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  • Writer's pictureMartinon Yacht Club

A few lines about the lines when rafting....

Danny Harrigan has provided a quick guide on tying up boats when rafting. Over the years, this method has been seen, watched and discussed and works extremely well, even when strong waves are running across the boats. Here are his thoughts:

The Lines

When tying up with other boats, there are three types of lines we use; how we use them and their effect is important.

Bow Line: Usually the first one thrown and tied up. Most people set that up and then forget it – as you read on, you’ll see that it should not be forgotten and should be only fully tied off at the end.

Stern Line: We do these second and use that to line the boats off and tighten it so that the fenders hold the boats apart. These should be tied off only after the spring lines are complete.

Spring Lines: They seem to be almost an afterthought; we usually tie one off to provide some stability and sometimes add a second. Often one spring line comes from the end of the bow line back to the boat joining and if a second one is added it starts at the stern of the first boat. In fact, these lines are important for the stability of the raft and shouldn’t be treated causally.

What's important

Using boats of similar size really doesn't matter that much. Of course, spreader offset is mandatory, but lining up sterns is where we start. The midsection cleat is key. Look at it as the pivot point of a boat. Once controlled there, you have 50% of the job done.

The Big Mistake

Let's get the two that tend to take everyone's attention out of the way first – we need both bow and stern lines, but they tend to be the first two we throw, grab and bring boats together with. Most people tie both; TIGHT; ASAP – this is the big mistake. Whoever is tending to the bow line should be asked not to tie it off until the end; until then, he or she controls and maintains the distance that the boats lay apart – this is important! If we’re short-handed, the bow line can be tied off loosely and adjusted later. For a temporary tie off, look at the distance desired and add 20-25% extra! Let the boats move and rock.

So here’s what we do:

1. With bow and stern controlled – not tied off – we get spring lines set. Regardless of length deployed, stern to mid cleat (Danny’s favourite) or stern to bow (text book). They're to run from the end points that are on parallel lines (see diagram below) running beam to the boats! Start from the stern of each boat!

2. Picture yourself as the moored boat captain, decision maker. You have visitor's first spring line in hand, which is tied off to their stern cleat, you have lead end, around front horn of your boat’s midsection cleat, tighten (pulling visitor boat) forward until sterns are parallel. When the sterns are even, tie the spring line off.

3. While helpers are getting second spring ready, flip your attention to coaching parties handling bow and stern lines.

4. Set stern at about a meter apart. When adjusting the stern line, if boats are going to hit, this is where. Think big rude passing boat waves. Danny likes to maximize the distance parties can step between boats. And yes, they should be stepping across at midsection and able to pull boats together. It provides the minimal effort but maximum protection for boat hulls. And give the lines opportunity to do their jobs!

5. Finally, have bow adjusted normally, letting out bow line so that boats line up, slightly further apart at bows so that they point at a very small angle away from each other. Do not pull the bow line tight!

Here’s the trick – let nature keep the boats apart; the wind will do that for you! Boat bows will funnel the air between the midsections forcing them apart, naturally. Decide your comfort level. Danny likes a minimum of 2 to 3 feet at midsections. Parties can still move to and fro safely.

Set properly, boats should never touch and lines should not snap tight. With passing boats, keep crews away from standing near lines, watching, rolling boats into each other; if anything have your boat maintain level and/or leaning away from visitor boat – leaning away maximizes spring line effect.


· At the bow and stern, use 20-25% extra line than the distance apart, the lines will dip toward water below and the bow line may even be in the water.

· Spring lines run from parallel point at each end; start with visitor’s stern cleat to midsection of moored boat, tie on second spring and then adjust stern and bow.

· Make sure to tighten spring lines TIGHT. Slack spring-lines serve zero purpose!

· Regardless of tide, wind, passing boats or waves, neither boat should have any idea they're tied to another. Total comfort.

· Repeat same with as many on balanced raft as you wish. If you have the hook, it's your call, on everything!

· On larger rafts, it becomes important to add a bow line from outlaying boats to bow of boat with hook – this maintains fleet parallel positions. It is important that the raft does not become fan shaped.

· Never tighten, think of preserving proper space (2 to 3 feet) between each. Tight fleet bow line will mess everything up!

Happy Rafting!

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