Line handling is one of the most important duties of the deckhand.  If done incorrectly, it can be one of the most dangerous jobs.  While this manual will teach you safe line handling techniques, your captain and senior deckhand will instruct you in the specific techniques and correct line handling methods for your vessel.  It is important for you to learn the vessel’s safety equipment and deck layout, not only for the safety of the passengers, but for your own ability to understand and follow the commands of the captain and to be able to interact with the crew successfully in emergencies. The following information is important for you to commit to memory.


The importance of proper line handling cannot be over emphasized, as bad line handling can injure crew or passengers as well as damage the vessel, equipment or the dock. 




No matter how many lines you will handle, you must always pay attention to detail, focus on how and where you place your hands and feet, and follow directions. 


Hands should always be kept off the sides or above the docking hardware.  When working the line, never place your hand on the deck hardware to try and gain leverage or place your hands under the cleat. 


Never grasp the line by wrapping it around your arm or putting it around your body.  When grasping the line, your palms should be facing each other.  When letting line out, pass the line hand to hand; do not allow the line to run through your hand.  Remember, you cannot pull the boat to the dock.


Always wait for the command of the captain before letting lines go. 




There are several different types and sizes of line or rope that are used at Shoreline. These lines can be made of different materials and may have different uses aboard your vessel. You will be instructed in the primary use of each.  Traditionally, rope is what we have ashore and it becomes line when brought on a vessel.  Generally, lines will be either fiber such as cotton or synthetic such as polypropylene.



LINE Safety


The captain or their representative will explain and demonstrate how to properly use and secure the lines. The following are safety precautions that are to be taken for your safety and the safety of the passengers.


Lay Out - This is the correct and safe procedure for laying out and readying the line for use. Make sure the line will run free, is not kinked, blocked or has loops that can catch your feet and is clear of any obstructions. The area for line handling, if accessible to passengers, should be roped off so that passengers can not get in your way or be injured by a thrown line. Lines should be laid out before arriving at the dock, so you are ready to go when the captain gives the command.  When stowing the line, make sure it is coiled properly and is not a tripping hazard.


The following are some common line handling terms you will become familiar with:

·         Bight - mid part of a line

·         Bitt - large deck fitting used for attaching lines

·         Bitter end - the end of a line opposite the eye

·         Bollard - a heavy post for attaching lines located on a dock


·         Bow line - lines leading from the bow of the boat

·         Breast line - lines running perpendicular from the boat

·         Cast off - to let a line go

·         Cleat - low lying deck fitting with two horns sticking out from the sides that are longer than the cleat is tall


·         Chock - a partial or round opening in a bulwark or bulkhead that a line is passed through

·         Coil - to store a line by looping in a circular, clockwise motion

·         Eye - a loop spliced in the end of a line

·         Fake down - laying a line out in loose fashion so that no part of the line is on top of another part, but each loop is side by side

·         Flemish - laying out a line in a tight, flat coil

·         Ground tackle - general term to describe an anchor, line and associated gear

·         Heave - to pull or throw a line

·         Heaving line – a light line used as a messenger to send a larger line to the dock from the vessel

·         Hold - to take a wrap with a line so that it will not let out or come in

·         Line - any rope on a boat

·         Made fast - a boat tied to a dock or one line tied off

·         Make fast - to secure a line

·         Monkey fist – a large knot at the end of a line.  Gives the line additional weight to make it easier to throw farther. 

·         Run (pay out) - letting tension off a line so that it will go out

·         Secured - the line has been properly tied off

·         Slip (ease) - letting some tension off a line so that the line will slowly let out

·         Spring line - lines leading from amidships either forward or aft

·         Standing Part – the portion of line not being used to make a knot

·         Stand- by - be prepared to carry out instructions

·         Stern line - lines leading from the stern

·         Stow - to properly store a line or item

·         Tension - taking a round turn on a cleat or kevel so that the line grabs and stops going out

·         Underway - when a boat moves through the water


The correct and safe practice of using the line.

