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Mediterranean Mooring - How to moor stern-to to a dock or quay

by Paul Shard on 28 Mar 2014
Distant Shores II moored stern-to a natural rock quay in Sweden. This was just a lunch stop. We’’d have put the stern lines further apart to secure the boat better if staying overnight. Paul Shard
Paul Shard, successful author and sailing TV host, is currently aboard a Southerly 49 sailing boat Distant Shores II with his co-author and wife, Sheryl. Here he describes the method of mooring that can confuse the unaccustomed, so called 'Med Mooring'.

Recently while cruising in the Caribbean we visited several marinas such as the Marina Bas-du-Fort in Guadeloupe where tying stern to the dock is required in some cases, we witnessed a lot of anxiety in sailors unfamiliar with this docking procedure.

Sheryl and I spent many years cruising in the Mediterranean where we became quite comfortable mooring stern-to (also called Mediterranean Mooring) so I thought I would describe the procedure for those who haven't tried it before.

Many marinas provide a straight dock without finger piers or pilings to tie the boat to. There are just cleats or bollards along the dock. Boats drop their main anchor away from the dock and back in, throwing stern lines ashore to secure the boat to the dock or quay. The anchor will hold the boat away from the quay. Besides being cheaper to build marinas, the dock can accommodate any size or width of boats this way. This system is quite common in the Eastern Med especially in the Greek Islands where we filmed the procedure coming in to the town quay on the island of Patmos. (See video.)

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Step One - choose the spot to drop your anchor. In Guadeloupe the dockhand at the marina pointed us to our place between two large catamarans. Looking at the boats you can guess where their anchors are as you will be looking down their anchor chains. Try to divide that distance so the boat will be centred in the slip. You will need good scope for your anchor so calculate a distance from the dock that will result in minimum 5-6 to 1 scope. More is better if there is room but remember you must have enough chain to allow you to reach the dock :-)

Step Two – line the boat stern up so you point stern to the quay and drop the anchor. It depends on how your boat handles but if there is a crosswind I position the boat slightly upwind before dropping the anchor in the chosen spot. Now drop the anchor.

Step Three – Back up towards the quay dropping chain out as you go. Initially you will need to keep it slack but once some chain is out you can tug it gently to set the anchor. When you have enough scope out, you can set the anchor by giving it a stronger pull. This is why it’s better to have a bit more scope out so you can set the anchor and know it’s holding before you get all the way stern to the quay.

Hint: Our old boat Two-Step, a Classic 37, was a long-keeled boat and was terrible to control in reverse. But Med-mooring was easy because we had the anchor out as an extra control. (See video below.) As we backed up the wind would blow the bow around but we could then put a little tension on the anchor chain and use this to straighten the bow out again. Sheryl stayed up at the bow and worked the old manual anchor windlass letting the chain out slowly until we got near enough to the dock to throw a line ashore. When we got turned she would stop the chain and the bow would pull around back into line.

Step Four – Come in between the boats on either side and tie up. We have all our fenders out with one reserved as a 'roving' fender in case we jostle our new neighbours. Once you get in between the other boats you have done the hard part. Now toss a line ashore if there is someone waiting. If not then you can come in close and lasso a piling. This is one time where having control of the windlass from the helm really pays off. As we backed up to the quay here in Guadeloupe I was able to see the amount of chain we had out, and let it out myself as we backed in. This left Sheryl free to manage the roving fender when we got close to the other boats.

Step Five – Tie up. With lines ashore now is the time to tighten up on the anchor chain to make sure your anchor is well set and will hold you off the dock. There can be quite a strain on this in a stiff crosswind so you need to be certain it isn't dragging. I use the engine in reverse to pull the boat in, tie the lines as tightly as we need to keep the boat in to the quay. Tighten up on the anchor chain as needed and make sure you are not dragging. If it is slipping you might be able to set it by pulling or you may need to go out and try again!!

Step Six – Tidy up. I put an anchor snubber on to take the strain off the windlass. This is a chain hook on a length of line. I put it on the chain just off the bow, pull it tight on a cleat and then let tension off the windlass. Voila – anchored stern to the quay.

Additional Hints:
Know the length of your chain. Nothing is more embarrassing than backing in perfectly and finding you are still six meters away from the dock and you have reached the end of the chain! Many boats that moor this way often have 80 or 100 meters of chain or more.

Try not to cross the next boat's anchor chain. If all the chains are lined up parallel then there will be no problems. But if you cross over their chain and they leave first, they will pull out your anchor.

The chain counter and control at the helm is a great asset when Med Mooring. I have watched our Greek friend, Thanos, in Rhodes bring a 50-footer in to the dock all alone and do a perfect stern-to mooring.


A passerelle or boarding ramp is useful since it is not always easy to get off the stern. Many boats have fancy custom affairs that get quite elaborate. The best are motorized and extend out of a hatch at the stern, sensors maintaining their height above the dock as the tide changes! On Two-Step we carried a simple 2X10 plank about 7 feet long. Our current boat, a Southerly 49, has a stern platform that we can lower and use as a passerelle in most situations.

Mooring stern-to may seem a little unnerving at first but if you take it slow and practice when there is an opportunity, it soon becomes a routine procedure.


About Paul and Sheryl Shard:
Paul and Sheryl Shard are the authors of the bestselling book, 'Sail Away! A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising' which is currently being updated to a third edition and are the hosts of the award-winning sailing TV series, 'Distant Shores' which is also available on DVD and downloads. They are currently cruising aboard their Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, in the Caribbean.







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