Your mooring lines can do a lot more for you than just help you hug the bank se­curely, es­pe­cially when it’s windy


Do you know what ‘spring­ing’ is when it comes to mooring and how to use it? You should – it could come in very handy, es­pe­cially if it’s windy

Mooring lines, as their name sug­gests, are used pri­mar­ily for mooring your boat, but in the right hands, they can do a lot more for you and make some boating tasks much eas­ier and, in some cases, make the ‘im­pos­si­ble’ pos­si­ble.

If you have been around seago­ing yachts then terms like ‘spring­ing’ would be sec­ond na­ture. Their high sided, light hulls and prox­im­ity to coastal winds make yachts very sus­cep­ti­ble to be­ing blown around. At sea this isn’t usu­ally a prob­lem but when ma­noeu­vring in tight har­bours, it can be. Their method of choice for deal­ing with this is the use of ‘springs’, lines tied be­tween the boat and the dock.

There will be peo­ple who have other names but gen­er­ally the one at the front of the boat is the ‘bow spring’ and the one at the back is the ‘stern spring’. This doesn’t, how­ever, pre­clude us­ing the cen­tre line as a spring in cer­tain cir­cum­stances but with a lit­tle more care as some cen­tre lines are con­nected high up on the boat’s roof.


Pic­ture the scene: You have selected your idyl­lic mooring com­plete with mooring rings and a low hedge on the tow­path side so you have a nice view across the open fields. The prob­lem is that a strong wind is blow­ing off the tow­path. You ex­pertly man­age to put a crew mem­ber off at the bow with the bow line but now the crew is hang­ing on for grim death and the stern is be­ing blown across the canal with no way of be­ing pulled back in.

The first an­swer is to get the crew mem­ber to throw the bow line back on and then set off on foot while you mo­tor away from the mooring to try to find some­where else for the night. The

sec­ond an­swer is to ex­pertly ‘spring’ your boat on to the mooring us­ing the fol­low­ing method.

The crew need to step off at the bow and work fairly quickly to take the bow line to a mooring ring or bol­lard aft of the bow and up to half­way along the length of the boat. Two or three turns through the ring, (use a loop rather than feed the whole line through) or round the bol­lard will be enough for the crew to be able to hold the boat by hand while you en­gage for­ward gear on tick­over and watch a mir­a­cle. No mat­ter how strong the wind, the boat, with you ad­just­ing the rud­der to suit, will grad­u­ally arc its way to come par­al­lel along­side the mooring.

The crew can now tie off the bow line at the ring with a cou­ple of half hitches while you stay at the helm keep­ing the boat in gear. This is called ‘steam­ing on a spring’ and it will hold the boat along­side while the crew tie off the stern line. If you have a sec­ond bow line, as many of usdo, then the crew can now tie off the bow.

If you don’t have a sec­ond bow line then the crew can take hold of the cen­tre line and tem­po­rar­ily se­cure it through an­other ring. You can then take the boat out of gear, get off the boat, walk for­ward and un­tie the bow line from its spring­ing po­si­tion and take it for­ward to tie off the bow as usual. Job done.

The same method can be used to spring on to a lock land­ing but the boat can re­main steam­ing on a spring un­til the lock is ready. For safety rea­sons, the helms­man should al­ways stay at the en­gine con­trols when­ever the boat is in gear.


This can be used to get the boat off a mooring when the wind or wa­ter flow is hold­ing you into the side.

Al­though the wind will be keep­ing you held in to the bank, it is a good idea to use the cen­tre line to tie off the boat tem­po­rar­ily. Un­tie the bow line and stow it on the boat then un­tie the stern line but don’t re­move it from the stern dolly. In­stead, set it up so the line runs from the dolly to the ring or bol­lard on the tow­path and back to the boat where it should be con­nected to the dolly us­ing three or four turns. There should be about 2m of line be­tween the dolly and the ring or bol­lard. Don’t tie off the line but you need to be able to hold the line tight or the turns will come un­done.

‘No mat­ter how strong the wind is, with you ad­just­ing the rud­der to suit, the boat will arc its way par­al­lel along­side the mooring’

‘Put the boat into for­ward gear and slowly take up the slack. Steer the boat into the bank and the stern will spring out into the wa­ter­way’

Af­ter re­mov­ing the safety cen­tre line, stow it on the roof near the helm as usual and take a good hold of the stern line. Now se­lect re­verse gear so the boat moves astern but do it very slowly un­til the slack in the stern line is taken up. You might find that tick­over is too fast so slip it in and out of gear if nec­es­sary.

The stern line should now be tight and at an an­gle run­ning for­ward of the stern. Keep the boat in gear on tick­over and grad­u­ally you will see the bow spring away from the bank. De­pend­ing on a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the shape of your stern, you may need to in­crease the speed of the en­gine and/or length of the spring line to get the de­sired ef­fect but it works on most hulls.

