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Old 04-07-2013, 04:29 AM   #1
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Using Spring Lines to get on and off a dock....

I mentioned spring lines in another forum and how to use them to get alongside a dock and also to move away from a dock when you can't go forward or reverse and when the wind or current is working against you. I thought I'd post the same info here in case anyone's interested.
First, let's talk about how to use a spring line to get your boat alongside a dock....
Look at this picture for a minute before reading further....


Now let's discuss what's happening. The boat has backed its port stern against a dock and secured a line (in blue) between a cleat the boat and a cleat on the dock (in red). As the skipper puts the stbd engine (or the only engine if you boat is so equipped) in gear at idle (shown in green), the boat wants to move forward. It can't because of the stern spring line, so the boat's bow will move counterclockwise and the boat will be brought alongside the dock. It's a pretty simple maneuver using the dock cleat as your pivot point. It's important to be patient and not increase the throttle unless it's absolutely necessary to overcome a wind or tide that's fighting you. If you're moving at all and the bow is swinging toward the dock, take your time, let it swing and just wait for it. You don't want to give it too much throttle and slam the side of the boat into the dock. That ain't cool and the only ones who will appreciate that are the dock rats that are watching and waiting for you to screw up.

Getting your boat OFF a dock using spring lines is a bit more complicated and requires precise coordination between you and your deck hand. Look at the picture....


In the top drawing you'll see a boat tied alongside a dock and we'll assume the wind and/or current is holding the boat fast to the dock. There's nowhere to go forward or astern because of other boats or pilings, etc. Also, proper placement of fenders is critical in this maneuver so the boat doesn't touch the dock. When we do this type of spring line we usually use four large fenders on the bow end of the boat.

What you're going to have to do (in this situation) is fasten your line to a cleat on your boat that's somewhere near your bow. Take it down to a dock cleat that is somewhere around the mid-ship point of your boat and (this is important) ONLY DO A HALF TURN AROUND THE DOCK CLEAT, starting with the line going around the cleat horn that points toward your boat's stern, then coming under the other cleat horn, then the bitter end of the line goes back up to your deck hand. If you do it backwards the line will simply come off the cleat or you'll only be around one horn of the cleat.

Keep in mind that the boat is being held firmly against the dock by the wind and/or current. Your deck hand is going to have to hold firmly to his/her end of the line and not let it slip around the cleat. The skipper puts the boat's stbd engine in gear at idle. The boat will try to move forward, but because your deck hand is doing such a great job of holding tight to the line and not letting it slip around the cleat, the dock cleat now becomes your pivot point.

Very gradually the boat will start to move forward and the line will grow tight. Because the boat can't go forward any more, the bow will start to swing into the dock and the stern will start to swing away from the dock, moving upwind or against the current.

Now here's where timing between the skipper and the deck hand is very critical. At the point where the skipper feels the stern has swung far enough out from the dock that he can safely back the boat away from the dock, he gives the command to the deck hand to let the line slip around the dock cleat. The deck hand should either flip the line clear of the dock cleat or let go of the line and quickly pull the line onto the boat by grabbing where it's still attached to your bow cleat. This needs to be done quickly. At the same time the skipper puts both engines into reverse and gives it enough throttle to get safely away from the dock. That timing is very critical and I can't over estimate how important it is that both those actions occur at the same instant.

When my Galley Wench and I do any kind of a spring line maneuver I walk through it with her, step by step, and have her repeat to me what I've told her. I want ZERO misunderstanding about what I expect of her and the timing. Any error on the part of your deck hand could mean the boat gets blown back against the dock, is never released from the dock cleat or the boat could get blown into another boat. When you have this conversation with your Admiral, it's important that you not come across as MASTER AND COMMANDER, but as the person who is responsible for her safety and the safety of the boat and other passengers. You two need to be on exactly the same page for this to work.

