mooring quay

Quay Berthing

Do not attempt to come alongside a berth down tide in a strong stream. Even a powerful engine will find it hard to stop the yacht in the chosen position. When leaving a berth, leave pointing into the strongest element if possible. If the yacht is berthed stern-to a strong tide, leave astern or turn the sailboat in its berth using warps.

Choosing a Berth

The choice of berth determines the comfort of the stay, so choose a berth that is sheltered from the wind and any swell. Try to lie on the lee side of a pontoon or quay so that the yacht is pushed off by the wind rather than pressed against the berth making it easier to leave.

If unable to lie on the leeward side of a berth, lie head-to-wind, as this keeps the companionway sheltered. If strong winds are forecast avoid lying on the windward side of a pontoon. Quay mooring has its obvious attractions, but it is often safer, more comfortable, and cheaper to anchor or pick up a mooring elsewhere.

Berthing at quaysides or long pontoons, the yacht may be required to raft up to previous arrivals. When necessary to raft alongside another boat, ask permission of the owner first.

Unless experienced, never try mooring alongside with a strong following wind or tide unless there is certainty that a stern warp can be secured quickly. Rafting alongside or mooring to a tidal quay requires a minimum of 50 metres of bow and stern warp to reach the shore and allow for rise and fall of tide.

Drying Out Alongside a Mooring Quay Wall

If there is a need to dry out alongside a mooring quay to either to work on the hull or the harbour dries at low tide, assess how the yacht behaves during this period. Multihulls sit upright on their hulls but long-keeled [ yachts dry out ] sitting on their keel and leaning against the wall. Narrow fin-keeled yachts are less stable and prone to tipping down at bow or stern when dry mooring.

Enquire from the harbour master to the condition of the seabed before drying out the yacht. Debris can damage a hull or keel and if the seabed slopes steeply away from the wall, the keel may slip outwards causing damage to the hull.

When conducting the drying out procedure ensure that the [ yacht leans ] slightly in towards the wall when it drops on the ebbing tide. This can be achieved by placing heavy gear on the side deck nearest to the wall, or by leading a halyard to a point on shore. As the sailboat drops, tighten the halyard so the boat heels slightly towards the wall. Ensure the mooring warps do not allow the yacht to move too far from the wall as it drops, otherwise leaning at a large angle may damage topsides or rigging.

All warps should lead out through fairleads and not under guardrails. Lash the warps into any open fairleads preventing the lines lifting out of them. The further the warps are led fore and aft of the sailboat, the less adjustment will be needed as the tide rises and falls.

Arriving at Quay Mooring

Approaching an quayside mooring can be complicated and requires thought, planning, and a well-briefed crew. When possible, practice a dummy run assessing conditions. The wind and tide effects at the berth are evaluated while looking for hazards that will need to be avoided on the approach. Make allowances for any emergency by planning an escape route taking the yacht back to clear water.

Having decided on tactics, brief the crew and allow time to get the fenders, boathooks and warps ready. If intending to come alongside under power, start the engine early to allow it to warm up and drop the sails before approaching the berth.


  • Prepare the warps ready on deck as berthing requires at least four warps
  • Rig fenders
  • Pull sufficient length of bow and stern warps and lead them out through their fairleads while making them fast to deck cleats.
  • Lead the outer ends of these warps outside everything to the middle of the sailboat just aft of the shrouds.
  • The crew normally steps off from the middle of the boat and takes their lines ashore. This is widest part of the boat and is the closest to the berth when coming alongside.
  • Once alongside, secure the bow and stern lines.
  • The stern spring is rigged next as it takes much of the load as well as holding the boat parallel to the berth if the wind or tide are on the bow.
  • Rig the bow spring
  • Tidy up all warps removing loose coils of rope on the quay or pontoon.

Arriving Under Power

If there are no significant wind and tide effects, select to come alongside the berth on the side towards which 'prop walk' pushes the stern when engaging reverse gear to stop. This helps in ending alongside and parallel to the berth. When the wind or tide are significant, approach by heading into the strongest element which gives the greater slow-speed control. Avoid approaching down-tide or with a strong wind behind and never attempt this without a powerful engine.

A Wind and Tide Together or Opposed

  • Utilize the tide to stop the yacht by engaging neutral approaching the berth.
  • Use reverse gear to stop.
  • Use the 'prop walk' effect to pull the stern into the berth.
  • Use reverse gear sparingly if prop walk acts in the opposite direction.

Onshore Wind

  • Approach into the tide.
  • Aim to stop the sailboat a short distance to windward of the berth.
  • Allow the windage effect to push the boat sideways into the berth.
  • If the characteristic of the bow is to blow quickly downwind, stop the yacht with the bow slightly upwind to compensate for the effect.

Offshore Wind

  • When in a strong offshore wind, the bow blows downwind when stopping alongside.
  • This is countered by leading the stern line farther forward than usual while approaching at a sharper angle.
  • The crew then gets the lines ashore quickly to straighten up the sailboat in its berth.

