieties. They come in a range of materials, from untreated steel or iron to coated, finished or galvanized steel surfaces.

Mooring Buoys

You don’t necessarily need a buoy when mooring your boat, but it is a good idea for safety. This will absorb motion from the wind and waves and help bring your chain to the surface as well as making it easy to find. Choose a buoy that is the right size for your boat and that has the protective features that you need. Buoys come in all shapes and sizes, including some that are part of pre-packaged mooring kits.

Mooring Pennants

Almost everywhere that boats are permitted, there are rules regarding mooring pennants. This “pennant” is actually a rope made from nylon that connects the buoy to the boat hitch. These can be made from other materials for applications that need more durability. The biggest consideration here is to choose a line that has a chafe-resistant coating to protect your mooring and the hull of your boat. Make sure that your pennant is just long enough to connect your buoy. If it’s too long, you could cause damage to your outboard motor or not have as stable of a position in the water during rough weather.

Mooring Locations

Typically, there are two types of mooring locations available:

Commercial Moorings

Any mooring the owner of which does not keep their own personal boat attached to but rather rents out to transients for short term use or temporary visits is generally known as a commercial mooring. Often these types of moorings are managed by towns and marinas who may make them available for tourists to rent while on vacation or for short-term commercial purposes.

Private Moorings

These are moorings available for private ownership or long-term leasing, allowing a boat owner to essentially own the place on the water where they park their boat. It’s a general rule of thumb not hook up to a mooring if you don’t know whose it is, or how often it is used. Not only is this bad boating etiquette, but it could be a safety hazard since the mooring may not be adequate for your size vessel – and in the case of private moorings, it can even be considered trespassing.

Choosing A Mooring Location

Now that you know a little more about boat mooring equipment and locations, we’re going to look at the actual process of mooring a boat and what it entails. Despite what you see in the movies, you can’t always just moor or drop anchor anywhere. Most cities and states have mooring restrictions and location guidelines and requirements. Furthermore, there are some spots where it just isn’t safe to leave your boat parked for very long. Your first task when you buy a vessel should be to figure out where you’ll be mooring or docking it based on the regulations of your town or local water authority.

You’ll have to research where it is legal to park your boat in your area and then find a spot where you can safely do so, following all of the above guidelines. You’ll want to avoid areas with rocky bottoms and pick an area that has a soft bed so that your mooring can settle in securely.

You should choose a spot that is protected from waves, wind, and other elements. Make sure that you have a way to get on and off your boat after it is moored and that you aren’t encroaching on other moored boats, mooring fields, or channels of boat traffic. Finally, if it’s going to be dark while your boat is anchored, you’ll need to consider leaving on an anchor light or reflectors for safety.

Keep in mind that whoever owns the property where you intend to moor your vessel, may also have specific guidelines of their own—such as location, depth, and weight requirements. Check with them before you buy mooring equipment to make sure you have exactly what you’ll need.

Dropping Your Mooring

When you arrive at your mooring spot, you will want to check the characteristics of the water bed to ensure that it isn’t solid, grassy, or otherwise ill-designed to secure an anchor. Choose a spot that leaves room for other boats and their moorings and point your boat in the direction of the current or wind. Then, secure your pennant and lower your mooring anchor overboard.

Once the anchor lands, hook the boat to the line and circle the mooring slowly, double-checking its secure hold. You’ll also want to double-check your pennant and buoy connection before leaving your boat to ensure that it will still be there when you get back. Make sure there are no other boats nearby or traffic that may interfere with un-mooring your boat – and remember: do not place your mooring in the middle of a channel!

Safe Mooring Tips

If severe weather is coming, you may want to consider pulling your boat out of the water completely and storing it on land, or at a dry dock. Even if you just trailer it, it will be safer than sitting in choppy seas in most cases.

While an anchored boat needs to be checked for secureness frequently (sometimes multiple times per hour depending on tides and currents), a moored boat can typically sit for weeks—sometimes even years—without concern. That said, it is a good idea to routinely check your mooring and make sure it is still holding and safely securing your boat.

Unattended vessels that cause damage to other boats, structures, or environmental areas are the responsibility of the boat owner. Insurance companies are far less likely to cover damages caused by an anchored boat. In fact, a lot of policies specifically require permanent mooring or have an exclusion spelled out for anchoring-related damages.

Some regions have restrictions about how close you can be to shore, or there may be no-anchoring zones in high traffic areas. Furthermore, some cities and coastal areas are starting to outlaw anchoring altogether, which means learning the ropes of mooring is crucial for many people.

Wrapping Up

Parking and storing a boat on the water is a unique practice that requires a solid working knowledge of all available options, equipment, techniques, and limitations. Boats are expensive and the last thing that you need as a boat owner is to cause property damage to your vessel or another owner’s vessel. Perhaps most importantly, you do not want to lose your boat in the open water because of improper mooring setups.

Use the information in this guide to hone your mooring and guarantee that your boat is secure and protected while you’re away. Fortunately, there is no shortage of gear available for the various boats on the water today, making it easy for everyone to get the best tools and equipment for the job.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between Docking and Mooring?

The biggest difference between docking and mooring your boat is the equipment that you use. When you dock your boat alongside a wharf, dock, or pier, you will need dock lines, fenders, and other equipment to secure your vessel. A permanent anchor spot is referred to as a mooring, which requires a floating buoy, a rope line, chains, and an anchor. Most moored boats still require docking equipment for additional support.

What is a boat mooring?

A mooring is any type of permanent or semi-permanent anchoring system on the water, to which a boat can be safely secured, and which typically requires a tender vessel or dinghy access.

How do boat moorings work?

Boat moorings are secured to the ground underwater via a heavy structure or weight and connected through a system of chains, shackles, and ropes to a floating buoy above on the water’s surface.

How heavy should a boat mooring be?

The proper weight for a boat mooring depends on a number of factors, including the underwater landscape (whether it’s hard rock, loose rock or soft sand), the type of mooring used, water depth, weather conditions and the weight and length of the vessel. As a general guideline, mushroom moorings on soft, sandy bottoms in protected harbors should weigh between 5–10 times the length of the vessel, to be safe. So for example, a 20-foot boat should usually have at least a 100 pound mushroom mooring to be safe, whereas a 35-foot boat may required a 350-pound mooring to be safe. It is best to consult the harbor or marina where you are placing your mooring for advice when choosing the weight of your mooring.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and was last updated in June, 2020. 

Written by: Ryan McVinney

C. Ryan McVinney is a film director, writer and producer. As an experienced boater he regularly produces and directs on-the-water video shoots for major boat manufacturers, yacht brokers and dealers, as well as independent film and media companies. He is president of the National Soho House Film Club with chapters in Miami, FL, Manhattan, NY and Los Angeles, CA and regularly contributes content to YachtWorld, boats.com and Boat Trader.

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