Mooring buoys, and things that go bump in the night

Thanks to Three Sheets reader Allen Gibbard for sending this great tip…

You’ve had a fun day on the water.  The cruising Gods have smiled upon you — the last mooring ball is open at your favorite destination. You’re set. Tied to the buoy with no worries about anchor slippage, you’re free to enjoy an evening of good food, some adult beverages, great conversation, maybe a kiss goodnight followed by uninterrupted sleep.  Then, just as you’re drifting off to dreamland it begins … irregular hammer-like banging on the hull seemingly inches away from your head.

The first time this happens your mind goes down a list of potential causes until it’s discovered that mooring ball you were so comforted to be secured to, is now bouncing off your boat’s hull and driving everyone onboard insane.  In my experience, this is most likely to occur in protected locations where currents swirl.  Instead of being pulled away from the buoy by a steady current, your boat and the buoy are dancing while tied together and sometimes they collide.  We’ve all experienced this. It’s awful.

What to do?  Those with lengthy bowsprits have some success pulling the buoy chain up tight.  This can sometimes keep the buoy away from the hull.  A quick web search reveals numerous methods using combinations of boat hooks, PVC pipe and lines extended in a “V” shape in front of the boat to accomplish the same thing.  To me, they all appear too complicated to be practical. Plus, the movement of that harness around the bow would itself be noisy.  Instead, I’ve found an easy and cheap solution that works in most situations, at least with the new uniform Washington State Parks buoys.

Visit your favorite bicycle shop and purchase a 26” x 4.00 sand tire tube.  Dig around the garage until you find the old tire pump you tucked away years ago. Grab a scrap length of line (more on that later).  Toss them into a small bag along with a metal tube cap

Then, when you find yourself tied to a buoy without steady current, get out the bag and do this:

Use the pump to inflate the tube.  Inflate it enough so the inner diameter fits TIGHTLY around the buoy at the indented blue line.  Before placing it around the buoy, tie the scrap piece of line around the tube.  How you place the tube around the buoy is up to you. I’ve found it easiest to thread the mooring line one side at a time through the tube after the mooring line has been initially secured. Once the mooring line is threaded through the tube, either push it it place with a boat hook leaning over the bow, or pull it in place from your dinghy before heading to shore the first time.

When it comes time to leave, after the mooring line is pulled from the buoy ring, simply grab the line attached to the tube with a boat hook and lift it onboard. Use the metal tube stem cap to loosen tube valve stem speeding tube deflation, tighten the valve stem when flat, put everything back in the bag for use the next time. Easy peasy and cheap. Works for me – see if it works for you.


4 Responses to Mooring buoys, and things that go bump in the night

  1. Chris September 4, 2018 at 9:05 pm #


    We also recognize the banging issue, and are working on some way of holding the buoy away from the bow using the anchor roller.

    The new problem we had with the new state mooring balls is that it is hard to get a line through the ring.

    With the old buoys we used a boat hook to pull the chain up through the center so we could pass a mooring line through the ring. This year it seemed much more difficult to try to hoist the ring and chain up. We were not successful. Is there a trick to this on the new balls?

    To get around that problem we tried using a line feeder gizmo made of plastic from West Marine However, the ring lays in the buoy’s dished out top, so the gizmo cannot be pushed through the ring far enough to trigger the latching mechanism of the gizmo.

    So I would be interested in any other methods to feed the mooring line through the rings on the new buoys.

    By the way we had a similar issue with the new buoys in BC, where the ring lies flat on the rounded top of those buoys.

  2. Elena August 16, 2018 at 8:23 am #

    Great idea!
    With our old boat (a Pacific Seacraft) the older style mooring balls were not good because the tall metal stem (with ring on top) in the middle would get under the sloping bow and scrape the hull. For that I saw people use old pieces of neoprene -like the leg of a dry suit – to cover the metal stem. At least the new style mooring balls don’t scrape the fiberglass if they do knock on it.

    • allen Gibbard August 17, 2018 at 7:24 am #

      Elena – I hear you about the sloping bow problem. This little invention of mine works pretty well on the hull, but in calm water the uncushioned top of ball can still contact the sloping bow. To address that I’m working on a simple way to cushion that specific part of the boat.

  3. Gary August 12, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

    Great idea! I got all the stuff and am all set to give it a try. I still think the old style tire and cone mooring floats were a superior design with a higher profile, ergonomic shape, much easier to grab and manage.

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