It does work well and once you've practiced it a few times it will become almost second nature to you both. The best part of mastering spring lines is that the dock rats will be simply amazed at how well you got your boat off the dock. They won't understand HOW you did it, but will be in awe of your boating skills.

As an indication of how effective this can be, we had a group from another yacht club visiting our club a couple of years ago. At times there's a strong current that runs through our yacht basin and it and the wind were both holding their boats against the dock, exactly as shown above. I watched them for about 10-15 minutes as they tried to use a dinghy to pull the stern of one of the boats away from the dock and were having zero luck.

The skipper of that boat (a 30' express cruiser) was a friend of mine so I asked him if he wanted a suggestion on how to do get away from the dock. I explained the procedure to him and he was doubtful but agreed to try it. His wife was on the bow to handle the spring line and I helped them set the fenders in the right spots. I walked through with both of them what needed to be done and how critical the timing was.

Still doubtful but hoping it would work he agreed to do what I suggested. I stood on the dock and, when both were ready, I told him to put his stbd engine into gear. The boat moved forward but didn't swing the stern out from the dock because the current and wind were too strong. I told him to increase the throttle gently and he did. VERY slowly the stern of the boat started to move out from the dock. He was amazed that it was working and he stayed with it until the stern was about 75 degrees out from the dock. At that point I told him to put it into reverse and give it a bit of throttle and told his wife to release her end of the line. She did, and quickly pulled in the bitter end.

They got cleanly away from the dock and backed the boat upwind and against the current far enough that he could safely maneuver it to leave the area.

I hadn't seen this friend since but ran into him last weekend. He made a point of telling me how much he appreciated my sharing that technique with him and he said they had used spring lines several times and they always worked for them.

They will for you too, but will only smoothly if you practice them a few times in calm weather so you can see how well they work and can get your timing down.

Questions??????? Comments??????
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Old 04-07-2013, 06:40 AM   #2
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Study that first picture. I use that one ALL the time. You can do it the other way around to get off a dock, too.

I learned it from an old fisherman early in my boating career, and I'm amazed that to this day I rarely see people use it. The trick is, the shorter the line, the easier it works. Make it up well and put the power to it gently, it's taking a lot of strain and has no stretch if it's short enough.
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Old 04-07-2013, 06:47 AM   #3
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If the offdock wind or current is strong enough, it may not work without too much power. The other reason that may not be an option is if you have a low dingy that may foul on the dock.

In those cases, it's better ito use a long after bow spring (second diagram) to pull the bow in and then a smaller amount of power and right rudder will nudge the stern in.
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Old 04-07-2013, 07:55 AM   #4
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I use the method shown in diagram 2. With a single screw that seems to work well for me, and my first mate is skilled in this maneover.
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Old 04-07-2013, 08:18 AM   #5
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For me who basically singlehands a lot, especially when working commercial boats, method 1 can be easier to set up and do by myself....

But #2 set up well and with a good deckhand/fender placement will have a higher success ratio with a single engine vessel.
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Old 04-07-2013, 12:16 PM   #6
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But #2 set up well and with a good deckhand/fender placement will have a higher success ratio with a single engine vessel.
I'm curious about your comment that it would work better with a single than a twin. IMHO, any application of power will make both of these illustrated setups work. The ability to apply power to one engine with twins puts the power on the "outside" of the curve your boat is going to be making and it seems to me that would make it more efficient than having the power in the center of the boat as it would be with a single.

As some of you pointed out, there are many variations to using spring lines. If you can master a couple of these variations and use your imagination a bit you'll soon see that there are many applications where it can help out.

GW and I have used one at our fuel dock that is a bit different from these examples. The stern of the boat hangs out a bit past the corner of the dock. We were in there one day when a very strong wind was holding us on the dock. I tried to use the thruster to bring us off the dock but it didn't have enough power.

She let the spring line get long enough that when we went astern the cleat on the boat was aft of the corner of the dock. As I continued backward with power applied to the stbd engine (we were on a port tie) the stern of the boat was able to pivot around the corner of the dock as the bow came off the fuel dock. The boat was still tight against the dock but the corner became our pivot point.