Arriving Under Sail

Berthing a yacht under sail in a confined space, requires skill and good judgment. Success depends on the skipper’s knowledge of the yacht's handling characteristics and crew efficiency and speed. Approach is the same as when approaching under power. Head into the strongest element of wind or tide utilizing it to stop when reaching the berth.

If approaching into the wind too fast in the final stages, back the mainsail or lower the headsail if approaching downwind. Have the crew hold the leech of a partly lowered headsail to prevent it drawing.

Wind and Tide Together or Strong Wind Opposed.

  • If wind and tide are together, or if a strong wind is opposed by a weak tide, approach on a close reach under mainsail alone.
  • To slow down ease the mainsheet
  • Turn into the wind when reaching the berth.
  • Get the bow and stern lines ashore and made fast.

Strong Tide Opposing Weak Wind

  • Approach from upwind under headsail alone.
  • If the headsail is unable to push the sailboat over the tide, hoist the head of the mainsail to provide extra drive.
  • Slow up by letting the headsail flap.
  • Get the warps ashore quickly.

Offshore Wind

  • If the wind is forward of the beam, come in against the tide with the mainsail alone. Use headsail alone if the wind is on or aft of the beam.
  • Approach at a sharp angle
  • Lead the end of the stern line further forward
  • The crew steps ashore from ahead of the shrouds
  • Get the warps ashore and made fast quickly.

Onshore Wind

  • Approach downwind under headsail alone
  • Turn into the tide to stop to windward of the berth.
  • Stop the boat and point the bow slightly upwind to allow for it drifting faster downwind than the stern.
  • The boat blows sideways into its berth.
  • Lower the headsail and get the warps ashore.

Leaving a Quayside Mooring

When preparing to leave an quayside mooring, observe all the factors that could affect the manoeuvre. Assess the wind’s strength and direction and tide and how they affect the yacht.

Acquire a knowledge of the sailboat's handling characteristics especially in regard to its behaviour at slow speed, its drifting characteristics, and how it reacts to wind on the beam. Make a note of obstructions in the vicinity and plan how to clear them. Assess the strength and experience of the crew.

Preparing to Leave

Decide on a plan to leave the berth and brief the crew. In most cases, it is easier and safer to leave under power which gives greater control. Do not assume to always use the engine, as many berths can be left under sail. When using the engine, start it and give it time to warm up before departure. Make a check and find the warps that are under the most load as these will be cast off last.

Leaving Under Power

If the tide is the strongest element on the bow, then leave bow first and if from astern, then leave stern first. When the tide is not the significant factor, leave into the wind with the bow first if the wind is forwards of the beam, stern first if it is aft of the beam. Much of how these rules are applied depends on the yacht's configuration, engine power, and wind strength.

  • The Bow into Tide. The bow facing into a tidal stream, leave bow first. The bow line and stern spring takes the load of the boat while the stern line and bow spring will be slack and are cast off first leaving the berth.
  • The Stern into Tide. The stern is facing into a tidal stream, leave stern first. If the sailboat is unable to handle well in reverse, turn the boat using warps and leave bow first . When leaving stern first, cast off the bow line and stern spring first.
  • Wind Astern. With the wind aft of the beam, leave stern first, or turn the boat using warps if handling astern is a problem. If the wind is onshore, use one of the springs to assist.
  • Wind Ahead. When the wind is forward of the beam, leave bow first. When the wind is off the quay it pushes the bow away and if onshore, spring off.

Pushing Off

To avoid the stern hitting the quay when moving off, turn either end of the yacht away from the quay before motoring off. In small yachts, this is achieved by pushing the bow or stern off with a boat hook. In strong, offshore winds, the sailboat drifts clear of the quay when the warps are released.

Using Springs

Controlled departure is achieved by using one of the springs to assist the yacht to turn, permitting the boat to leave bow or stern first. Once cleared of the berth and in open water, stow the warps and fenders keeping all lines out of the water and clear of the propeller.

Leaving Bow First

  • Position a fender right at the stern.
  • Rig the stern spring as a slip line.
  • Cast off the other warps.
  • Motor gently astern, steering the stern in towards the quay.
  • The bow begins to swing out.
  • Once the bow has swung out to an angle to clear any obstructions, select neutral gear.
  • Slip the spring
  • Motor away in forward gear.

Leaving Stern First

  • Position a fender at the bow.
  • Rig the bow spring as a slip line.
  • Cast off the other warps.
  • Motor slowly ahead and steer towards the quay.
  • As the stern swings out to the desired angle, engage neutral.
  • Slip the spring.
  • Motor slowly astern until clear of the quay
  • Engage forward gear and motor away.

Into the Wind

In the situation of reversing out of a quayside mooring against a strong wind, the windage on the bow tends to keep it downwind. Engine power may not be sufficient make the turn in the available space. The use a spring line will help in the turn.

