Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Boat Docking Secrets – Beware of the Bight-Line

In his latest guest blog exclusive to the Daily Boater, Captain John shares more secrets of docking safely...

Guest blog by Captain John
Author of Seamanship Secrets and publisher of the popular boating education website SkipperTips.com

Photo © Nautical Sites Media

How can you keep your boat or sailing crew safe when working a docking line under high tension? Make sure you put these three golden safety rules into play aboard your small power or sailboat today!

Nylon makes the ideal docking line because it can stretch like a rubber band. Your small power or sailboat moves about when moored in her slip, alongside a pier, or while anchored. Wind, current, tidal rise and fall, sea waves, swell, or passing boat wakes are always at work. And these dynamic forces cause your docking or anchor line to tension and slack again and again.

Imagine that you stretch a big, thick rubber band to the breaking point. When it snaps, that rubber band has a ton of energy. Now, multiply that energy and picture a massive rubber band hundreds of times larger in motion. That’s just what will happen if a nylon docking or anchor line snaps. In the Coast Guard, we called this “snap back”. It could cause severe injury or death.

When a docking or towline snaps, it can act like a shell shot from a shotgun. Whatever it hits, it will smash, cut, gouge, or penetrate. Make line handling safety your #1 priority when docking your small boat. Remember that your heavy displacement vessel will pull on that docking line with tremendous force. Keep this in mind when you are working your boat alongside a pier or into a slip. Follow these three golden rules for safety’s sake...

1. Beware of the Bight

Keep clear of the bight of any line.  For example, coil a line in a clockwise direction onto the deck.  In nautical terms, the word “bight” means loop. For example, if you coil a line, you make bights (loops) in the line.

Lines attached to your boat have a bight too, but the loop might not be as apparent. Think of any line under load as a “bight-line”. Lines under load could be those used for docking, anchoring, raising a sail, or sheeting in a Genoa.

Think of a bight-line like this: START POINT -- LINE -- END POINT.  The two points of the bight-line are the start and end attachment fittings (i.e. cleats, pilings, bits, winches, windlass gypsy heads, anchors). The line defines that area between the two points (i.e. line, chain).  Stay outside of the bight-line if at all possible. If you must enter the bight-line, get clear as soon as possible to prevent injury in case of line or fitting failure.

2. Cleat and Stand Aft

As soon as your crew steps ashore with a docking line they must position themselves so that they are clear of the bight line. Remember POINT - LINE - POINT. Stand on the far side of the dock cleat or dock piling. 

3. Cleat the Docking Line

Pull the docking line to the far side of the cleat.  If you are right-handed, touch the line to the right side of the cleat base; if left-handed, touch the line to the left side of the cleat base.  Next, wrap a full circle—called a “round turn”—around the base of the cleat.  This creates enough friction to prevent the line from slipping.

If you need to work the boat into the pier, by springing onto the line, you will need to be able to pull in and ease the line. If the cleat has enough room beneath the horns, use the round turn method to work the line.
Round Turn Method: Unwrap the full round turn and pull the slack from the line. Then wrap the line back in a full round turn.  You must do this in a quick, smooth motion. Watch the boat as you work the line. Work in harmony with the boat to help the skipper move it alongside the pier.

If the cleat does not have enough room beneath the horns, use the figure-8 method to work the line.
Figure-8 Method: Touch the line to the back of the cleat as described earlier. Wrap it over the top of the rear horn, then under the bottom of the forward horn. This forms a partial figure eight that offers good friction to keep the line from running free, but also allows the line to be eased to work the boat alongside the pier.

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Use these docking tips to keep your crew safe and sound when working with docking or anchoring lines. Practice these vital cruising skills to gain the confidence you need - wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

Captain John teaches sailing skippers the no-nonsense cruising skills they need for safer sailing. Sign up for a FREE sailing tips newsletter at http://skippertips.com. Become a member for instant access to 425+ articles, video tutorials, newsletters, and free eBooks.

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