I have always moored my sailboat at a dock, but I will be going to places this summer where I will be using a mooring ball. What do I need, as far as equipment, to be able to safely moor to a mooring ball?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. Don't worry too much about making the transition to mooring balls, it's really a pretty simple business. If you'll be charged to use the moorings in the places you're going, most likely the moorings will be equipped with pennants that you are intended to tie to your boat's bow cleats. Many of these pennants will have their own pick-up sticks, which resemble fiberglass VHF antennas. Pick-up sticks can make the whole process of tying up to a mooring much easier.
Sometimes the mooring pennants won't have easy-to-retrieve devices like a pick-up stick or a small float, so you'll want to have a boathook handy to fish them out quickly and get your boat attached. That's usually the only piece of equipment you'll need to use most moorings. However, occasionally you'll find moorings that for some reason don't have pennants at all, and if you want to use that mooring, you'll have to supply your own. So have a short length of three-strand or double-braided Nylon line at the ready (at least half-inch in diameter) in case you need to fashion your own temporary pennant. If your boat is 30 feet long or larger, you'll want to have at least 20 feet of line so that you can loop one end through the mooring chain or fitting on the mooring and then tie both ends to your bow cleats or capstan, or sampson post. If you end up using your own pennant, and you plan to be staying on that mooring for a while, you should use some chafe gear on the line and keep a periodic watch for chafe where the line goes through the mooring chain or fitting.
It's also a good idea to have a pair of sturdy gloves up on the bow with you in case the pennant you pick up has some growth on it. I don't simply mean slime or algae, I mean barnacles that can cut you or jelly fish that can sting. That's about all there is to it as far as the equipment that you'll need for getting your boat securely moored. Of course mooring technique is another matter. If you haven't picked up a mooring with your boat before, you really ought to give yourself a chance to practice this maneuver before you actually need to do it.
Why practice? First of all, it's important that you and anyone else on board understand the hand signals or other communications between the helmsman and the bow person, and it's always a good idea to know just how much distance your boat will need to slow down. And, like anchoring, it's always best regarding control if you approach the mooring from directly downwind. That's about it. Good luck and happy voyaging.