  • Rig the stern line as a slip with plenty of slack
  • Reverse slowly out
  • When the sailboat clears the berth, cleat the stern line.
  • This holds the stern as the bow swings out
  • Slip the line and motor away.

Leaving Under Sail

It is possible to leave a quayside berth under sail, but when the wind is light and the tide is strong, there is reduced control and is easier to leave under power. When the wind is blowing onto the berth, the yacht is unable to sail off. Use the engine and warps, or lay an anchor using the tender to get out of the berth.

When a tide is present, leave bow-into-tide for best control and if lying stern-to-tide, turn the yacht using warps before attempting to sail off.

Lying head-to-tide - Wind on or aft of the beam.

  • Hoist the headsail and let flap freely.
  • Cast off the warps not under load, then cast off the others.
  • Trim the headsail, and sail off under headsail alone.
  • When clear of the quay, turn head-to-wind and hoist the mainsail.

Wind is from ahead

  • Hoist the mainsail letting it flap freely.
  • Prepare the headsail ready for hoisting.
  • Cast off all warps, starting first with those not under load.
  • Push the bow off with a boat hook.
  • Trim the mainsail and sail off
  • Hoist the headsail.

Wind directly ahead

  • Hoist and back the headsail pushing the bow off.

Bow or Stern Quayside Berthing

Where the tide is not a factor, it is common to berth by the bow or the stern to a pontoon or quay where an anchor holds the other end of the boat. Berthing this way saves space alongside against the space taken up by alongside making it easier for boats to arrive or leave. Consider, while it is simpler coming in bow first providing privacy in the cockpit when berthed, it may be easier to disembark if stern-to.

Arriving at a Bow/Stern Quayside Mooring

Arriving Bow-To

  • Brief the crew.
  • Prepare the warps, fenders, and anchor before the approach.
  • Hang fenders on both sides of the boat protecting it from neighbouring boats.
  • Two bow lines and the kedge anchor with a long anchor warp or chain are required. Prepare the anchor to be dropped from the stern. To prevent damage to the deck if the kedge has a length of chain, stow the chain in a bucket keeping it clear of the deck when running out.
  • Make a long approach with the boat lined up with the berth giving time to adjust the line of approach playing the tiller and throttle giving a steady and straight run.
  • Lay the anchor clear of other boats' anchors.
  • Drop the anchor over the stern when about three to five boat lengths from the quay.
  • The chain and warp are led to run out under the pushpit through a fairlead.
  • Take a turn of the cable around a cleat or bollard on the sailboat.
  • Hold the end tightly enough to put some load on the warp.
  • Allow the warp to slip slowly around the cleat setting the anchor and slowing the boat.
  • Continue the approach until about half a boat length from the berth and then snub the anchor cable.
  • Put the engine in reverse to assist in stopping the sailboat just clear of the quay or pontoon
  • The crew steps ashore with the bow warps and secures the boat.

Arriving Stern-To

When berthing stern-to, there are two choices depending on how well the sailboat handles in reverse.

If it handles well in reverse:

  • Approach from some way off, reversing in a straight line towards the berth.
  • Drop the bow anchor about three to five boat lengths from the quay and allow the cable to run out.
  • Take a turn of the cable around the Sampson post on the boat.
  • Hold the end tightly enough to put some load on the warp.
  • Allow the warp to slip slowly around the Sampson post setting the anchor and slowing the boat.
  • Continue the approach until about half a boat length from the berth and then snub the anchor cable.
  • Give a burst ahead on the engine to stop the sailboat.
  • The crew steps ashore with the stern warps and make them fast.

If the sailboat does not handle well in reverse, but there is a wish to berth stern-to, first berth bow-to then turn the boat using the bow line and anchor cable.

Turning Using Warps

To keep the sailboat under complete control, use the anchor and the bow line to turn the boat.

  • Ensure the crew understands the manoeuvre.
  • Be aware of any cross wind that pushes the boat onto its neighbours.
  • Rig a bow line as a long slip line.
  • Have about four boat lengths of bow line rope to complete the manoeuvre.
  • Pull on the anchor cable to where the sailboat is clear of others and stop the movement of the boat.
  • Let out the anchor warp and take it to the bow.
  • Let out the bow line and take it to the stern.
  • Turn the boat 180 degrees by bringing in both the anchor warp and the bow line.
  • Pull the sailboat back into the berthing using the now stern line while easing out the anchor warp.
  • The crew steps ashore with the stern warps and make them fast.

Leaving a Bow/Stern Quayside Mooring

  • Leaving a bow- or stern-to berthing simply release the shore lines
  • Pull on the anchor cable moving the sailboat clear of the berth, using the engine power to assist.
  • Recover the anchor and motor clear.

When in a strong cross wind which makes it hard to hold the boat straight when leaving:

  • Rig a long slip line to the shore which helps control the boat.
  • Put the line under low tension, stopping the boat blowing downwind when moving clear.
  • Slip the line once clear.
drying out
drying out position