How to pick up a mooring buoy when boating single-handed

Visitors’ mooring buoys are likely to become a lot more prevalent in the years ahead due to concerns about possible anchor damage to sensitive eco-systems, so it’s worth knowing how to pick one up even when cruising single-handed or with guests who aren’t yet up to crewing duties.

Firstly, you need to rig your boat for whichever end you wish to tie up by – a stern line is fine in sheltered waters for a short stop but in anything more than a light wind you will want to lie bow to the buoy.

As the bow is much lighter than the stern and gets blown around more easily, it can be quite difficult to hold it still enough to get a line attached, even with crew to help. Single-handed, it’s harder still as by the time you have left the helm and made your way to the foredeck, the bow will have blown away.

Additionally, the current trend for ever taller, more voluminous boats means it can be quite a stretch down to the buoy. As a result, and especially if single-handed, a stern first approach works much better. The boat is more stable and tends to hold its position for longer.

To make that work, you first have to rig a line that is long enough to reach from the bow cleat to the stern cleat but not so long that it could get tangled in your props if you drop it.

Make sure you pass it outside any rails, fittings and antennae before looping it round the stern cleat. I usually choose the side of the boat which gives me the quickest and easiest route from helm to stern cleat, unless it doesn’t give me a clear view of the buoy as I approach it.

Having prepped the line, you now need to get your stern close enough to the buoy for you to thread it through. There are two approach techniques. The first is to position your boat downwind of the buoy with your chosen stern quarter cleat aiming at it, then use small nudges of astern to move towards the buoy, judging when to leave the helm with the throttle in neutral so that the boat’s momentum carries you just close enough to reach the buoy.

The alternative method is to approach bow-first but just before reaching it, turn and swing the boat round so the bow drops downwind and the stern almost touches the buoy. Then, just before it passes it, a click of astern will stop the boat dead and allow you to walk aft.

Once at the stern, grab the buoy with a boat hook or by hand and thread the line through the top ring or pick-up warp. If it’s windy the weight of the boat will come onto the line quite quickly, so a good tip is to temporarily tie it to the stern cleat to take the load, wait a few moments for it all to calm down, then give a good pull to remove the weight and give you some slack.

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Now remove it from the stern cleat and walk forward pulling the line as you go so that the boat spins round and you end up with your bow to the buoy and wind.

Be prepared to take the weight of it as you make your way along the side deck, especially if it’s windy, by keeping your centre of gravity low.

Once at the bow, make sure you don’t catch the line on the anchor, then tie it off either on the same cleat that you started from or the opposite one to create a bridal. When you’re ready to leave, just untie the line and pull it through.

How to pick up a mooring buoy when boating solo


1. Approach the buoy

First rig a line from bow cleat to stern cleat outside all the railings, then reverse towards the buoy from down wind/tide. I made the initial approach bow-first then swung round and reversed the final metre.


2. Thread the line

Grab the mooring buoy and pass the bow line through the top ring or mooring warp. I have laid the bow line down the starboard side of the boat so that it won’t catch on anything when I take it back up to the bow.


3. Stern-to mooring

If it’s only for a short stop you can just rig a stern line directly through the mooring buoy’s top ring and back onto the stern cleat.


4. Take the line forward

For longer stays walk the line forward, keeping your centre of gravity low and pulling gently on the line as you go to help the boat swing round.


5. Secure the bow line

Once you are at the bow you can either tie the line back onto the same cleat or take it around the anchor and create a bridal.


6. Sit back and relax

Let the boat gently rotate so that it lies securely bow to the wind and buoy. Rigging a bridal allows the boat to sit directly in line with the buoy.

Our How To video series is brought to you in association with GJW Direct.


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