Main­tain the spring­ing un­til the bow is well past where you need it to be point­ing. This will give you time to ‘slip the line, (pull it back on board), from the ring or bol­lard, en­gage for­ward gear and move off be­fore the wind pushes you back in.


Oc­ca­sion­ally, it may be more con­ve­nient to spring the stern out first but you will need a crew mem­ber to help you. Un­tie the boat as be­fore but this time have the crew take the bow line from the boat, through a ring or round the bol­lard to­ward the stern and back to the tee stud, (or what­ever you have at the bow), leav­ing as much line out as pos­si­ble but leav­ing enough to wrap the line round the tee stud and hold it tight.

Put the boat into for­ward gear and slowly take up the slack. Now steer the boat into the bank and the stern will spring out into the wa­ter­way. Keep go­ing un­til it is fur­ther out than you need be­fore se­lect­ing neu­tral. The crew can now slip the bow line and you re­verse way from the bank. Once far enough out and with your pro­pel­ler in deep wa­ter, en­gage for­ward gear and move off as nor­mal.

Through­out any spring­ing ma­noeu­vre, but par­tic­u­larly spring­ing on and off, it is good ad­vice to use fend­ers to pro­tect the bank and your boat, es­pe­cially if you have a fi­bre­glass cruiser.


Most boaters use just two mooring lines, one at the bow and one at the stern, which is the rea­son that moored boats are sen­si­tive to pass­ing boats on nar­row and

shal­low canals. The pass­ing boat dis­places wa­ter which will drag the moored boat for­ward or back and be­cause this ac­tion slack­ens the mooring lines in turn, the moored boat will be pulled away from and pushed against the bank. Us­ing spring lines will greatly lessen this ef­fect.

Ide­ally use two lines at the bow and two at the stern. Tie up as usual with the lines run­ning fore and aft at around 45 de­grees to the boat. Then tie two more lines, one run­ning for­ward from the stern dolly and one run­ning back from the tee stud. These two lines can be fairly long but con­sider the pos­si­ble trip hazards.

If you don’t have enough mooring lines, you can use one line at each end and run it in a tri­an­gle from the boat to the mooring pin, ring or bol­lard, along to the other pin, ring or bol­lard and then back to the boat. Make sure the line is prop­erly tied off at each or it will just run through.

Us­ing spring lines is very ef­fec­tive for mooring up on pins in soft ground and on rivers where the level may rise and fall overnight. In the lat­ter case, keep the lines as long as pos­si­ble.


Spring lines can also be used ef­fec­tively for turn­ing cor­ners into the wind or to pre­vent the wind tak­ing you where you don’t want to go.

A cen­tre line is usu­ally the best for this but great care needs to be taken if it is con­nected to the roof, as it is on most nar­row­boats, when it might make the boat list over. Most cruis­ers have cen­tre cleats at deck level which are ideal. Pro­vid­ing that the boat is mov­ing very slowly, the cen­tre line can be used to spring the boat by hand into a lock land­ing. As you are com­ing along­side, use the en­gine to slow the boat right down to a slow crawl, step off with the cen­tre line, take the line through a ring or round the bol­lard but only use one turn so it can be paid out as it comes un­der ten­sion and gen­tly spring the boat in. Don’t try to stop the boat too quickly if the line is con­nected to the roof as it will try to tip the boat.

Springs can also come in handy in locks to keep the boat tight into the side on broad locks and when op­er­at­ing the locks sin­gle-handed. Care has to be taken with the lat­ter to en­sure the boat isn’t hung up on the lines.


Hope­fully by now you will ap­pre­ci­ate that us­ing spring lines can be very use­ful.

Re­mem­ber that many of the ex­er­cises put the line un­der more ten­sion than just mooring so you must en­sure that your lines are suit­able for the load, are in good con­di­tion and free of cuts and knots that might re­duce the strength. Lis­ten to your line, too, and if it is start­ing to make noises, then per­haps you are strain­ing it too much and need to find an­other way. When it is un­der ten­sion, you might also want to keep peo­ple out of the area that might be com­pro­mised if the line snaps.

How­ever, used prop­erly, spring lines can be a great as­set to boating. Try it out next time you are cruis­ing. It’s cheaper than a bow thruster.

‘Us­ing spring lines is very ef­fec­tive for mooring up on pins in soft ground and on rivers where the level might rise and fall overnight’

This photo, plus the two above right: how to spring on

Tie off with a T-stud hitch

Spring­ing off the stern...1 Spring­ing off the bow

Get­ting around a tight cor­ner in a strong wind

Spring­ing off the stern...2

Mooring up

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