Once the bow had come around to about 45 degrees off the fuel dock I told her to release the line from the dock cleat. We were then able to just pull away from the dock, motoring into about a 30kt wind.

Spring lines are slicker than snot and other boaters that don't know about their use will be amazed at what you can do with your boat in tight situations.
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Old 04-07-2013, 01:26 PM   #7
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I didn't mean a single would have a higher degree of success...just the opposite...with a twin, option #1 can be used successfully more than a single when the current/wind is really honking.

Diagram #1 will not work for some singles unless the angle to the dock is kept small enough until the line is secured ad power applied...often when single handling or poor dock/deckhand performance...the angle starts to exceed the rudders ability to overcome the wind/tide.

In your case where you rounded the corner of the dock...you were lucky the dock didn't take a chunk out of your boat. If the thruster wasn't strong enough...that's exactly where figure #2 proves it mettle.

I have gotten underway with a single engine Shamrock (no thruster) wiith crosswinds 55 knots G 60 using technique #2.

I say a guy in a single engine lobsterboat with superb spring line skills make a dozen twin engine skippers look pretty silly one day at a Solomons Island Trawlerfest. Good stuff to know.
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Old 04-07-2013, 02:53 PM   #8
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I would note the #2 can also depend on the current (and/or) wind direction. Years ago we docked where the current ran parallel to the dock and reversed with the tide. If the current was running from the bow, we would use a forward spring, (line from the mid-stern cleat forward to the dock cleat), use just enough reverse to begin pushing the bow out, an the current would catch the bow and move us out. When the current ran from the stern, #2 as you show worked.
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Old 04-07-2013, 03:23 PM   #9
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One of the first things the checkout skipper taught us the first time we chartered a GB36 16 years ago was how to use an aft-running spring to accomplish getting onto a dock. While the illustrations above show one way to do it, the most effective and versatile placement of the spring is back from the midship cleat, not a fore or aft cleat.

Running the line back from midships creates more leverage to pull the bow in and it moves the boat's pivot point to the midpoint of its length which makes it much easier and faster to use thrust, propwalk, and rudder to move the stern in.

Some boats are not as well set up to accomodate this as others. Fortunately a GB responds beautifully to this setup, so much so that we have a permanent midship spring mounted on our dock as do many other boaters in our marina. We have used this setup to suck our boat up to the dock and pin it there in a 20 knot direct crosswind that otherwise would have blown us immediately into our neighbor.

Departing a dock we do not use a spring but instead use the forward breast line to hold the bow in place while we use opposing thrust and the resulting strong propwalk (we have four-bladed props so they generate a lot of propwalk) and the rudders to move the stern out 45-60 degrees at which point the breast line is hauled in and we back clear.

We routinely use this method to depart a dock with only a couple of feet between us and the boats in front of and behind us in everything from dead calm to strong winds blowing us directly onto the dock. Works like a charm every time.

We have not found any difference in a boat's response to getting on a dock with a midship spring in terms of how many engines it has. Single or twin, it works equally effectively. Using the breastline method to get off a dock will work with either a single or twin, too, but the boat pivots out faster with a twin because of the much stronger propwalk force when the thrust is opposed.
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Old 04-07-2013, 03:31 PM   #10
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The best method is the one you try, get comfortable with and recognize for your boat.

Not every method works for every boat in every situaton.....in fact what works for some is far from the standard accepted practice and may totally work or flub depending on you and your boat.
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Old 04-07-2013, 04:49 PM   #11
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Ah, spring lines...the poor man's bow thruster. Proud to participate in a forum where such essentials are intelligently discussed!
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Old 04-07-2013, 05:50 PM   #12
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At 60 feet, single screw, no thruster, I can say for a fact that I use spring lines every single time I dock and undock.

