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Buoys and Docks

Buoys.  Many marine parks have mooring buoys.  Some skill is required to tie to a buoy.  This is not difficult but everyone makes mistakes and sometimes it takes more than one try to secure a buoy.   Here are a few tips.

1.    Be prepared before you approach the buoy.  Have someone on the bow with an extendable boat hook and line ready.  The line must run under any lifelines and not be tangled in stanchions.  We like to run our line out over the bow between our anchor rollers.  Other people like to just drop the line over the side from one of their cleats, then run it around the bow to a cleat on the opposite side.  Either method is fine.  Choose what works best for you.

2.    Approach the buoy heading upwind.  You will have more steerage at slow speed and will not tend to drift past the buoy while your bow crew works to snag the ring on the buoy.

3.    Communicate with your crew.  Have him/her signal as you approach the buoy to slow down, move forward, turn to port or starboard, stop, etc.  

 4.    GO SLOW.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Just take it nice and easy.  Don’t get flustered.  

5.    Always approach from downwind.  Be sure the boat will be blown away from the buoy.  Its awful to watch someone get alongside a buoy and then get blown over it by the wind, especially if the boat hook is stuck onto the ring.  Very embarrassing.

6.    You should be virtually stopped when your crew reaches down with the boat hook to grab the ring atop the buoy.  

 7.    Be prepared to help or have another person standing by to hold the buoy with the boat hook while the line is run through the loop.  Ideally, one person will lift the loop up from the buoy (it will come up with the chain) while another person runs the line through the loop.

8.    Bring the line back up over the bow and back to a cleat.  Some people like to run the line from one cleat, under the lifeline, through the ring on the buoy, then outside the hull around the bow and back up under the opposite side lifeline to the opposing cleat.  This forms a nice triangle with two secure ties and is fine.  The idea is to get a good secure tie that is easy to disengage when its time to leave.

Docks.  Many parks have small docks and harbors have marinas.    The docks at parks are usually small and often full.  Sometimes you will be squeezing into a tight spot.  You need basic skills.

1.    Some marinas accept advance reservations.  Get the phone number from your cruising guide and call a day ahead if you have cell phone service.

2.    If you don’t have a reservation and a slip assignment use the VHF radio to call the marina once you enter the harbor and are within view.  Most marinas monitor channel 68 or have a large sign telling you which VHF channel to use.

3.    When you get a slip assignment ask if it is a port or starboard tie.  Ask for directions to find the slip.  Repeat the instructions to be sure you heard right.  

4.    Get your fenders and lines ready.  Proceed slowly.  If the slip looks difficult or too small call back on the VHF and see if something else is available.  Sometimes the wind or current makes it too difficult and there may be other options.

5.    Be aware of winds and currents in the marina.  If you think you will need help or a different space just call back and ask.  Most marinas are glad to have someone on the dock to catch your lines and fend away.  Don’t be embarrassed or shy.

6.    Make sure you will have adequate depth at low tide.  Several docks in State Parks get shallow at zero tide and too shallow at minus tides.  These include docks in Fossil Bay on Sucia Island and the floats and dock in Reid Harbor on Stuart Island.  Areas of the marina in Friday Harbor get quite shallow as do areas at the Islander Resort in Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez Island.  Before tying up for an overnight stay be sure you check your tide tables and depth.