Pontoon Dock or Finger Jetty Boat Launching - Hoists and Mooring Buoys

Sections: Leaving Pontoon Arriving Pontoon Boat Hoists Mooring Buoys Leaving a Buoy Picking Up a Buoy

dock mooring

Day sailing dinghies and keelboats are mostly stored or ashore or trailered, and though many clubs have boat launching slipways the use of floating pontoon dock and finger jetties are increasingly used to ease the congestion on race days and at weekends. Many clubs provide owner operated electric docking hoists while heavier boats and keelboats are often kept on a permanent mooring buoy, with the crew rowing out or ferried out by club launches.

Previous preparation is the answer to all boat launching operations, so make a mental check that all equipment available for sailing and systems work before leaving the land base, floating dock or boat mooring buoy.

Pontoon Dock or Finger Jetty Boat Launching

Boat launching over the side of a pontoon dock or finger jetty is best done before hoisting the sails. At least two people, one on either side of the boat are needed for a pontoon launch.

  • One person holds the painter while the boat is lifted until its stern is over the water.
  • The stern is lowered into the water while the boat is gently pushed back until the bow can be lowered over the side.
  • Move the boat to the end of the pontoon or finger jetty on the leeward side and turned head-to-wind.
  • The painter is secured on the pontoon before the sails are hoisted and the rudder fitted.

Leaving a Pontoon Dock or Finger Jetty

  • The helmsman steps onboard and fits the rudder and tiller.
  • The helmsman then hoists the jib, then mainsail,lowering the centreboard to about half way.
  • Before the crew gets onboard, both he and the helmsman plan the course to open water.
  • Check to see if there is any tidal stream affecting the boat and if significant, plan to leave pointing into the stream.
  • Look around before sailing off ensuring no other boats or obstructions in the boat's path.

Weather Shore

  • Where the wind is blowing from the shore to the water, the boat's bow should be pointing to the shore.
  • With strong wind, rig the jib only.
  • When on board the boat, push the boat away casting off the painter.
  • With the wind catching the jib, turn the boat onto a broad reach
  • Having gained enough sea room to round up hoist the mainsail.

Clear Water Astern

  • The crew pushes the boat backwards while untying the painter and steps onboard.
  • The helmsman pushes the tiller in the direction where the bow is to move while the crew backs the jib.
  • The boat moves backwards and turns
  • The crew sheets the jib in on the lee side of the boat then sails away.

Obstruction Astern

  • The crew pushes the boat forwards and away from the pontoon mooring
  • The crew then boards the boat and backs the jib.
  • The helmsman turns the boat away from the wind
  • When the boat has turned, the crew sets the jib on the lee side.
  • The boat sails away on a broad reach
  • The helmsman runs out the mainsheet helping the boat to bear away.

Lee Shore

  • When boat launching, turn it head-to-wind and if the wind is at an angle launch the boat on the leeward side of the pontoon.
  • Onboard, the helmsman hoists the sails, fits the rudder, and lowers the centreboard.
  • The crew pushes the bow away from the pontoon while stepping aboard.
  • The helmsman sheets in the mainsail
  • The crew sheets in the jib sailing away on a close reach.

Dock Parallel to the Shore

  • Rig the sails prior to boat launching
  • Once afloat, board the vessel then release the painter.
  • The crew or skipper backs the jib while pushing the tiller to leeward.
  • When the boat has cleared the pontoon, sheet the jib to the correct side.
  • Pull the tiller to windward.

Arriving at a Pontoon Dock or Finger Jetty

Weather Shore

  • Approach the pontoon dock or finger jetty on a close reach
  • When nearing the pontoon, ease out the sails to slowdown.
  • Turn head-to-wind to stop alongside.
  • Once alongside, the crew gets out, securing the boat.
  • The helmsman deals with securing the sails and other equipment.

As there is a depth of water beneath the pontoon mooring there is no need to raise the centreboard or the rudder until safely alongside. When a tidal stream is present, consider its effects on the boat and if strong, turn into the tide to stop. Always plan an escape route in case you arrive at the pontoon mooring going too fast to stop.


Lee Shore

When approaching a pontoon dock or finger jetty on a lee shore there are two choices;

  • Lower the mainsail and approach under just the jib;
  • Or, provided the pontoon is at right angles to the shore, come in with both sails set.

If in tidal waters, consider the effect the tidal stream will have on the approach. If the tidal stream is strong, turn into it to stop. Plan an escape route in case the boat is moving too fast to stop. If it is difficult to retain control under sail, drop the sails and paddle in.


