I never cease to be amazed that this simple way to make berthing much easier when short-handed seems to be ignored by more than 90 per cent of the crews it would help.
How often have you seen one person jumping off a boat trying – and failing – to juggle both bow and stern lines simultaneously? Yet, a boat can be temporarily secured to the dock with just a single line taken from the middle part of the vessel, and a little engine power to keep the line taught.
A midships spring takes a big part of the hassle out of challenging berthing situations, especially when you’re sailing shorted handed or with an inexperienced crew. It is a line led from a midships mooring cleat (or other convenient point on the side deck) and is used to temporarily secure the boat alongside, usually with the help of a little engine power to keep it in tension. The effect of this is to ‘suck’ the boat in sideways against the dock, so there’s then plenty of time to rig the regular mooring lines at a leisurely pace and with no drama. Ideally the midships spring will lead from the boat to the pontoon at an angle of around 45 degrees.
As well as the application of forward engine power, the direction of the helm may need to be tweaked a little to keep the vessel lying comfortably alongside. The technique also works if you’re reversing into a space, with the spring taken to a cleat on the dock just ahead of the attachment point on the boat, with reverse power used to keep the line taught and the boat comfortably alongside while the other mooring lines are rigged.
A midships spring is also useful when berthing on a short finger pontoon, acting both as a spring to prevent the boat moving forward and hitting the dock in front, while also helping to prevent the stern swinging away from the finger and into the neighbouring boat.
Rigging the midships spring
There are a number of different approaches, all of which may be valid on different boats. It’s easiest if you have a midships mooring cleat, as the line can simply be made fast to this, with a crew member then stepping off to make it fast on an appropriate cleat on the pontoon.
If you don’t have midships cleats it’s often possible to improvise a lead that will work well – but make sure what ever you choose is capable of dealing with the potentially very high loads that may be involved. Typically this will be a genoa sheet car, or spinnaker guy block, with the tail of the line taken back to the cockpit. Make sure whatever you choose is up to the job, especially if you have a heavy displacement boat, and choose a stretchy nylon line for the spring, rather than a low stretch rope that would be more suitable for sheets or halyards.
Leaving a berth
A midships spring can be just as beneficial when leaving a berth as when arriving. Often the midships spring will enable all other lines to be cast off first, leaving just a single rope that can be easily slipped, if necessary in a carefully-chosen moment between gusts.
When leaving a finger berth in a marina it’s possible to move the boat back almost half way out of the berth, using a combination of the bow line, plus a midships spring that’s taken to the outer end of the finger. Using the warps in this way means the boat is kept under complete control for the first part of the manoeuvre, which gives much less scope for anything to go wrong later.
There are numerous small variations on the theme – a common one for single-handed sailors is to lead the spring through the bridge of the cleat (or via a block near the toerail) and then take it back to a primary winch in the cockpit. A bowline is then tied in the end of the line and dropped onto a cleat on the pontoon. The helm then takes up the slack on the winch, before gently engaging gear to keep the line tight.
On a boat with high freeboard the boat hook can be useful to place the bowline over the pontoon cleat, particularly. Another useful tip is to run the line through a short length of hosepipe, which will keep the loop of the bowline open, making it even easier to hook over the pontoon cleat.
So why don’t we see midships springs used more often? To be honest, I’m baffled. I like simplicity and for me it’s the default procedure that I only deviate from if I anticipate a very straightforward berthing situation, or on the occasions that I really do have big crew of knowledgeable, capable and alert sailors.
Arriving in the sanctuary of a marina can be intimidating for beginners, so read our guide: Marina Berthing: 10 Tips For Perfection. And don't pay any attention to this video: Container Ship Destroys a Marina... It almost never happens!