Casting Off techniques – that may save your life!

From Duncan Wells, author of the Stress-Free series of boating books.

Having guaranteed, robust techniques for getting off the dock and back on again will boost your boating confidence no end. All my techniques can be managed by one person from the cockpit of their boat.

Bows in on a finger berth


Our boat is moored to the dock with a bow line, stern line, head or fore spring and back or aft spring (1). Or for the purists with 4 lines – one line one job! (2)

Assuming we are on our own and there is some tide running through the berth and a breeze blowing, we cannot just stand on the shore and let go the lines as the boat will be off. So we need to set up a technique that will hold the boat alongside the dock while we remove the mooring lines.


A bit of Prep


Preparation is the key to success in all things boating. If things go wrong for me it is always because I didn't do my prep.

So first we will make sure that we are well fendered. Fenders down to the water and up a bit on the side by the dock and fenders set at gunwhale height on the side facing our neighbour. (3)

A neat tip here is that any fender set at dock height, when taken under the lower guard wire and over the upper guard wire, becomes a fender set at gunwhale height on a 35 to 40 foot boat. (4,5)

Second, we will check which way our boat kicks when in astern. Most boats have a kick one way or another. With the boat tied to the dock, click the engine into astern. You will probably find turbulent water on one side and calm water on the other. She will kick in the direction of the calm water. So now you know what she will do when you go astern. If there is no real turbulence on one side or the other or the turbulence is even it may be that you have a sail drive and there will not be a great deal of kick in any direction.


The technique – a Bow Bridle


We run a line from a strong point in the cockpit (6) – this could be a winch (7) – inside the shrouds to the bow (8), then down to the cleat onshore by the bow, back up amidships and secure on a cockpit winch – possibly the same winch we attached the inboard end to. This line is set to slip and we want the least amount of line to slip, so after a couple of turns round the winch and into the jaws of the self-tailer, you should only have about 8 inches of line spare. (9) Here I had to join two lines together and have kept the bulk of the length on the inboard end with just a short amount of line to slip.

If we now click the engine into astern the boat will lie alongside held by the Bow Bridle and we can remove our mooring lines (warps for the diehards).

(10) Don’t forget to remove the shore power!


Boat holding to Bow Bridle


Now with the engine still in astern and having checked that no one else has decided to leave their berth at this precise time, into whom we might bump, take the outboard end of the Bow Bridle off the winch (11) and haul steadily in on the inboard end (12) and the boat will slip out of the berth. Make sure you bring the outboard end of the Bow Bridle on deck and that's it. (13)

See it in action: Watch video here


Duncan Wells is Principal of Westview Sailing, author of the Stress Free Series of boating books and creator of MOB Lifesavers. You can find him at

See Stress Free Sailing Books here

See MOB Lifesaver here


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