Marina and slip fees still seem to be rising. In many areas slips are in short supply and there are waiting lists, sometimes years long. That has some boaters looking longingly at the idea of their own private mooring. How hard can it be, they reason? Drop a block of concrete or some old engine blocks as an anchor and tie off to a mooring ball.
As in most things related to boats, it is seldom that simple. So, for those of you contemplating your own mooring, here are some tips and basic information for you.
While you may think the purchase and installation of the mooring gear is the hard part, nothing could be farther from the truth. The first step in establishing your own mooring is to see if you are allowed to do it and then who to get permission/permits from.
Moorings are subject to some basic United States Coast Guard regulations, but these pertain mainly to the marking of the mooring buoys and that such a mooring cannot impinge on navigable waterways, such as channels and bridges.
Most states have jurisdiction over the waterways in their states and many have basic mooring regulations. The picture is further clouded by the fact that individual cities, towns and counties can enact their own regulations within those state guidelines.
For example, In Connecticut, there s a state registration form for private, non-commercial moorings. The approval of and assignment of mooring space is under the control of the individual harbor master and subject to their rules.
Other states and areas may have more restrictive regulations and/or their own waiting lists. As is often the case, the more desirable the location, the harder it may be to get a permit.
When choosing a location for a mooring, remember that the right to establish a mooring in a given area confers absolutely no rights as far as the land side goes. Make sure you have legal access to your mooring without trespassing on private land; it makes the landowners very unhappy.
The important thing is to do your “due diligence” before purchasing any mooring gear or attempting to place a mooring. At the very least you might be forced to remove an illegal or unpermitted mooring. At worst, you may be liable for a fine.
Once you have the location and any needed permits in hand, you can consider the design of your mooring system. A typical mooring system consists of an anchor, bottom (primary) chain, riding (secondary) chain, buoy, pennant and associated hardware (swivels, shackles, etc.).
The most common type of mooring anchors are:
Weights (Concrete, engine blocks, etc.)
Mushroom anchors look like an inverted mushroom and come in weights from 50 lbs. up to 1500 lbs. The stem has an appropriately sized hole for an anchor shackle.
Pyramid anchors look like inverted pyramids and also have a vertical stem with shackle hole. They are often suggested as being appropriate for shallower water. They are available in weights ranging from 150 lbs. to 2000 lbs., off the shelf, and in heavy weights on a custom and per-pound basis.
The anchors don’t depend on their weight to provide the holding power. Rather, they are “screwed” into the bottom like a giant wood screw. These anchors often offer superior holding power and don’t require the anchor to “set” or dig in. Once installed, they are ready for use. These anchors are also very popular in sensitive areas where the dragging of the primary chain on the ground would damage the underwater habitat, coral reefs and underwater grasses, for example. The downside is that these anchors must be installed by a professional installation crew.
This category covers a myriad of ills. Boaters sometimes cast their own anchor weights out of concrete. Concrete, not being as dense as steel or cast iron, loses a little of its effectiveness in water. It is also important to make sure the concrete is reinforced and the anchor stem is appropriately sized.
In times past, old car engine blocks were chained together and used as anchors. At the very least, make sure the blocks have been steam-cleaned to remove any traces of old oil of grease. The effectiveness of them digging in isn’t as good as the typical mushroom or pyramid style anchor.
Rules of Thumb
A general rule of thumb for the weight of a mooring anchor is about 5 to10 lbs. per foot of boat length. More is better as long as it is within your power to move, set and retrieve it.
Bottom (Primary) Chain
As the name implies, this chains lies along the bottom and is shackled to the mooring anchor at one end and to a swivel at the other. The secondary (riding) chain is attached to the other end of the swivel. The swivel keeps the riding chain from becoming twisted as the boat swings with the tide and wind.
The chain should be as heavy as practical and at least twice as heavy as the riding chain. A general rule of thumb is to allow 1-1/2 times the water depth for the chain length. This chain acts as a shock absorber when the moored boat pulls on the mooring in a blow. The forces pull the chain off the bottom instead of pulling directly to the anchor.
Do not use stainless steel shackles or swivels in a mooring system. Stainless steel is subject to crevice corrosion in the absence of oxygen, as it will be when buried in bottom mud.
Riding (secondary) Chain
This chain connects to the swivel on the end of the bottom chain to the bottom of the mooring buoy. Its length should be equal to the maximum water depth and is about half the size of the bottom chain.
The design of a mooring buoy is set by the United States Coast Guard. It is a white spherical buoy with a horizontal blue stripe. It can also contain identification such as permit number, boat name or boat registration numbers. The size should provide buoyancy equal to about double the weight of the riding chain.
Two types of mooring buoys are in common use. The first has a bar running through the vertical center of the buoy. The riding chain is shackled to the eye on this bar at the bottom of the buoy while the mooring pennant is attached to the eye on the bar at the top of the buoy. The second type has an eye on the bottom of the buoy only, to which both the riding chain and the mooring pennant are shackled.
The mooring pennant is the final link in the mooring system. It’s what connects the mooring to the boat. In most cases, three-strand nylon line is used. It should be about 2-1/2 times the boat’s freeboard in length. It should be as large as you can get over the boat’s mooring cleat. Always provide chafe protection where the pennant comes over the edge of the deck.
A small pickup buoy attached near the end of the pennant will make picking up the mooring pennant much easier.
As mentioned above, it isn’t a good idea to use stainless steel shackles and swivels with galvanized chain. Crevice corrosion can occur where the chain and shackles are buried in the mud. Make sure the shackles and swivels are sized appropriately for the chain and anchor points. It is also a good idea to safety wire the shackles and swivels with Monel safety wire to keep them from coming part.
Setting the Mooring
Your final task will be actually setting the mooring anchor and associated gear. In many areas where permits are required, the permitting agency will do the setting and retrieving, inspecting the mooring gear in the process. In other areas you will be on your own.
Anchors, in particular, are heavy and potentially dangerous. Keep all appendages (arms, legs, toes, fingers) out from under any anchor. Make sure whatever means you use to get the anchor to its required location has sufficient lifting power and flotation to handle the job. If in doubt, you might be netter off hiring a professional crew to do the work.
Retrieving the Mooring
What goes down must come up, at least in many locations. That requires some means of winching the anchor out of the mud and back on board whatever craft you’re using. With the anchor probably buried in the mud, more lifting power and floatation will be required than for setting the anchor. When you have the mooring gear out, inspect it for wear or corrosion and replace any questionable parts.
In some areas, mooring owners will pull the mooring buoy and pennant and replace them with a “winter stick”, a long cylindrical buoy that will slide up and down in the ice.
So is your own private mooring the lesser of two evils? Only you can make that decision. At least now you know of some of the effort involved. Good luck!