Will your small sailboat survive howling winds, tidal rise and fall, or a storm surge inside her slip? Does your sailboat have the protection it needs to prevent catastrophic hull or rigging failure? Follow these ten steps in this excerpt from the eBook « Dock a Boat Like a Pro » to protect your small sailboat in any slip!

Use the after bow (AB) and forward quarter (FQ) springs to prevent fore and aft movement. Adjust bow and stern lines to keep the boat centered. Cross stern lines if practicable; otherwise make them as long as possible. See all ten docking tips below.

Use these slip docking line tips to:


  • Keep your sailboat centered inside a super narrow slip.
  • Prevent failure of your costly docking lines and deck gear.
  • Check this resource for « moon tides » to adjust your slip lines.
  • Make stern lines more efficient with this « X » tactic.
  • Protect your costly hull from scrapes or cracks in heavy weather.
    Slips could restrict the amount of docking line you use, so your concentration here will be hull protection, tidal allowance, and to keep the boat centered in the slip. Follow these ten tips for line, fender, and boat protection wherever you sail or cruise.

    1. Set Long Spring Lines

    Diagonal lines that run sideways along the boat are your best protection against the boat moving forward or backward. Run your springs from both boat cleats and both stern cleats (see blue and green spring lines in the illustration).

    2. Position the Boat Inside Her Slip

    After you set the springs, use bow and stern lines to square the boat between the slip pilings. Keep the bow and stern lines slack so that the boat doesn’t hang on her lines at extreme low tides. Cross the stern lines if possible.

    3. Make Docking Lines Taut at Low Tide

    When the tide gets to its lowest point, adjust the spring lines so that they are taut but not bar tight. Allow an inch or two of give. Adjust the bow and stern lines in the same manner.

    4. Wrap Line with Chafing Gear

    Nylon braid of any type tends to wear like the devil when it saws back and forth in your boat chocks. Protect your line by wrapping split garden hose, split soft PVC or even duct tape around the line. Extend the chafing gear 6″ past the chocks on each side.

    5. Keep Line Angles Small

    On many boats, lines are lead (called a « fairlead ») through chocks back to a cleat. The sharper the fairlead angle from chock to cleat, the greater the strain on your lines. Keep all fairlead angles as straight as possible to prevent life-shortening wear and tear.

    6. Use « Backed-up » Boat Cleats or Posts

    Most manufacturers use hefty backing plates beneath the deck on the bow and stern cleats or a Samson Post (a vertical bit with a horizontal pin). Use these fittings when you tie up–not your winches! You’ll see sailors do this, but this puts a shear (sideways) load on the winch. Boat wakes or a ground swell could place shock loads on your winch. Stick to cleats or bits and you’ll have no problems, even in the toughest weather.

    7. Hang More Fenders than You Think Necessary

    Slips are tough to fend inside. Hang fenders on your boat where you think they might contact the slip pilings or finger pier (see illustration). Better yet, hang or lash the fender in a horizontal position onto each piling. This protects the boat no matter how she lies in her slip.

    8. Re-adjust Lines at Spring Tides

    Extreme low and high tides occur twice each month at most locations. Check your local paper and note the days that you see a full moon (solid white circle) or new moon (solid black circle). Make your line adjustments the day before and you will be well prepared for these events.

    9. Nudge the Stern into Deep Water

    If you expect the water will be so low as to ground your boat, move the stern out a foot or two (if you are moored bow first). Check with the dockmaster first, because this means your stern will stick out from the slip a bit. This keeps your propeller and rudder in deeper water. Heel the boat with crew weight to decrease your draft and slide out of the slip with ease.

    10. Tie Large Bowlines onto Pilings

    Tie two to three foot bowlines onto each piling (see illustration). Install chafing gear (see 4. above) onto the bight of each eye. The bowline knot allows the line to ride up and down the pilings to distribute chafe and loading better than any other marine knots.