A few comments:

1) In my particular case, I have to undock and turn the boat 180 degrees in a channel about 90 feet wide, with boats moored opposite (see picture, I'm the boat in the circle). Using a starboard bow spring line is the only way to do it. My only hint is that I do things slightly differently than descriped, I make the line fast to the bow cleat, then run a line out to the dock, around the dock cleat, and back to the other bow cleat. When I am done with the spring line, the bowman just has to haul on the fast line.

2) Docking is exciting. As Marin says, using a midship cleat is the way to do it. The reason is clear when you do the math, using a midship cleat the centre of the boat will describe a perfect arc. Using left and right rudder will then allow you to vary the angle between the dock and the boat. One of the biggest challenges is getting the person on the dock to TIE THE LINE TO THE CLEAT/DOCK. They always want to pull the boat in, which doesn't work.

3) In order to communicate exactly what I want to the crew (especially when we have guests) I made a little boat-shaped piece of pine about 12" X 4" with a nail for a cleat. With a piece of string as the spring line, it's really really easy to demonstrate exactly why a spring line works and how it should be fastened. It's also a great way to demonstrate how a boat steers from the stern.

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Old 04-07-2013, 08:57 PM   #13
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Ah, spring lines...the poor man's bow thruster. Proud to participate in a forum where such essentials are intelligently discussed!
I prefer to think of sprng lines as the "Seaman's" bow thruster....

There are preferred methods by every good captain and no "one way" is the correct way or the "best way"....especially because there are just so many variables in many docking situations.
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Old 04-07-2013, 09:13 PM   #14
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I prefer to think of sprng lines as the "Seaman's" bow thruster....

There are preferred methods by every good captain and no "one way" is the correct way or the "best way"....especially because there are just so many variables in many docking situations.
With a single screw and no thruster, bow or stern, I call it, "Shake hands with the wind". I try to line it up and let the wind blow me into the slip. Why should I do all the work??

Seriously, my marina mates are first class and do a lot to correct my flaws As I back into the slip - and they are kind enough not to mention them!
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Old 04-07-2013, 11:26 PM   #15
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I do things slightly differently than descriped, I make the line fast to the bow cleat, then run a line out to the dock, around the dock cleat, and back to the other bow cleat. When I am done with the spring line, the bowman just has to haul on the fast line.
This is the way we were taught to do it, too. We keep all our mooring lines on both sides of the boat permanenty secured to the boat's cleats so the bow breast is already cleated off at the bow.

The person handling the bow breast line also holds one of our Big Bertha fenders over the side in the other hand. As the bow moves in to the dock as the stern pivots out the line handler can move the fender to keep it between the hull and the dock. You can't tie this fender off because depending on the wind, current, and amount of power being applied you can't predict exactly which part of the hull will want to contact the dock.

Since we have one marine gear in forward and the other in reverse the boat usually doesn't move much fore or aft, it just pivots out. So the bow actually never contacts the fender unless it's being blown hard onto the dock by the wind. But in a single engine boat the prop thrust would most likely shove the bow up against the dock, wind or no wind, hence the value of the fender.
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Old 04-08-2013, 01:29 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by IslandEagle View Post
At 60 feet, single screw, no thruster, I can say for a fact that I use spring lines every single time I dock and undock.

A few comments:

1) My only hint is that I do things slightly differently than descriped, I make the line fast to the bow cleat, then run a line out to the dock, around the dock cleat, and back to the other bow cleat. When I am done with the spring line, the bowman just has to haul on the fast line. I'm feeling like I'm missing something here. Can you 'splain this a bit more for those of us who are a bit slow on the uptake?

2) Docking is exciting. As Marin says, using a midship cleat is the way to do it. The reason is clear when you do the math, using a midship cleat the centre of the boat will describe a perfect arc. I'm going to have to try a midship cleat. Never done that but it sounds like it would work well. Using left and right rudder will then allow you to vary the angle between the dock and the boat. One of the biggest challenges is getting the person on the dock to TIE THE LINE TO THE CLEAT/DOCK. They always want to pull the boat in, which doesn't work.

