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Is Proper Line Handling a Lost Art?

posted Jul 13, 2010, 8:33 AM by Bob Mueller   [ updated Jul 14, 2010, 4:28 AM ]
    I recently read an interesting article at Motorboating Magazine.  I agree with the author that proper line handling seems to be a forgotten art!  Learning how to properly handle your lines is key to successful docking and undocking.  This doesn't just mean knowing your knots well. 
    It surprises me how many people do not understand how to properly use a cleat.  There is so much more to know, then just tying up a cleat hitch. 
Understanding how to ease out some slack, our take in a little slack without completely untying a cleat hitch, can make docking excercises so much more simple and less stressful.  Review the image to the left.  If you put the line on the cleat as the far left image shows and stop right there, you have given yourself a tremendous mechanical advantage on the boat.  It is still very easy to pay out or pay in line as required.  It is much easier to stop a slow moving boat that is drifting away from the dock.  Move to the center image, and now the line is locked to the cleat, yet you can still pay out or pay in small amounts of line to get the boat positioned properly.  You also have control to completely stop the line right there, if the skipper needs to apply quite a bit of power or a really strong breeze or current effects the boat.  Once you are certain you have the proper amount of line out, move to the far right image, to lock everything down to spend the night.  The cleat hitch is finished by tucking the end under the last loop.  Don't tuck the line under every single loop of the cleat hitch.  This is a common mistake and prevents you from accomplishing the second critical step!
    I also agree with the article on the use of a spring line.  My wife and I call it a stopper line.  We are probably not using correct the nautical nomenclature, but our verbage gets the job done!  Our stopper line has a loop in both ends.  A small loop on one end is attached to the mid ship cleat and my wife throws the larger loop over the first piling on the end of the dock as we are entering the slip.  The stopper line is sized perfectly, so that it does not allow that last piling to get past the stern, which stops the bow from hitting the pier.  It also will pull the boat sideways up against the dock.  Don't approach too quickly, as the line will jerk the boat to a halt when it snubs taught.  Using the power to get the line to go taught nice and slow will make your docking look professional.
    I see that most manuals, text books, and slides demonstrate, ad nauseum, the correct method for docking at a gas dock, pier or wharf.  Rarely do I see explanation how to properly pull a boat into or out of a slip.  When another boat is sharing the well, this seems to be the most stressfull docking situation for new boaters!  Especially if you do not have a piling separating the two boats from one another.  Come on out and take a class from Berea Power Squadron.  Ask the instructor and we are glad to help you understand the proper techniques for docking in this most common of situations.
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