Dock Parallel to the Shore

  • If unable to moor head-to-wind, sail upwind of the destination
  • Lower the mainsail
  • Approaching under the jib alone.
  • Let the jib flap in the last phase.
  • Drift in slowly
  • Once alongside, the crew secures the boat.

Dock Right Angles to the Shore

Sail to turn head-to-wind on a broad reach close to the shore then stop alongside. Plan an escape route so that the boat, if necessary, can go around and try again. If not confident, lower the mainsail and come in under the jib alone.

Boat Hoists

Electric hoists are particularly helpful on lakes and areas of high tidal rise and fall. These low, short-armed hoists enable the boat to be lifted off trailers and swung out and lowered quickly into the water. Dinghies and keelboats should be fitted with lifting eyes or permanent strops enabling operators to lift a number of boats in a short time.

Ready the boat for sailing before moving to the hoist, then move the boat to the hoist or free the boat from the trailer then attach the hoist to the bow and stern guiding lines. Then hoist the boat out, having someone keep the boat steady while lowering it. When the boat is in the water, retract the hoist or hand over to the next operator. Once afloat, move the boat away from the hoist area before the next boat launching.

Boat Mooring Buoys

Larger general-purpose dinghies are kept on boat mooring buoys permanently afloat. Mooring buoy designs vary but most have heavy concrete sinkers or anchors securing them to the seabed.

Mooring buoys either have a light pick-up buoy or have a ring on top to which the boat is secured.

Boat mooring buoys are about the most difficult and time-consuming option open to boat owners. As the boat is kept afloat it must be anti-fouled and all the gear transported in and out, while the mooring has to be checked regularly for wear and kinking.

Preparing to Leave a Mooring Buoy

‘Single up’ the painter by running the working end of it through the eye on the mooring buoy and bringing it back aboard, making it fast. Undo the permanent mooring line then release it. When ready to depart, the working end of the painter is freed and pulled back through the mooring eye.

Non-Tidal Waters

If the boat is moored in non-tidal waters, the boat lies head-to-wind, making it a simple process to sail off with both sails set.

  • To sail away from the mooring, hoist the sails, lower the centreboard, and fit the rudder and tiller.
  • Back the jib to turn the dinghy to the desired sailing direction.
  • Once the bow is around, the helmsman sheets in the mainsail
  • The crew sheets the jib on the leeward side.
  • Turning sharply when the mooring is dropped is done by the crew pulling the buoy aft, down the windward side.

Tidal Waters

The direction and strength of the wind and tide determines how to leave a mooring in tidal waters. When the boat is lying head-to-wind, leave with the same method as in non-tidal waters. When the wind is not clearly well ahead of the beam, it is impossible to hoist the mainsail without it filling immediately and putting the boat out of control so leave under the jib alone.

Leaving with Jib Alone

When the wind is not ahead of the beam, leave the mooring under the jib alone.

  • Both sails are prepared for hoisting along with fitting the rudder and tiller, and singling up the mooring.
  • Hoist the jib, allowing it flap, then lower the centreboard.
  • The helmsman decides on the course to sail away.
  • The crew slips the mooring and sheets in the jib.
  • When clear of obstructions, luff up so that the boat is head-to-wind, and then hoist the mainsail.

Picking Up a Mooring Buoy

When approaching a mooring buoy, look at other similar moored boats seeing if they are head-to-wind or being influenced by the tide. Assume that the boat takes up a similar position, and look for the wind direction. If the wind direction is well ahead of the beam, approach under both the mainsail and jib, however, if further aft, approach under the jib alone.

The proximity of other boats or obstacles should be taken into account when planning an approach to the buoy. When there is a tidal stream, pass other boats on their down-tide side to avoid being swept onto them.

Arriving at the boat mooring, the buoy is picked up on the windward side, ahead of the shroud. The painter is fastened to the buoy and the sails lowered and then the boat is made fast with the mooring rope.

Approaching Upwind

If the boat faces the wind when moored, approach the buoy on a close reach, easing out the sails to slow down, luffing up so that the boat is head-to-wind at the buoy. If wind and tide are together but the wind is light, it is better to approach on a beam reach avoiding being swept down-tide.


Approaching Downwind

When the wind and tide are opposed so that the boat does not lie head-to-wind when moored, approach under the jib alone. While still in clear water, lower the mainsail and approach downwind under the jib, aiming to arrive at the buoy pointing into the tide. Control the speed using the jib sheet, and let it flap to slow down at the mooring buoy.