3 Tips for Line Etiquette

Calypso, tied in

Calypso, tied in

We were just toasting a delicious dinner, a storm that seems to have spared us the brunt of its wrath, and a well-tied up boat when the call came in. A message, actually. (I’m not sure why the phone didn’t ring.)

“Hi, Jeremy. I’ve removed your line from the dock as it’s not designed for those kinds of loads. You can’t do that kind of thing.”

We were flabbergasted, to use language that’s actually fit to print, and after a heated phone call we headed back to the yacht club to tie our boat up AGAIN. Thank goodness we weren’t in Charlottesville, an almost three hour drive away; also thank goodness the storm is largely a miss. The forecast easterlies are directly on Calypso’s beam, and we’d tied her up perfectly to protect her from them. In a fit of overbearing self-righteousness, one idiotic person could well have put our boat in serious danger.

Calypso, prepped for Florence.

Calypso, prepped for Florence.

There are a few basics around boating etiquette when it comes to docking in general, and hurricanes in particular. Above all, you are responsible for your own boat.

1)   Do not mess with someone else’s lines without permission unless it’s an emergency. And by emergency, I mean immediate danger to life, limb, or property. This is true whether you’re talking about dinghy docks or big boat docks. You don’t untie another boat’s lines because you think you can tie them better. You don’t untie another boat’s lines because you need better access to a cleat. You don’t untie another boat’s lines because you think there might possibly be a problem later on. You’re more than welcome to make a phone call if you’re concerned, to talk to the boat owner and express your worry and offer assistance, but do NOT untie or cut the lines unless it’s an emergency.

2)   By this same token, when you tie your boat up, be courteous. If you share a cleat, don’t wrap the line around so many times someone else can’t use it. If you’re in a marina, don’t plan on tying lines across docks or fairways as a matter of course. If you’re tying up at a dinghy dock, don’t truss tie the dinghy so tightly that nobody else can get in (and for god’s sake leave the engine DOWN.)

3)   That said? Hurricanes change the equation in one respect: any port in a storm. This means that you tie lines in places you might not normally. This may well mean you’re anchoring in places not normally open to anchoring, or you’re staying there longer than is generally allowed. If you’re in a marina (or even anchored!), you’ll tie your lines to any place that is helpful, including trees and across docks and walkways and fairways; it’s fully expected that you’ll remove the lines once the storm is passed.  

One danger with being in a slip at a fixed dock during a major storm is the surge and the angle of the lines to accommodate the rise or fall of the water. Tying to a piling too close to the boat does not allow for the higher-than-usual change in water level. Did you ever think you’d use geometry in real life?

No, a tree is not a normal place for us to tie off.

No, a tree is not a normal place for us to tie off.

The number of things that were done wrong by the officious individual is staggering, starting with untying our lines. When we called him to express our outrage, he blustered a few excuses. “The floating docks aren’t designed to take those loads.” Actually, the cleats on docks ARE designed to take loads in all directions. We sized the lines to stretch, avoiding shock loads. “The fairway needs to be kept clear in case someone wants to go out.” It’s a hurricane. Nobody is going out. And if there’s an emergency and access is required? Fine, cut the lines. That we’d totally understand. “If I let you do that, everyone would do it.” Umm, it’s a hurricane. Everyone tying lines spiderwebbing in the docks would strengthen the docks into a grid system. And no, we don’t usually tie our lines up that way. “You should have asked me first.” Ask you permission to tie up to a dock that’s part of the marina where we pay slip fees? Ask you permission to tie our boat up the best way possible to protect from the storm?

We’d tied the boat up such as to protect her and, by extension, protect the docks. If our boat got loose, she’d take out the dock she’s tied to plus the pilings plus the docks (and the boats in the slips) immediately downwind of us. This man, in a fit of “I know what’s best”, put that all in jeopardy.

Don’t think you know what’s best for someone else’s boat unless there’s absolutely no choice.

We’re lucky that the storm wasn’t as strong as forecast. We’re lucky that we were close enough to get to the boat to retie her so we were comfortable. We’re lucky that the road to the club was still accessible (it often floods with high tides), and that it wasn’t howling wind and slicing rain.

I hope all of you are as lucky as we were.