Mooring in a Marina : A Few Basic Rules

Mooring and Navigating in a Marina

Mooring in a Marina : A Few Basic Rules

Superyacht manoeuvring towards her berth, stern-to in Marina Port Vell in Barcelona.Yacht manoeuvring towards its berth in Marina Port Vell, Barcelona. Notice the marina staff on a rib, ready to bring assistance, as well as the crew member on the yacht on the right-hand side of the picture, watching in case there should be a problem.


Entering a marina and mooring your boat can be delicate operations and can even be a source of stress. Weather conditions and the close proximity of other boats leave little room for error and manoeuvring can be a dangerous operation if not done properly.
Preparation and anticipation are the keys to successful navigating. If you know your boat well and you take into account the fluctuations of the wind and the current, if you communicate well with the one another on board to synchronise your actions, then manoeuvring is bound to succeed.
Even if at times manoeuvring can cause impatience and irritation because of the pressure from observers on the quay, a failed manoeuvre seldom has serious consequences.
The risks include: 

  • Injuring a member of crew
  • Damaging the boat or other boats
  • Getting something caught in the propeller

In case of problems it is better to move out and start the manoeuvre again rather than trying to improvise.




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The manoeuvre should be prepared in advance in open water. Always decline a place if accessing it seems too complicated.
  • Be familiar with the specifics and the layout of the marina: the traffic, the obstacles, the manoeuvring space, the depths, the nature of the current and the wind.
  • Test the reactions of the boat in an open space if you are not familiar with them: the propeller’s pace both forward and backwards, the engine power, the rotation radius, and your windage (how the wind and currents may affect the boat’s position and course).
  • Place each crew member at a post that corresponds to his/her ability, where they are required.
  • Get the boat ready and clear the deck as well as the cockpit. Make sure that nothing is trailing in the water.
  • Take out the fenders and place them on the midship beam at both sides of the boat because that is where the boat is most likely to hit the other boats or the pontoon. Think of having a spare fender, just in case, which you can then place where and when needed, in order to avoid a collision. A badly placed fender serves no purpose whatsoever.
Make sure the lines are ready and that they are strong enough. In the Mediterranean most berths have mooring-lines: get the two hawsers ready to moor the stern, do not put anything at the front. A mooring line that gets stuck in the propeller could damage the latter or damage the drive shaft. The rudder can also suffer damage if it is supporting the weight of the boat.



  • Check the weather conditions before manoeuvring. The direction of the wind can be different inside and outside the harbour. The effect of the wind on your way to your berth needs to be anticipated.
  • When the berth is in sight, you may remain stationary by placing the boat with the stern facing the wind in order to keep better control.
  • Decide a strategy for the easiest manoeuvre: forward or reverse, starboard or portside, a lot of power or just a little. Place the hawsers and adjust the fenders.
  • Visualise the trajectory precisely before starting the manoeuvre depending on the available space and the wind effect.
  • Always have another plan, a “Plan B”, to fall back on.

Remember that it may occasionally be better to arrive in the marina in reverse. Although this can be more difficult, it enables the skipper to react more quickly and to leave move rapidly in case of problems.



  • Never forget: “low speed, little damage; high speed, considerable damage”
  • Set and adapt the speed to the distance to be covered and calculate the point of time when the boat is going just slowly enough to finish the manoeuvre while coasting without being obliged to reverse suddenly.
  • Do not forget that when reversing, the propeller does not turn normally and can make the stern move slightly sideways as well. Once you have spotted the side to which the stern is drifting, reverse with a short acceleration to counter that undesired movement.
  • Check everything yourself.
  • If the marina staff give you advice or instructions, follow them.
  • Do not change the initial plan in the middle of a manoeuvre.
  • Carry out Plan B if something unexpected happens but do not improvise.
  • Make sure you keep the engine running until you have finished, in order to react quickly if necessary.
  • Moor the boat.
A manoeuvre is not finished until the boat is moored, in place and the logbook closed.


Mistakes can always occur but if they are managed properly and calmly, in most cases, no serious damage is done. It is then just a failed manoeuvre. Keep in mind that it is always better to remain against another boat with well-placed fenders to take the necessary time to think about the best way out, rather than absolutely wanting to move quickly with the risk of hitting another boat or the quay, or even of hurting a member of the crew.



In the Mediterranean berthing is almost always with a mooring line, which allows boats to moor perpendicularly to the quay. The boat is moored stern-to and at the bow it is held to a metal chain that is often prolonged by a rope. This mooring line is attached at all times to the quay at one end, and to a main chain placed at the bottom of the sea at the other end. This allows the boat to be held at the bow so that it does not drift backwards towards the quay.
It can be an unpleasant situation if the boat gets stuck in the mooring line when docking and the wind pushes it against the bows of the boats in the dock. A crowd of observers is then often unavoidable. Never risk everything by accelerating like some distraught skippers do. The boat should be protected first and then the situation studied carefully.
A mooring line caught-up in the propeller will damage the propeller or otherwise the mooring line could be cut by the propeller. The rudder can also suffer damage if it is supporting the weight of the boat.

Immediate Measures:

  • Disengage the engine so as to prevent the mooring line from getting entangled in the propeller.
  • Protect the boat by getting crew ashore to push or hold the boat off.
  • Analyse the situation - in general nothing serious has happened - and spot where the mooring lines are to find a solution.



Leaving the berth and casting off is often easier than berthing as the manoeuvre can be better planned in the harbour and the boat can be prepared in calm conditions whilst moored to the quay. This, however, means that you must not forget to take into consideration all the factors involved when moving within the marina and you must remain even more vigilant when manoeuvring space is reduced.
If the boat is docked parallel to the quay, get out by swinging the boat from the bow or stern and move away from the quay at the same time.

  Sloop departing from Marina Baie des Anges in Villeneuve-Loubet, South of France. 

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