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Mooring a Boat – Check your Can

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One of the pleasures of cruising in the Caribbean is the multitude of moorings in settings that can only be described as paradise. But if that mooring buoy fails; your dream destination can turn into a nightmare. Various municipalities, parks and conservation services, and private parties have installed mooring buoys, in order to generate income, encourage tourism, and protect reefs from the damage anchoring can cause. And while you can somewhat rest assured a paid-for mooring is maintained, there is no guarantee. Prudent cruisers should be prepared to ‘check your can’ – particularly overnighters.

The Basics of Mooring a Boat

As a general rule of thumb:

  • 18-inch white buoys (sometimes with stripes) are suitable for mooring boats up to 50 feet in length. Depending on where you are, these may be stenciled ‘for day use only’.
  • Orange buoys are for snorkeling and day use
  • Yellow for commercial boats.

Mooring systems consist of this floating buoy and a means to permanently attach it to the ocean floor: typically a fixture which is screwed or driven into the sea bed, but sometimes merely a heavy weight – like an oil drum filled with concrete, or an old engine block! Between this fixture and the buoy, you might find an assortment of loops and lines, swivels and shackles. “Your mooring is only as strong as the weakest link,” says Ben Bourdeux of Moor-Seacure Ltd., the leading mooring company in the BVI. Their scheduled inspections, every 90-days, start at the buoy. From there, they scrutinize every ring, swivel, shackle, “and even the lockwire on the shackle.” It’s interesting to note that growth on the actual mooring line is NOT bad, as the vegetation can block harmful UV rays and decelerate decay. But careful survey of the line is critical, as it is a likely site of damage, considering boats often run right over them, or wrap them around their propellers (and cut themselves free). Jim Vega of Sail Caribe adds, “I’ve never heard of a mooring pulling out of the bottom, but have seen the tethers or pennants break between the top of the ball and the boat. If the pennant is in bad shape, you can run a line through the thicker line that anchors the mooring to the bottom – the line the mooring pennant is actually attached to.” On a recent charter in Culebra and Vieques, I found myself repeatedly in the balmy water, eyeballing the moorings: looking for markings and flaws; and enjoying a lot of extra swim time. I checked every juncture point, the integrity of the line, and looked for signs of chafe in the section of chain that rubs and bounces along the sea bed. Everything looked a-okay, the weather was fair and we slept with ease each night.

Opposite page: A sound mooring offers peace of mind. This page: It looks sturdy enough, but is it held to the bottom by a fraying piece of string? Photo: OceanMedia
Opposite page: A sound mooring offers peace of mind. This page: It looks sturdy enough, but is it held to the bottom by a fraying piece of string? Photo: OceanMedia

Should I stay or should I go? In the event conditions are forecast to run amok, Veiga suggests cruisers should give serious thought as to whether to stay put or not. Moorings are placed in the safest harbors, so it’s possible anchoring outside could present a greater risk.

BEST Tip for Mooring a Boat

  1. If you can double up on your mooring lines, you’ll most likely be okay. OR
  2. if your anchor gear is good, and has high chain-to-rode ratio, consider setting two anchors.”
  3. He adds, “And I ALWAYS dive on my anchor or mooring, if I plan on staying a while or leaving the boat. An ounce of prevention is worth several tons of cure.”
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Betsy Crowfoot is a California-based yachting journalist who seizes any excuse to come sailing in the Caribbean.

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