Mooring Advice and Etiquette in Maine


Tom Babbitt

Finding a good stout mooring of known history and condition in a beautiful location is likely one of the best and most satisfying aspects of cruising. After all, there should be no angst regarding holding ground, the quality of your gear, your anchor-setting skills, tricky currents, forecasted storms. But even picking up a mooring in Maine requires considerable thought.

What makes a mooring desirable?

  • Location: Is it well protected for predicted wind and wave conditions? Is it a quiet location or near a restaurant with live music? Is it in a respected no-wake zone or right on a thorofare with lots of traffic? If it’s a fishing harbor, will that 1000 hp diesel engine warming up next to you at 0400 be a concern? Is this location typically rolly? Is it close to places you wish to visit, or far away? Is there launch service or a good dinghy dock?
  • Condition: When was the mooring last inspected? Has it been overstressed by a storm or too large a boat using it? Any signs of chafe on the pennant?
  • Size: Is the gear adequately sized for your boat? Is the scope on the pennant correct so that it clears your anchor on the bow as the boat swings in the wind. If not, you may be annoyed with the noise of your anchor shifting on the bow in the middle of the night, or worse, cast adrift if the anchor saws through the pennant
  • Maintenance: You might think you can judge a mooring by its pennant. A clean, adequately-sized pennant generally indicates regular use and maintenance but does not ensure that the mooring has received regular inspections and periodic replacements of components. In Camden Harbor, annual inspections are required by local ordinance, including a condition report delivered to the owner and the harbormaster, and an inspection tag is placed on the pennant. In other harbors on Penobscot Bay, there are no periodic inspections or inspection reports, and it’s anyone’s guess as to the condition of a mooring. We had used (with permission) a friend’s mooring for over 30 years (even paid for maintenance). Then one Sunday morning in only 12 knots of breeze we suddenly discovered our spreaders brushing against a pine tree on shore! Regularly maintained? Not likely. We recently purchased a mooring in the same harbor maintained by the same company and could find no evidence of inspection or maintenance in the prior 12 years.

Mooring Sources

  • Rental Moorings: In Maine, there are a variety of purveyors of rental moorings. It may be a municipality, boatyard, marina, yacht club, or a private individual. In some locations, the protocol is to request a mooring and then be assigned to it. In other locations, one picks up a suitable mooring and then checks in. In a few places, one needs to go ashore to pay; in others, you will be visited and pay the mooring agent while remaining aboard. If one is paying for a mooring one expects that the mooring is adequate and inspected regularly, but it’s not certain. Just a few days ago, a friend reported that he had picked up a park mooring off the Pitons in St Lucia and at 0200 felt a strange motion only to discover that the mooring had failed and he was drifting off to sea! We picked up a rental mooring in St Thomas that, because it was in a high current area, had floats on the pennant to prevent fouling. Only too late did we learn that the floats were attached to the pennant with seizing wire, which destroyed the awlgrip on our port bow. It’s always best to give a rental mooring a bit of a tug in reverse to ensure that there’s a good chance it will hold. In Maine, that tug will also stretch out the bottom chain, so you know exactly what your swing room will look like when the wind perks up later.
  • Guest Moorings: Occasionally,a restaurant, yacht club, park or municipality will have free moorings to accommodate visitors for a limited time, with permission.
  • Private Moorings: There are many private moorings in Maine and the protocols to use one are delicate and a little complicated. We have several moorings that we own and maintain and are very generous in loaning them to friends and fellow club members. We do not ask to be called in advance—it’s first come, first served. After all, our guests are keeping the pennants clean. That’s the way it works for many private moorings—it’s who you know that counts. Other owners want to be notified in advance if you wish to enjoy their mooring. This means that if you have specific permission to use a mooring but someone else has picked it up without permission, you have the right to ask them to leave. Obviously, if you pick up any private mooring and the owner arrives, you must depart promptly and without complaint. If you are on a private mooring without permission, NEVER leave the boat unattended and go ashore or dinghy exploring. I would avoid picking up a fisherman’s mooring because the likelihood of their return is extremely high, and the likelihood of experiencing their extreme displeasure is also high.

Additional Mooring Tips

  • You’ll Need Gloves!

Typically a mooring pennant will have a float or a pickup wand attached to it, so the bow person should have fisherman’s gloves on and a boat hook. If the fiberglass pickup wand is old, touching it with bare hands could give you a handful of tiny fiberglass slivers. Further, if the mooring hasn’t been used for a week or more, it will likely be slimy and covered in shrimp and other small critters. If the pennant is particularly gross, don’t bring it on deck—loop a dockline through the eye to keep the animal life off the deck.

  • Use Hand Signals

Unless the pickup wand is a long one, it and the mooring will disappear from the helmsperson’s view in the critical last few feet of the approach. So, once again, hand signals are important to communicate heading, distance and speed from the bow to the helm. Hand signals are equally important when dropping the mooring—to first signal if a bit of forward throttle is needed to create some slack in the pennant and second to point to the location of the dropped mooring, so the helmsperson doesn’t run over it. 

  • Practice Sailing To & From a Mooring

If there is enough maneuvering room, and the breeze is from the right direction, and you and your boat are nimble enough, it’s always fun to practice that critical skill of picking up a mooring under sail. The important piece of knowledge is how far your boat will coast when you round up into the wind. For us, it’s about a boat length for each knot of boat speed as you make your turn. We try to do it multiple times each season to keep in practice (and a gentle round of applause and huzzahs from the surrounding fleet is frosting on the cake).

Sailing off a mooring is even easier. There will be a time when you won’t have a choice but to pick up a mooring under sail—it’s better to confront the situation with confidence rather than dread!

Final Thoughts

  • So you’ve come into a harbor late after a long voyage, and you really want a safe mooring for the night. How do you choose? My suggestion is to find a boat that hails from the area and has local knowledge. They may be able to recommend a particular mooring because it accommodates a similar-size boat to yours, and they happen to know that the owner’s boat is somewhere else. If it’s early or late season, there may be dozens of open moorings, so just pick one up. BUT, be ready to leave in the unlikely event the owner appears so that you can smile, say thank you and move to another. Like in life, local knowledge is key.
  • Finally, for perspective, we have had more damage and unpleasant experiences from mooring failures than from anchoring mishaps. So be informed, be careful, be respectful, and life will be good.

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