Boat Mooring Guide

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 Guide

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 which 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 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.

Mooring Anchors

Small boats in shallow or calm waters will be fine with lighter weight anchoring, while heavier vessels moored out in deeper, open water with strong currents will require much heavier mooring anchors. A good rule of thumb is to have an anchor weight of about 5–10 times the boat as a bare minimum. Of course, the heavier the anchor better but the more difficult it will be to remove. Below are some of the common types of anchors.

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.
Plow-style anchors: Usually stored onboard a vessel these anchors can hold effectively in grass, mud and sand and offer a lot of versatility.
Mushroom anchors: The most common choice for boaters, available in weights up to several thousand pounds. These anchors dig in 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.
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.
Navy/Kedge anchors: Used by massive navy and military barges and vessels, due to their heavy weight.

Mooring Chains

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 Buoy

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 Pennant

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.

Choosing A Mooring Location

Now that you know a little more about boat mooring and how it works, 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 moor or drop anchor just anywhere. Most cities and states have mooring restrictions or location 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.

Keep in mind that whoever owns the property where you intend to moor might also have specific guidelines of their own, such as location, depth and weight requirements. Check with them before stocking up on mooring equipment to make sure that you have what you need.

Deciding where to moor a boat isn’t necessarily a complicated choice. You simply have to know where you can park your boat in your area and find a spot where you can safely do so. You’ll want to pick an area that has a soft bed so that your anchor can settle in and give you the secure mooring that you desire. Typically, there are two types of mooring locations available:

Commercial: These moorings can be rented from towns and marinas that manage them, and are ideal for short-term use or temporary visits, such as renting a mooring space on your vacation to the lake.
Private: Moorings are available for private ownership or leasing, allowing you to actually own where you park your boat. Don’t take a mooring if you don’t know whose it is or how often it is used. Not only is this bad etiquette, but in the case of private moorings, it can be considered trespassing.

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 leave on the anchor lights for safety.

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.

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.
● An anchored boat needs checked daily for secureness, while a moored boat can typically sit for weeks 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 a boat is nothing like parking a car or another type of vehicle or vessel. It’s a unique practice that requires knowledge of all of your options, including mooring. Boats are expensive and the last thing that you need is to cause a lot of damage or even lose your boat in the open water because of improper mooring or docking.

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.


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