Techniques for Using Mooring Rope or Lines - Breast and Spring Warps

Sections: Heaving a Line Mooring Ropes Rope Cleats Fairleads Problems Slip Lines Yacht Turning

Mooring ropes basics of setting up boat moorings breast lines and line cleat. How to throw a rope and mooring spring rope along with bow mooring or bow spring line.

Heaving a Mooring Line

There may be a requirement at sometime to heave or throw a mooring line to someone on another vessel or at the quayside. If the line tangles, the throw will fall short. Do not rely on a previously coiled rope, but re-coil it prior to throwing it, making sure that there is a sufficient length of rope to make the distance.

On some yachts a dedicated heaving line of light rope may have a weight spliced into one end, which helps it travel. When caught it is utilized to pull over a heavier line.

When [ heaving a mooring line ], coil the rope neatly and then split into two coils, half in the throwing hand and the rest in the other hand. Stand with the non-throwing shoulder towards the target. Heave the line underarm aiming above the target while allowing the line to uncoil from other hand while maintaining a hold on the end.

Mooring Ropes or Warps

A boats mooring rope is called a warp and is used to tie a boat to a pontoon, quayside, mooring buoy, piles, or other vessel and a knowledge of how to use warps is part of yacht handling. The rope or warp size depends on the size and importantly, the weight of the boat.

Boat warps should have enough strength to hold the yacht and long enough allowing the yacht to rise and fall in tidal waters.

Nylon ropes or warps are common as they are strong along with being able to stretch to absorb shock and reduce loads on fairleads and cleats. When not in use, warps should be coiled, and stored hanging up, in a locker.

When about to moor alongside, a number of rope lines are required to hold the yacht safely by preventing it from ranging back and forth causing damage. The mooring arrangement depends on whether the boat is tied to a quayside where there is some [allowance for tide ], or to other vessels or a floating pontoon that moves in unison to changes in tidal height.

Types of Mooring Ropes

Each rope line or mooring warp is different and it is important understand how each warp functions. If the yacht is left alongside in tidal waters, there should be sufficient slack in the mooring warps to allow for the lowest level of tide, otherwise the vessel hangs from its mooring ropes and could be damaged.

Bow and Stern Mooring Lines

The bow line and stern mooring lines function is to position the yacht on the berth. They must have the strength to take the main load as well a long enough compensate for the tide’s rise and fall. The further away the bow and stern lines are secured to the mooring from the boat, the less adjustment is required when the tide rises or falls.

Bow and Stern Mooring Springs

Bow and stern mooring springs prevent the vessel from moving ahead or astern. They are not usually as long as the bow and stern lines and need adjusting as the tidal height changes. Both mooring springs work against each other which stops the yacht moving backwards and forwards.

Fore and Aft Breast Lines

Fore and aft breast lines are used in addition to the four main mooring warps to hold the vessel close alongside. Breast lines and springs may be used alone when lying alongside a pontoon.

Rope Cleats

All mooring rope cleats and fairleads should be adequate for the purpose and securely bolted to the deck having smooth, rounded edges to prevent warp chafe. The larger the rope cleat, the less it will wear the rope along with being easier to make up a rope with sufficient turns.

A typical set up is a central bollard on the foredeck together with a pair of mooring rope cleats, one on either side of the bow, and a pair at the stern. If a central bollard is not present, there should be at least three rope cleats on the foredeck. When mooring alongside, it is useful to have a pair of midship cleats on the sidedecks.

Securing a sheet or halyard to a rope cleat is `to belay' and a line made fast to a cleat must be capable of being quickly freed. The first turn about a cleat is a complete round-turn, before crossing over with the several 'S' turns. When the 'S' turns are cast off, the first turn is left which provides friction for snubbing the rope or easing it smoothly.

cleat anglecleat slip hitch

Lead the line around the cleat from the side where the turn does not jam back on itself. Angle cleats so that they are about 10 degrees off line from the direction of the lead which prevents the turns jamming on the standing part of the rope.

Making fast the rope is done by adding a single hitch over the belaying turns. There are some sailors that think the hitch may jam under load, especially when wet, making it difficult to free quickly. Making fast with a slipped hitch allows the hitch to be slipped off quickly. After belaying, the line is coiled, by starting the turns from the standing end.


[ Coiled halyards ] can be stowed by hooking them on to a cleat on the mast. Holding the coil in the left hand and pulling the bight of the standing part through the coil. Twist it to the left, or against the lay, and slip it over the upper horn of the cleat. Sheet coils are never secured as they at all times must be free to run.

Boat Fairleads

Boat fairleads are fitted either side of the bow and stern and alongside each midship cleat. Boat fairleads are either open or closed with the [open variety ] being more versatile, whereas the [ closed type ] being more secure. So that warps do not chafe on the deck edge they should be led through fairleads.

Warps are susceptible to chafing at the point of leading through fairleads or across the edges of quay walls. Some protection can be gained by feeding the warp through short lengths of plastic tubing and then positioned at likely chafing points.

Avoiding Problems

To avoid problems when mooring with warps, have one rope for each function and belay each one up on its separate cleat. Make up the end to a cleat on a pontoon or neighbouring boat, bringing the rest of the warp back onboard where it is cleated and stowed. This means there is no loose rope left ashore and makes it easy for warp adjustment on board when necessary.

Slip Lines

A rope or warp led through a ring or around a cleat or bollard ashore, with both ends made fast on board is called a slip line. A slip line allows the release of the warp from on board and is useful when berthed alongside a quay wall.

The slip line is only suitable for temporary stops, as the warp is liable to chafe where it passes through the ring or cleat. When a slip line is rigged through a ring ashore, it should be lead through the ring in the correct way.

Lead the end of the slip line that will be released:

  • Up through the ring if it is lying on top of the quay;
  • or down through the ring if it is hanging on the quay wall.

When pulled, the slip line lifts the ring away from the quay preventing the it from jamming. If there are knots or splices in the slip line it may snag so use one that has none of these obstructions.

Yacht Turning Using Ropes or Warps

warp turning

It would be much easier at time to leave a berth with the yacht was facing the other way, particularly if leaving under sail. The way to turn a yacht is to use ropes or warps, making use of the tide or wind to help the manoeuvre. To protect the boat when it turns, place fenders on the far side of the boat and at the bow and stern. If the yacht is lying stern-to-tide, the stern will be moved away from the pontoon to turn the vessel and conversely if the yacht was lying the other way round, the bow would be turned first.

  • Rig a stern line outside all rigging on the far side.
  • Move the bow spring to a cleat on the far side.
  • Move the shore end to a cleat aft of the boat.
  • Release the bow line and stern spring.
  • Release the stern line and push stern out, or pull on the bow spring.
  • The tide will start to swing the boat out.
  • Take up the slack on the new stern line.
  • The turn will slow down as the boat lines up with the tide.
  • Make fast the new bow and stern lines and rig new springs.
  • For short stays, you need only rig a bow line and a stern spring.

    Aft and forward breast line used for mooring a ship and the bow spring line boat mooring rope fairleads
    slip lines
    fair lead open
    coil halyard
    mooring lines
    mooring rope