With over 50 years of boating experience on inland lakes and rivers as well as blue water; both commercial and recreational, I have witnessed many fellow boaters at the dock. It fascinates me at times, to watch a fellow captain or mate secure his or her vessel to the moorings. Many times a well experienced boat owner or crew member will confidently carry the line to a mooring cleat and then begin a series of entanglements, one atop the other until the line is all used up, then stand there admiring the job as if he is really wondering if it will hold.
Others sometimes carry an old ski rope, or short piece of cordage which is not sufficient to do the job. It can be confusing at times when outfitting your boat with mooring lines. After all, the catalogs are chocked full of options.

What’s a body to do? Let’s start with a bit of background:

Rope has been around since before Christ was born. Historians have evidence of our ancient ancestors using ropes to lift and drag heavy items for many years. Man quickly learned the benefits of rope. A rope has tensile strength to drag and lift. But, due to the flexibility, it has no compressive strength, and therefore cannot be used to “push” a load.

In the beginning, man used naturally occurring ropes, such as vines to meet his needs. Quickly, he realized the length of his rope was limited to his degree of success in finding a long vine. Then he found a way to make ropes. Early ropes were made with organic fibrous materials derived from plants. The fibers were twisted into yarns and then twisted into groups to form a rope. Commonly used materials for these ropes were hemp, cotton, jute, straw and sisal. Some ropes of these materials are still available today. Modern technology has found new materials to make ropes, such as nylon, rayon, Dacron, polypropylene and even metal.

Dacron and other synthetics are colorful and easy on the hands, but they don’t hold up well in the sun. Polypropylene floats on water, but is best suited for ski ropes, as it is not as strong as nylon, and it deteriorates from ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Commonly used ropes we are used to working with are twisted (laid) generally with 2 or 3 strands, or braided with a number of strands woven together to form a tubular, or soda straw like configuration. There are advantages and disadvantages of each.

Now, let’s think in terms of mooring and anchoring your boat:

Nylon is a big winner in this category for several reasons.
1) STRENGTH Nylon is very strong
2) ELASTICITY Nylon will stretch slightly to absorb stresses caused from wave action.
3) UV RESISTANT Nylon is more resistant to deterioration from the sun
4) COST Nylon rope is generally the least expensive choice.

As stated earlier, the type of rope design can be laid (twisted) or braided. A laid rope can be made with either a left-hand (“S”) twist, or a right-hand (“Z”) twist. The center-slant of the letters “Z” and “S”, when superimposed onto the rope. (The most common design is the “Z” right-hand twist.) A laid, or twisted rope will have a natural direction it wants to coil when stowed. A right hand laid rope will want to coil in a clockwise direction

When manufactured, the fibers are twisted into a yarn, which is twisted in the opposite direction of the final lay of the strands to form the rope. This opposing twist prevents the final product from unraveling when completed. The ends of a twisted (laid) rope must be must be secured in some fashion such as taping, or whipping to prevent fraying of the strands, which will soon begin to resemble a horse tail if not dealt with.

This topic is vast, and we can easily go off in many directions with this discussion. Let’s stay with mooring your boat:
So then, what’s the difference between a laid rope and a braided rope?
1) Both laid and braided designs are strong.
2) A braided rope is more attractive, cosmetically and is many times color-coded.
3) A braided rope is easier on the hands, with a smoother outer shell.
4) A braided rope will “snag” easier on wooden pilings, whereby a laid rope will slide across.
5) Braided ropes tend to cost more than twisted-laid rope designs.
Often, experienced boaters will use braided lines at their home slip, and carry a set of mooring lines of the laid design for traveling to other moorings. This way, they have the cosmetic advantage of braided lines at home, along with the snag-resistant laid lines at visited docks.
A manufacturer produces a “rope”. Once the rope has a designated purpose, it’s called a “line”. E.g. Mooring line with an eyelet, anchor line, halyard or sheet on a sailboat, etc. Ropes of large diameter and used for towing or mooring large ships and barges are referred to a hawsers.
For recreational boaters, the generally accepted rule of thumb is to have mooring lines nearly equal in length to your boat. This allows mooring with a “spring-line”. A spring line is used to tension the mooring either fore or aft, in a parallel direction of the dock face. A spring cleat is usually mounted amidship, whereby a line will connect to a forward or aft mooring cleat, to hold the vessel in tension against the dock wall in opposition to the mooring at the opposite end.
So far, we’ve said nylon is the best overall choice for mooring, and the lines should be about the same length as the boat. But how large in diameter?

A good rule of thumb here is to use a nylon mooring line of:
3/8” ……………………….25’
½”………………………… 35’
5/8”………………………. 45’
¾” …………………………55’
7/8” ……………………….65’
Using too large diameter to moor the boat, reduces the elasticity of the mooring line, as well as creates a misfit onto the smaller cleats of smaller boats.
For anchor lines (rodes) I recommend stepping up one size from the mooring line diameter in the chart above.

So how do I tie it up and look like a pro?
1) Run the line from the boat, across the boat side of the cleat base, and back in the opposite direction around the base, passing beneath the horn of the opposite end. At this point you should have simply passed the line under each horn of the cleat and now have formed a loop with both ends of the line on the same side of the cleat.

2) Run the rope up and over the top of the cleat’s center section in a direction away from the boat and toward shore, crossing over the cleat’s center section, then back under the horn.
3) Now loop down and under the horn of the opposite end of the cleat, and back over the top-center section of the cleat.

4) With the end of the rope in your hand, and while holding it over the top-center of the cleat, form a loop in the rope and give it a half twist, such that the loose end of the rope crosses under the taught end at a 90 degree angle.

5) Slip the loop over the cleat’s horn and take the slack out by pulling on the loose end in your hand. You should see two lines across the top of the cleat forming one leg of an “X” with a third line over the top, forming the other “X-leg” and locking them down. The harder the boat pulls, the tighter the “lock” draws down on the loose end of the line.

6) Your line is secure!
(With  a bit of practice, this mooring can be easily accomplished in 2 or 3 seconds.)

1) Take the line around your post or railing, two times.

2) Pass the end of the line around the standing part, and back through the opening it forms, forming a “half-hitch”.

3) Do it again. Form another half-hitch by passing the loose end of the line around the standing part and back through the opening formed.

4) Tighten the knot; a round turn with two half hitches.

Many times I see the mooring lines, of a boat slip, all coiled into a neat spiral on the dock. This takes time and looks nice. But it’s not good for the lines or the deck, as the coil tends to hold moisture and never gets an opportunity to dry out from sea water, rain water and last night’s dew. The moisture attracts bugs and discolors the decking of the dock as well.
Another method to shorten and stow the tail of a line is to form a simple “chain” as we did when we were kids playing with string. Simply start with a loop of some sort, where the line is attached to the dock. While holding the tail of the rope in one hand, reach through the loop and grab the line, pulling it through the loop, forming another loop. Now again reach through the new loop and grab the line again, pulling it through the newer loop, and forming a third loop. (Always keep the tail of the line in your other hand, never pulling the loose end of the line all the way through the loop.) Now keep doing this, over and over, forming a loosely made chain, until all the line is used up. This will greatly shorten the pile of line at the dock, and allow air to pass through at the same time, allowing the rope and decking an opportunity to dry out.


Leave a Reply