Boat moorings: how to find the right one
Finding a mooring that’s both convenient and affordable is not an easy task. Rupert Holmes outlines the options and shines a spotlight on where to look.
December 11, 2020
If you’re lucky enough to have a big annual budget for boat ownership, then finding a convenient place to keep your boat should pose no problems – there are plenty of high profile marinas that will be happy to take your money, in exchange for a high level of service. But what if you don’t have the kind of budget for a full service marina?
Unfortunately, many mooring providers still have a scant online presence, if any at all, thanks to a consistent demand for their services. Nevertheless, there are a number of places to look that apply pretty much anywhere.
A quick look around harbours and estuaries (see: 8 of the best UK estuaries for cruising) will show plenty of boats on more economical kinds of moorings, but usually precious little indication of who administers them and how to get in touch. In most cases the first port of call should be the harbour master’s office. In many places – particularly harbours with limited commercial shipping – the harbour authority will be responsible for at least some of the leisure craft moorings on offer, and will frequently provide them at affordable rates.
It’s important to recognise that in the most popular locations there may be specific restrictions on residency (ie. you have to live within a certain radius of the harbour) or a long waiting list, although by and large the latter are shorter than a decade ago, reflecting a decline in boat ownership in the UK since the economic crunch of 2008.
Boat yards and clubs
While by no means universal, there are hundreds of boatyards, as well as sailing, yacht and fishing clubs around the country that have long-standing rights to lay moorings. In the case of clubs these can be by far the cheapest available, with annual prices starting from as little as what a marina berth might cost for a fortnight (see: Yacht club or sailing club: choose the right one). Rates of course vary depending on the club, with those where the members are required to carry out some of the work generally offering the lowest overall prices.
How much shelter?
While it may appear obvious that a mooring should be in sheltered waters, the degree of shelter offered varies tremendously, both between different ports and even different parts of the same harbour or estuary. This has an important bearing on a number of factors – some moorings are “summer only”, with boats needing to go ashore or be accommodated elsewhere outside the main boating season, when the strongest gales and storms tend to be experienced.
This is also an important consideration if you will need to reach the boat by dinghy – for this to be safe a certain amount of shelter is essential to avoid capsize or too great a risk of falling between the dinghy and the boat when boarding (see: How to pick the perfect inflatable tender).
Finally, what is the risk of the boat being damaged while moored? In reality much can be done to mitigate this, using additional mooring lines, protecting against chafe and having plenty of oversize fenders, but it’s important to analyse this aspect in advance.
Types of mooring
Before approaching mooring providers it’s important to have an understanding of the terminology used, so that you can have a better grasp of what’s on offer.
Swinging mooring – a traditional mooring in which the boat is secured only by its bow, allowing it to swing to face into either the wind or current.
Pile mooring – a pair of substantial wooden or metal posts between which the boat is secured, with the bow tied to one and the stern to the other.
Fore and aft mooring – as with a pile mooring, both ends of the vessel are secured, but they are tied to floating buoys, rather than wooden or metal posts.
Drying mooring – a mooring that will be only be accessed for part of each tidal cycle. The boat must therefore be of a type that can dry out safely on the bottom of the hull or bilge keels.
Half tide mooring – similar to the above, but with enough depth for the boat to remain afloat for at least half of each tidal cycle.
Deep water mooring – a mooring that never dries out. However, it’s important to check that there will be sufficient depth for your boat at low water on big spring tides.
Pontoon berth – an alongside berth on a pontoon. May be in a marina with walk-ashore access, or out in a harbour or river, with access via dinghy or water taxi.
Finger berth – short and narrow pontoon berth in a marina, generally sized for individual boats.
Mud berth – a berth in which most boats will remain aground for most of the tidal cycle and sometimes even at high water on small neap tides. Mud berths tend to be favoured by the impecunious, or for laying up boats of traditional timber construction.
Tips for finding an inexpensive mooring
1. Drying and half-tide moorings are invariably cheaper than deep water options. This doesn’t automatically exclude walk-ashore access, as there are a number of small marinas with drying berths.
2. Generally speaking, the easier a mooring is to reach the more expensive it is. Therefore, a longer dinghy trip, or a location that’s further from open water will save you money. This applies just as much in the busy Solent area as it does in less popular locations.
3. Get your name on a waiting list as soon as possible. Some harbour authorities and clubs operating in prime areas operate a waiting list. In most cases you don’t need to have already bought a boat to be eligible to join the list – and the sooner you do so the earlier your name will come up.
4. Don’t underestimate what you might learn by simply asking around – in many places there are more options than might appear to be immediately obvious. Other boat owners are clearly good for advice, as are water taxi operators and so on.
5. Finally, if you’re buying your first boat don’t worry unduly about where to keep it. Granted you need to know you will have a safe home for it before committing to buy, but your knowledge will expand considerably during the first year or two of ownership, which may highlight good options that you would never otherwise have been able to discover.