April 08, 2018 by James Kell

How to Pick Up a Mooring Ball

Picking up mooring balls is a key sailing skill. Here's how to do it well. 

Picking up a mooring ball and securing it effectively to your boat is a technique. If it is not done correctly, your line can chafe through, leaving you adrift when you least expect it. Nobody wants that. So listen up and we will share you our tried and tested method.



A method commonly used, where the line goes from one cleat, through the ball and is locked onto the other cleat, is simply wrong. It offers no redundancy, and increases the chafe in the line.

It's not even effective for a "short lunch stop", as a much better method exists that is almost as simple to do. What is it? Read on or watch our YouTube episode above (or to link to our YouTube channel and to subscribe, click here) to find, in our opinion at least, the best method of tying a boat to a mooring ball.

1. The Set Up

When you are at the bow, set up one line on the port-side cleat and another on the starboard-side cleat. Set them up so they are properly cleated, given the force towards the ball will be going forward of the boat.

mooring balls

Have the lines flaked neatly so any knots and tangles are eliminated.

Prepare your boat hook so it is ready to go.

2. The Approach

Normally the driver will approach the ball from down-wind (or down-current, whichever is the stronger force at the time).

In other words, the driver will drive the boat up against the prevailing wind/current. This helps maintain control of the boat at low ground-speeds.

sailing tips

Work out a good, quiet communication method between the driver and the person doing the pick-up. Quiet because you want to reserve shouting for all but the most extenuating circumstances. In any normal execution, things should be cool and calm.

The driver may ask for hand signals as a countdown, or simply look for where the boat hook is pointing as the driver loses sight of the ball.

3. Stopping the Boat

The driver needs to maintain steerage (ie. some speed) right up until the pick-up happens. This is even more so in high wind situations.

mooring buoy

Therefore the boat should go from doing 0.5-1 knot, to stopped, as soon as contact is made with the pick-up.

The driver does this by using a transit, or range, at right-angles to the boat's direction. When the two items in transit are not moving relative to each other, the driver can be sure that the boat is stopped.

4. The Pick-Up

The key to the pick-up is concentrating on one line at a time. Only when the first line is secured should the second line be looked at.

It doesn't matter which side you choose as your first side. Just choose one that suits you and the way the boat is pointing at the time.

how to pick up a mooring ball

There are many different types of pick-up. If you see a float behind your pick-up eye, you will be able to pick the line up with your boathook between float and eye. Otherwise you may need to pick up the eye itself.

Sometimes there is nothing to pick up: in this case you may need someone in a dinghy to thread the lines and pass them back to you on board.

5. Securing

When securing the first line, if it is a plastic eye, pull it close to the boat and secure it.

This makes threading of the second line much easier.

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Bring the second line around the front of the boat, through the eye and back to the cleat from which it came. Adjust it to make the eye around 1m or so in front of the boat.

Now you can give slack to the first line so that it matches the second, putting the eye about 1m in front of the boat.

Bonus Tip - The Lasso

Every now and then you will come across a situation where you need to lasso the ball. This method usually brings more surety to your collecting the mooring ball.

On a light-wind day with a good crew it could be considered overkill, but it's a great method to have up your sleeve.

tortola sailing school

Secure one end of the line to the cleat, then have the line coiled in each hand, with the other end next to the cleat and under your foot. 

Throw the coil in each hand diagonally away from the ball, aiming much further out than where the ball actually is.

Then once it has found the ball, pull in the end that is under your foot, and cleat it off, as a temporary hold until you arrange more permanent lines.


It is worth checking what lies underneath the water. All it takes is is a nick from a passing propeller to greatly weaken the line.

sailing school caribbean

If you can swim the ball, do it. If not, have a good look at as much of the ball and attaching line as you can, so you can be satisfied that it is ok.

If in doubt, set an anchor drift alarm and, in some situations, set another anchor as backup. Beware that in this situation if the wind/current is not consistent, your anchor could get tangled up with your mooring ball.

moon hill bequia

The incredible Moon Hole. For more, check out our full episode, here.


Whether you plan to pick up a mooring ball every day of your vacation, or not at all, it helps to know the proper method of securing a boat to a mooring ball. Remember these three key points:

  1. Use two lines;
  2. Work on one line at a time;
  3. Check what the ball is attached to.

Enjoy and see you out there!

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