On the Job

What to Know About Keeping the Yacht Secure on the Dock

14 September 2023 By Patrick Levitzke
Photo: Patrick Levitzke

Patrick Levitzke is from Port Macquarie, Australia. He left in 2019 to begin yachting, and found his first job on a private 82-foot Horizon, cruising the U.S. East Coast, with just the captain. Currently, he’s a deckhand on a 210-foot private yacht and has plans to complete his 200-ton license this year.

You’re on the dock, drop off was days ago, and there’s time until the next trip. Life is good. Chances are, however, you’ll get a watch during that time, and even tied up, vessels are very much subject to wind, tide, swell, and dodgy neighbors. It’s always a good reminder to cover the basics of keeping your vessel secure for any green crew.

Let’s start with mooring lines. For those who have had the pleasure of tying up in North Cove Marina in Manhattan or, most notably, St. Barths, you’ll know Gustavia is notorious for snapping lines with its swell — port authorities will even kick out all boats if it gets too bad. Even outside these areas, mooring lines are subject to enormous tension. To reduce strain and the chances of snapping, ensure lines have the most direct route from vessel to dock; if there are unavoidable sharp angles through fairleads, make use of line protectors and chafe guards. If you’re sitting for some time, regularly physically inspect your lines (i.e., run the line through your hands) for abrasions, thickness inconsistencies, and any discoloration. Although mainly for smaller gauge lines, it helps significantly to install shock-absorbing mooring line attachments, fitted with either springs or simple rubber attachments.

If you’re on a floating dock (one that rises and lowers with the tide), life’s easy, but keep an eye on the tide on a fixed dock — you may have to adjust your lines with the tide. You can go one better and attach your lines to the dock at a farther distance than you would typically, e.g., if you were running a forward spring line, attach it near the bow or further instead of tying it to the dock midships. The line is less affected by tidal range as the angle from the boat to the dock is lessened from the increased distance. And of course, try to keep the mooring lines out of contact with the boat as they rub paint and stainless.

Photo: Patrick Levitzke

Dockside cleats/bollards may be questionable and should be included in regular inspections. I’ve had seemingly secure bollards break off during a night watch in calm conditions, and if one goes, more are likely to follow.

For fenders, floating docks are preferable, but if you find yourself stuck with a fixed dock, check your fenders regularly and ensure they’ve got enough wiggle room between the dock and boat to allow them to move up and down with the tide. You would typically place your fenders horizontally to allow for this. Ensure your fender hooks are tied to the deck in some fashion to avoid losing them if they come under high strain.

For particularly unique fixed docks (commercial docks that will most certainly damage your paint), you may have to devise a creative fender arrangement. It may be in your interest to double up or even put planking or marine boards in place over the fenders to help distribute the pressure and ensure they don’t become jammed with the vessel’s movement and tide.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of Dockwalk.


More from Dockwalk