Scott Welch
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Thanks to all of you for the additional suggestions. As many have pointed out there are many different way to use spring lines and it seems the only limitation is your imagination.
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Old 04-08-2013, 03:04 AM   #17
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GFC--- The bow breast line thing we're describing is simple. Because the stern of the boat is being powered out to an angle of 45 to 60 degrees off the dock, at which point the boat is backed smartly out before the wind can push it back in, it's obvious everyone needs to be on board when you do this.

But the bow needs to be held in place at the dock so the boat won't move forward into whatever's in front of it.

So while the boat is still tied to the dock we untie the bow breast line on the dock, pass the bitter end around the dock bullrail (or cleat) and hand it up to the foredeck where it is cleated off for the time being.

When the boat is all ready to go, engines running, lines on board except for the bow breast line, here is what my wife and I do:

If I'm going to be operating the boat I put the rudders hard over toward the dock, go forward, uncleat the bitter end of the bow breast and use it to hold the boat in place. So the line goes from my hand to the dock, around the bullrail or cleat, and back to the boat where the loop end is permanently fastened to a bow cleat.

My wife then releases the stern of the boat, steps aboard, comes forward, and takes the bitter end of the breast line from me. She also picks up the line with our Big Bertha fender on it and hangs the fender over the side where she thinks the bow might contact the dock when we pivot out.

I step into the cabin, put the dockside marine gear in reverse and the outboard marine gear in forward. This immediately starts the stern swinging away from the dock. If the wind is strong I may add power to the outboard engine to increase thrust against the rudder.

My wife uses the breast line to keep the boat from moving forward (or back) as the stern continues to swing out. The friction of the line around the bullrail means my wife (or me if I'm doing it) doesn't have to put a ton of force on the line to keep us in place. One hand is sufficient.

When I feel the stern has swung out far enough to ensure we're well clear of the boat behind us with no danger of the wind blowing the bow down into it as we back out I signal my wife in front of me on the bow to let go the breast line..

She then picks up the other part of the breast line and pulls the bitter end back to the dock, around the bullrail, and back to the boat. The instant the bitter end of the line is free of the bullrail she signals me and I put the dockside marine gear in reverse and apply power to both engines to back us "smartly" clear.

When we do this we have a big line cutting knife that the foredeck person has on them so they can cut the breast line if it should hang up or jam on its way back around the bullrail or cleat. So far we've never had to do this.

This process is really very logical and common sense so I apologize if I've described this in too detailed a way. I'm sure you could have figured it out on your own in far less time than it took to read this.
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Old 04-08-2013, 09:22 AM   #18
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With a single screw and no thruster, bow or stern, I call it, "Shake hands with the wind". I try to line it up and let the wind blow me into the slip. Why should I do all the work??

I've actually gotten that to work a couple times. And, damn if it doesn't make one feel like docking has been mastered. Until the next time.
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Old 04-08-2013, 01:31 PM   #19
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Marin, the steps you outlined are almost exactly how GW and I do it, with the exception of bringing your breast line back to a bow cleat. I set up the bow line for GW then I'll undo the stern line before I head to the flybridge. From that point on the line handling and throttle handling works the same as you described.

She has a serrated blade knife attached to her inflatable PFD that we use when going through the locks. She doesn't carry it when we're using a spring line, but I should consider doing that.

BaltimoreLurker, I wish our prevailing winds would blow in a direction that would push me toward the slip. The winds here are almost always out of the SW so when I'm backing into the slip I'm backing upwind. It's not really any more difficult, it just takes some practice and getting used to the varying winds.
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Old 05-05-2016, 09:55 PM   #20
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Not such a great idea

I tried using the stern line to cleat and adding forward power on a hanse 40 with a 8 knot cross wind blowing 10 degrees off the bow. It didn't work! Definitely makes more sense to use the midship cleat. Will give that a try next time out and report back.
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