Using Spring Lines – They Will Make You Look Like A Pro

28th September 2021

In a time when most new boats are equipped with thrusters, many skippers have lost the skill of using a spring line for docking. But what if you own a boat without these transversal propulsion devices? What if they fail?

Spring lines can be a simple solution to many docking and undocking situations. Yet, the spring line is one of the least used techniques of seamanship.




In the above example, the boat is held alongside the dock by four lines: the bow and stern lines, an aft bow spring and a forward quarter spring. With a minimum amount of slack in all the lines, the boat is held from moving fore and aft along the dock. The best method is to run the bow and stern line farther along the dock and let the spring hold the boat close.


This tactic is most used by power boaters to keep the cockpit area near the dock for easy boarding. The stern line and forward quarter spring, secures tightly, hold the stern close while the bow line keeps the bow in position. A common error here is to pull the bow line in very tight, which can cause the mid-ship fender to squeak as the boat moves.




When there is only space left between boats or other obstructions, an aft bow spring can tuck you in neatly without nicking the fiberglass. (A) Begin by approaching at a 45-degree angle with the spring line ready. (B) When the bow is near the dock, pass the spring line ashore and then gently take off the slack with the engine in forward. A couple fenders should be hung over the side to protect the hull. (C) With the slack out, put the helm hard to starboard (in this case), and the stern will ease up to the dock as the fenders act as a fulcrum. This is easiest if the spring line is set aft of the bow.

This method is also ideal for use when the wind is blowing off the dock and the stern would otherwise drift outward after the bow line is passed.




This is one of the toughest situations to get out of gracefully without thrusters or a spring line. An aft bow spring is established, and the engine is put in forward with the rudder hard to port. A fender should be used for protection as the bow comes into the dock. The stern will swing out until you can safely retrieve the spring and reverse neatly away from the dock.



If the wind is running parallel to the dock, a forward quarter spring can be the trick. Reverse the engine with the rudder hard to port and the bow will spring out away from the dock. Use of a fender at the stern for protection and be careful if you have a stern platform or davits extending outboard.

With an informed crew and a little practice, you will soon be looking like a pro.


(Deane Hislop in partnership with Freedom Marine)