Make sure that you have good posture, dry and good footing away from the line. When handing or throwing the line make sure that your weight and that of the line doesn’t cause forward momentum to carry you too near or over the side. Keep your weight on the side away from the vessel’s edge. After the line has been sent out and secured to the dock, you will be attaching it to the vessel cleat as you have been taught.  The line in your hands should never be gripped too tightly, but should be able to slip slowly through your hands; however, line running too fast through your hands will cause friction that might hurt your hands. Make sure that you have already single wrapped the cleat so that the strain is transmitted to the cleat and not your hands. Do not attempt to physically pull in the vessel. When working the line, keep your feet clear of the line at all times during this procedure. When wrapping the line around the cleat, you should be doing so with extra length on the line so that your hands should always be above and inboard of the cleat. Remember to keep your legs bent so that you are not lifting with your back. If there is a problem and the vessel appears to be heading into the dock or another vessel too fast, remember... 









Splices are permanent eyes or repairs put into a line.  A spliced line retains about 80 percent of the original strength of the line whereas a knot may reduce the lines strength by up to half.  Eyes or loops are spliced into the lines, for quick, strong mooring of the vessel. 




This section describes a typical vessel tie-up.  There are many different docks and different situations that occur and you will need to have a solid knowledge of how and why procedures are used for your vessel and your crew. 


Arriving at and departing a dock is a critical time for vessel and crewmember safety.  An important safety measure before proceeding to the deck for mooring is to don a safety or work vest.

To tie up the vessel, the eyes of the mooring lines are led out the chocks, to the dock where they are placed on the cleat or a bollard.  Back on the deck of the vessel, the slack is pulled out of the line so that it is taut and then a turn is taken around the cleat or bitts.  The line is then secured to the cleat or bitts by placing a series of figure-eight turns over the cleat.

 The eyes of multiple lines moored to a bollard.


When passing a mooring line to a dock, it may be necessary to use a heaving line, because of the weight of the mooring line.  The heaving line is tied to the mooring line and passed to the dock first. This allows the mooring line to be pulled across easily and safely. 


Standing lines are lines already on the pier or float that are ready to hand to the vessel crew by the dock crew. 


The most important line during arrival and departure is the spring line. A spring line is defined as a line going from a point on the boat either forward or aft (#2 in the diagram above). The captain will work this line to assist him in getting the vessel alongside when docking and perhaps to get away from the dock when departing.  The spring line is the first line to go on when docking and the last line to come off when departing.  It is critical that the crewmember working the spring line pays close attention to any line commands given by the captain and be constantly aware of where the spring line is leading. Typically the spring line will be at a set length for the dock you are using for the day and should not have to be adjusted on the cleat.  




The most common knot you will be using at Shoreline is the cleat hitch. Below is a diagram of how to tie it. Within your first few days working as a deckhand you should feel comfortable tying the cleat hitch. 



Loop completely around the cleat underneath then form a figure 8 over the cleat. Finish by tucking the bitter end under the last loop.


Click here to watch "How to tie a line to a cleat"




Fenders are bumpers used to absorb the impact of the boat coming along side a dock or wall. They are always used while transiting the locks and whenever you are at a dock that doesn’t have its own fenders or sea links . Part of your job will be to put out fenders and tie them to the boat. You use a knot called a Round Turn and Two Half Hitches to tie fenders:



Click here to watch "How to tie a fender" 




Some of the frequently used commands in line handling are:

          Hold the line:  Do not allow the line to slip

          Ease the line:  Pay out enough line to remove most of the tension

          Slack the line: Pay out enough line to remove all of the tension

          Take up slack: Pull all slack in so line is taut

          Let go:  Unfasten the line from the dock and vessel, pull the line aboard or let the line go for the dock crew to pull in

          Make fast: Secure line to cleat or bitt




This is the process of looking the line over for signs of wear (chafe) and flesh hooks (small tears in the line strands that can scrape or cut your hands). Flesh hooks might require you to wear gloves when handling lines. Before handling the line, check the eye, main length and bitter end (end of line opposite eye) for chafe, breakage or unraveling. If any of these are noticed, immediately notify your Captain.


Click here to watch a DVD about Line Handling


Line Handling Review


Never place your hands under a cleat


Never get between the boat and an object the boat is heading toward


In line handling always follow the orders of the captain or senior deckhand. Never be afraid to ask for clarification.


When giving line commands always speak loudly and clearly making sure you are understood


The spring line is the first to be put on when docking and the last to come off when departing


The safety line is a line leading the same way as the spring line. It is used as a back-up in case the main spring line fails.


Familiarize yourself with the location and use of CLEATS, CHOCKS and BOLLARDS


Practice tying the CLEAT HITCH


Practice tying fenders with the ROUND TURN AND TWO HALF HITCHES



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