How To Toss a Line: A Critical Aspect of Docking Done Well

By: American Sailing, Learn To Sail, Sailing Tips

I recently took a crash course in Mediterranean mooring. If you are unfamiliar with the technique, it is described as a controlled collision as you situate your vessel between two moored vessels. Captains point out that you will be bumping into a boat so all hands on deck are to hold a fender against the hull. You will see the neighboring vessel prepare to be collided with as well. Everybody races to the rail on both boats and then everybody goes back to their business once the lines are tossed.

“Med mooring” or “Stern-to mooring” is a popular method of mooring a boat or yacht in certain Mediterranean regions with limited space in marinas or harbors. It involves mooring the vessel with its stern towards the dock or quay while the bow is anchored or secured using lines and anchors away from the dock.

As you approach the dock, you toss a line to the dockmaster, and they secure it to the dock and then toss the line back to you.

Simple. Right?

After getting hit in the face by a line on more than one occasion, it is a reminder that we should practice the simple skill of tossing a line. We could all use a refresher course on how to land a line in the hands of the kind person who has opted to help you come into port.

The Art of Tossing a Line

Tossing a line to shore from a sailboat can be useful in various situations, such as docking or anchoring. It requires accuracy and practice, but with the proper technique, you can become proficient quickly. Follow these step-by-step instructions to master the art of tossing a line to shore from your sailboat.

Materials Needed:

  • Dock lines (ropes) of appropriate length and thickness for your boat and the location.
  • Fenders or bumpers to protect the boat’s hull during docking.
  • Boat hook (optional but helpful for grabbing lines or reaching out if needed).

Step by Step

Step 1: Approach the Shore Slowly and Carefully. As you approach the shore, reduce your sailboat’s speed to a minimum. Make sure you maintain a slow and controlled approach to prevent accidents or damage to the boat or dock. 

Step 2: Assess the Situation. Before tossing the line, assess the dock’s layout and the conditions around you. Check for any obstructions, currents, or obstacles that may interfere with your approach or toss. Adjust your positioning accordingly.

Step 3: Prepare the Line. Coil the dock line in a clockwise manner and then divide the coiled line into two equal sections, holding one section in each hand. Coil the line neatly, avoiding tangles and knots.  A well- organized line is much easier to handle and reduces the possibility of it getting caught on something as you toss.   

Step 4: Grab the Line. Hold the end of the dock line you intend to toss in your dominant hand.  Place the outer section of the coil into the grip of your tossing hand’s palm.

Step 5: Get Ready to Toss. Position yourself at the part of the boat nearest the intended location on the dock where you aim for the line to land. Typically, this will be in proximity to either the bow or stern, depending on the configuration of the docking arrangement.

Step 6: Pick Your Target. Select the individual you intend to throw the line to, and slightly adjust your aim to their left or right. This ensures they can easily catch the line without moving out of the way. Don’t hit them in the face!

Step 7: Throw the Line. Employ an underhand motion to throw the line accurately over short to moderate distances. If you require more distance in your throw, opt for an overhand motion or a sweeping sidearm toss that creates more momentum for the rope to reach its target.

If you miss, adjust your aim. Gather the line and organize it.  Be efficient with your time but do not rush. Try once more. With practice, you’ll improve your accuracy.

Step 8: Secure the Line. After the individual on the dock catches the line, request them to secure it to a piling or cleat behind the area where you need to maneuver the boat. Sometimes, they will toss the line back to you to secure the line to your vessel.  

Step 9: Additional Lines.  Depending on the docking situation and your boat’s size, you may need additional lines. You might need to toss and secure multiple lines to keep the boat safely in place.

Step 10: Monitor the Boat’s Position. Once the lines are properly fastened, watch the boat’s alignment with the dock. If needed, make any adjustments required to maintain the boat’s stability and ensure its safety.

Final Tip: Always communicate with the helmsman and the person at the dock that is catching the line. Prioritize safety. Practice this technique.

You have successfully learned how to toss a line to shore from a sailboat. With practice, you’ll enhance your proficiency at tossing a line, leading to smoother and more enjoyable docking and anchoring experiences.

For more how-to help on docking, take a look at our Docking Made Easy Videos.