In these days of fin keels, bow-thrusters and powerful engines, using warps for marina manoeuvres might seemed an old-fashioned irrelevance – but, as David Harding explains, warping can be an extremely useful technique

One fundamental principle applies almost any time you’re berthing a vessel: once you have a line around a cleat, everything gets a whole lot easier.

Until then, you’re still largely at the mercy of the wind and current, prop-walk and other factors over which you have limited control.

It can be a similar story when getting out of a berth: the right line in the right place can allow you to do things that might otherwise be risky or difficult, if not impossible.

To see how warping can help, we joined forces with First Class Sailing and instructor Ricky Chalmers in Shamrock Quay and East Cowes marinas. Anne Lloyd from First Class also helped out in Shamrock Quay.

1. Berthing a vessel: Reversing into a downwind berth

A diagram showing a boat reversing into a downwind berth

A diagram showing how to reverse into a downwind berth. The wind is marked with a white arrow, the tide by a blue arrow

Imagine that you want to enter your berth stern first and you’re being pushed in by a strong wind or tide – or both.

Most boats are extremely difficult to control in such circumstances.

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Even going in bow-first can be awkward, especially if your boat has limited grip and/or a strong kick in astern.

This is another situation where warping can be a real help. If there’s a pontoon upwind or uptide, nudge your bow up to it, loop a long line around a cleat and then let the boat drop back gently into your berth.

The sequence below shows how this works.

Reversing into a downwind berth: step by step

A person berthing a vessel in a marina

1. When the wind and tide are both pushing you into your intended berth it can be a challenge to control your approach, especially if berthing stern-first. The berth Ricky is aiming for is on the opposite pontoon, just visible to the right of the pile in the foreground, but first he nudges the bow close to a pontoon on the upwind and uptide side

A woman throwing rope while berthing a vessel

2. At the bow, Anne has prepared the longest line on the boat and now throws a loop to lasso the pontoon’s end cleat. Note the technique: she starts with plenty of coils in each hand and throws them so they fly outward from each other to create a wide spread. Throwing a short loop directly at the cleat makes like much harder

A woman pulling in a line around a cleat while mooring a vessel

3. The line is around the cleat and Anne can now start pulling in the spare length

A woma shortening a line around a cleat while mooring a vessel

4. With the loop shortened around the cleat, Anne has the rest of the line back aboard

A woman on a boat pays out a line while mooring a vessel

5. At the helm, Ricky lets the wind and tide take the boat towards the opposite pontoon, helping with a small amount of engine, as Anne pays out the line

Long lines being run to a boat in a pontoon

6. Long lines are needed. This one is about 30m (98ft) but, doubled up, it doesn’t quite let the boat reach the far side about 25m (82ft) away – so another one is added

A boat being reversed into a berth in a marina

7. It’s not always possible to control exactly where the stern will fetch up when dropping back on a warp like this, but the stern can usually be manhandled around another boat if necessary. Sometimes a quick burst of ahead on full lock will swing the stern around and the boat will then drop back into the right space. Here, Ricky lassos the end cleat and pulls the stern in

A man coiling rope on a boat

8. He then moves on to the middle cleat….

A yacht moored alongside a pontoon in a marina

9…and then to the one closest to the main pontoon. With the stern now secured, Ricky goes ahead on port lock to swing the bow in closer so Anne can get a bow line.

Points to bear in mind

If the wind and/or tide are not directly square to the pontoons, it can work better to take the long bow line to a pontoon diagonally upwind or uptide of the boat’s berth to give it the best change of dropped back at the right angle.

Ricky stresses that, tempting though it might be to put someone on the pontoons, it’s best when there are only two people aboard if they both stay on the boat.

In this example, the wind and tide were minimal, but if they were stronger the warping method would come into its own.

2.Forward out of a tricky spot

This is potentially a very difficult manoeuvre. Ricky’s Beneteau Oceanis 381, Debanessa, is in East Cowes Marina, facing upstream with a strong flood tide under her.

She needs to turn to starboard, out of the marina, but as usual there are only a few boat-lengths between the pontoon she’s on and the one opposite.

By the time she’s clear of her berth and moving fast enough through the water to make the turn, the tide will have swept her uncomfortably close to the sterns of the boats on the opposite pontoon.

A digram showing berthing a vessel

A diagram showing how to manoeuvre forward out of a tricky spot. The wind is marked by the white arrow, the tide by the blue arrow

To make matters worse the south-westerly wind is on her starboard bow, further hampering her ability to turn to starboard.

This is a situation in which a bow-thruster would make life easier.

An alternative approach would be to nudge gently ahead, use the wind to help turn the boat through 90° to port, and reverse out into the river.

There is, however, a simpler solution, as the photo sequence below shows.

Ricky is directing operations and Peter Higginson, one of his students on an Advanced Sailing course with First Class, is at the helm.

Forward out of a tricky spot: step by step

A yacht being manouvered from a pontoon

Credit: All photos David Harding

1. The bow and stern lines are still attached and an extra line is rigged up from the midships spring cleat, around the end cleat on the pontoon and back so it can be slipped from on board

A boat being moored against a pontoon

2. Breast lines have been slipped and Peter engages forward gear

a group of people berthing a boat in a marina

3. The load comes on the line as the boat moves gently ahead and is swung around to starboard while staying close to the pontoon

People on board a yacht moving it away from a pontoon

4. The line ins’t cleated off, but taken around a winch so it can be surged as necessary

A boat leaving a pontoon

5. With the engine still on little more than tick-over, Debanessa has turned through almost 90° having moved forward less than a boat-length

a boat with a white hull leaving a pontoon

6. Turn completed: now at 90° to the pontoon. Debanessa is heading into clear water….

a boat leaving a berth

7….and it’s time to slip the line

Enjoyed reading Berthing a vessel: 2 clever ways with warps?

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