When you learn how to drive, it is as important to know how to park or reverse the car as to drive it on roads. It is the same for driving a boat. As much as you need to know how to drive the boat and conform to the rules of the waterways, you also need to know this: Where it is legal to tie up your boat? Are there any rules to follow?

Besides docks and slips, the only other place where it is legal to tie up your boat is a mooring buoy. While a boat dock or slip is meant to tie up the boat near land, a mooring buoy is used to tie up a boat offshore. These buoys are usually found in marinas or at deep seas but are often also present in docks for extra parking space.

It is illegal to tie your boat to any other type of buoy or other structure at sea. Each type of buoy has a specific purpose and cannot be used for any other reason. Mooring buoys are installed for mooring and so only these must be used for this purpose.

What is a Mooring Buoy?

All types of offshore structures use special colour codes for identification. Mooring buoys are the spherical ones that are white in colour with a blue stripe running horizontally all around the structure. They will have a yellow pennant line attached to them with a loop or eye at the free end. This line is usually made with a floating line, otherwise, they would have a smaller pickup buoy attached to it.

What is a Mooring Buoy?

The pennant line can be attached to the top or bottom of the buoy, or to the chain that attaches the buoy to the anchor. This chain is called the riser chain and attaches to the other end through a swivel to heavy mooring chains. These mooring chains will be attached to the actual anchor buried in the seabed.

How to Approach a Mooring Buoy

Before you know how to tie your boat to a mooring buoy, you must know the right way to approach it. If you do it the wrong way, you might hit something or someone, or get tangled to the lines. Either way, it may lead to an accident.

The first thing you must maintain is that you will have to steer into the current, ie, your boat must be lined up with the current. This can mean either the water current or the wind, depending on whether your boat has sails. If you do not ensure this, the current can turn your boat by torque and make it hit other boats, buoys, static structures or even rocks. 

The second thing you must keep in mind is that if all other factors allow safely, you should always approach the buoy from down current, ie, against the current. This means that you will be head-on or facing the current. This is important because if you go with the current, it will push your boat further forward even if you killed the engine. 

Third, always approach the mooring buoy from the helm side. This is important because the person driving the boat must always have the buoy in clear sight without any obstructions. If they do not do so, they can end up hitting the buoy or entangling the lines.

Last, when you gain proximity to the mooring buoy, put the vessel on neutral. You want to keep the wake at a minimum when you come to the buoy to moor the boat. This is to maintain clear visibility of the water so you do not hit something or someone underneath and to make it easy to retrieve the pickup line.

How to Tie Up Your Boat to a Mooring Buoy

Tying up your boat to the mooring buoy is easy and safe if you know the right way to do it. Always do it step by step as given below:

  • Approach the buoy keeping in mind the points mentioned in the previous section.
  • Use a boat hook to pick up the yellow pennant line.
  • Run the bowline of your boat through the eye of pennant line and secure it with a cleat hitch bow cleats on your boat.
  • Allow enough line so that the buoy does not get pulled underwater. See that the line remains horizontal. If the water is rough or a storm or squall is oncoming, allow even more line than usual.
  • Examine the pennant line and also the buoy and make sure that it is holding your boat as it is supposed to.

Remember that mooring buoys are available on first come first serve basis only. Also, you are the only one responsible for your boat so make sure you do not skip any precaution or take a shortcut.

What is the Right Way to Tie Your Boat to a Mooring Buoy

Most of the time, people will simply run one line through the eye of the pennant line and cleat hitch both the ends to the bow. While this still works for the smallest, lightest boats, anything larger will chafe the pennant line too much and damage it, even if you use chafe guards. The best way to avoid this is by using two bowlines.

Run a line from each of the cleats on the two sides of the bow. Cleat hitch one end of each line to the respective cleat, run both through the eye of the pennant line and cleat hitch back to the same cleat. This process keeps equal pressure on both sides and prevents chafing.

If you are expecting a storm, then take three-strand lines with spliced eyes at one end. This is important as tying a plain knot may not be firm enough to hold on in strong winds. Pass the eye through the loop of the pennant line and pass the free end of the line through the eye on the free side, thus forming a kind of cow hitch. Do this for at least the bow cleats on both the port and starboard sides and maybe more to other parts of the boat if the pennant loop has space.

How to Unmoor Your Boat

Unmooring the boat is as easy as mooring it. You have to approach the buoy and retrieve the line as before. Now uncleat one end of the bowline, pass it out through the eye of the pennant and take it back up on the boat. Now slowly, back the boat away from the mooring buoy with minimum wake to prevent any tangling or hitting.

What to Keep in Mind When Mooring Your Boat

When you moor your boat, always remember the following points to maintain optimum safety at all time:

  • Never try to go for a stern tie when mooring to a buoy. This is highly unstable for the boat and also puts unnecessary strain on the buoy.
  • Always maintain clear visibility of the water as much as possible. Assign a person for this if necessary. Besides rocks, you might end up hitting swimmers, divers or snorkelers.
  • If you are mooring to a buoy in a mooring field, never try to go through the circle as this part often contains shallow seabed or coral reefs. Similarly, do not meander or idle among the buoys.
  • If you have a small boat, then you can tie to other small boats, with consent or agreement. In fact, this is encouraged to allow space for larger vessels.
  • Sailboats should never have their sails up for steadying as this puts too much strain on the buoy
  • Always use chafe guards to protect the lines from damage.
  • If you are not being able to moor your boat in a try, let it go. Repeat from the top instead of struggling to get it right when something is obviously going wrong.

Where is it Illegal to Moor Your Boat

It is legal to tie your boat to a mooring buoy only apart from docks and slips. Tying to a lighted buoy, non-lateral marker, safe water marker, regulatory buoy, can buoy or nun buoy is illegal.


It is important to only ever tie your boat to a mooring buoy only. Other structures are buoys can be for safety or navigational purposes and using them can lead other vessels to not notice them, leading to accidents. Even if that does not happen, it is still against the law to use anything but a mooring buoy for this purpose. So, if you do, you will have run-ins with the law and that is something you absolutely do not want.


Can you tie up to a mooring buoy?

One should not directly tie up the yellow pickup line of the mooring bay to their boat, as this puts unnecessary strain on the line. You should always use the bowline of your own boat to tie up to the pennant line of the buoy.

Are mooring balls free?

Most places charge a mooring fee depending on the size of the boat. The minimum that you must pay is for one hour, even if you moor for a lower period. In certain cases, mooring may be free depending on the place and its owner.

What side of the buoy do you stay on?

Always keep the buoy on the helm side of the boat to ensure that the person operating the boat does not bump into it. But if there is any obstruction on that side, the person is free to use their discretion.

What color is on a mooring buoy?

You can identify a mooring buoy by their white colour, with a blue horizontal strip all along their circumference.


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