Picking Up A Mooring Under Sail

Lassoing a mooring buoy is the easiest method of picking up a mooring under sail, especially if you are sailing short-handed. You can make fast properly after you have secured the mooring in the first place.

When securing to a buoy with a metal loop on the top, use two lines as security. Either two loops, one from each bow cleat returning to the same cleat or a bridal with a lazy bridal as backup.

With most seamanship manoeuvres you can usually split up the mission into four sections.


Go over the mission in your head from start to finish. Think about the wind, tide, crew responsibilities and equipment that’s needed.


The tide, wind, obstacles and depth will determine your approach.


Speed control is vital. Too much speed is a common mistake. However when under sail remember to not let the vessel stop too early or you will drift.


If the manoeuvre goes wrong how do we try again safely?

Example 1

We are choosing to lasso a mooring to take a lunch break in a busy river estuary with a fresh wind and no significant tide. You are on the helm with two competent crew level friends.


This is the simplest method. I’ll station one crew member on the bow with the intention of lassoing the mooring at the windward shroud. This can be done with a warp tied to both bow cleats creating a large loop. Make two or three coils for each hand so the loop can be thrown out effectively. Brief the crew member to call distances to the mooring as you approach. My other crew member will be in charge of the mainsail power. You will instruct them to use the  “spill” or “fill” technique adjusting the main sheet to control your speed. 


Approach the mooring from downwind in a close-hauled position. This allows us to fully control the mainsail power and let it luff if it needs be de-powered. 


Now ease the main sheet out to a close reach. To slow down, further luff the main by spilling and filling the mainsail. Positioning the mooring slightly to the windward side of your track should give you a reasonable visibility until the mooring gets very close. When your crew member calls 5,4,3,2,1 turn into the wind and the mooring should be at your windward shroud. Now your bowman can lasso the mooring by throwing the loop over and beyond the buoy. As the vessel drifts back the line will grab under and around the buoy. 


At any time during this manoeuvre we can bear away from the buoy.

Example 2

We want to pick up our home mooring at the end of a day’s sailing. The mooring has a small pickup buoy that can be hooked by a boathook. The tide is against the wind (called ‘Wind over tide,’) Again you are on the helm with two competent crew level friends.


Tide is king if you have a deep draft yacht. If she is of light displacement, wind will be king. This manoeuvre requires a little more lateral thinking regarding using the wind and tide to help you. I’ll initially have one crew member on the mainsheet and the other ready to help drop the mainsail and unfurl the genoa. As we approach the mooring one person will be ready to furl the genoa and the other ready with a boathook calling distances to the buoy. 


We will plan to sail close-reached downstream, and to windward of the buoy. Once we are directly downstream we will turn directly towards the wind and drop the mainsail. The vessel will fall away from the wind and we will deploy the genoa. Now we can run downwind directly into the tide towards the mooring. 


Approaching the mooring from our run we can furl the genoa to control speed. 


Whilst running, we can turn to wind at anytime using the genoa and hoist our mainsail again if required. 

Why do we need to know this skill?

Well it’s useful to pick up a mooring if you need to take a short break or you simply want to park. Remember if it’s not your mooring, be considerate. Maybe the owner will return! If you intend to stay the night on an unknown mooring, remember you are trusting someone else’s maintenance and without checking the mooring block and tackle underwater you have no idea as to its safety unlike your own anchor and chain. 

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