How to moor stern-to: a step-by-step guide

Aegean flotilla 2024

In Greece, especially, you’ll need to know how to moor your boat using the Mediterranean Mooring technique, or stern-to. So, let’s take a look in detail at how to do it.

This method of mooring is most often encountered at town wharfs in Greece or around the Mediterranean, but it can also be used wherever you need to back up to land and have no other way of securing the boat. The Germans unofficially call it a “Roman Catholic” mooring, apparently because the boat is tied as if to a cross. Not that there’s any need to pray before the manoeuvre. On the contrary, with a little skill and practice you’ll manage this manoeuvre, despite it seeming a little bit complicated at first. So how do you do it?

1. Assess the situation and check the weather forecast

As with all other anchoring manoeuvres, you should first start by assessing the situation. Find out which direction the wind is blowing from. Ideally it should be along the boat’s centreline, either off the wharf or shore, not to the side of the boat. But the truth is, you likely won’t have a choice anyway. Therefore, if the wind isn’t in your favour, take that into account, carefully tie up and check your lines, and make sure to use enough fenders. Check the weather forecast for the next few hours and overnight. If a big storm is approaching and you’re crammed in with other boats, consider choosing a different berth.

If possible, drop one of the crew off to inspect the situation on the wharf. After all, you’ll need a helper ashore at the end of the manoeuvre anyway. You will need 2 bollards to moor to ashore (or anything else usable), so check they are actually there. You wouldn’t want to drop anchor and manoeuvre only to find you have nothing to moor to. If there are boats squeezed in one side of the wharf and the other side is completely clear, there is usually a reason why. Also check the height of the wharf relative to the water. It may be that the dock is only for taller, transport ships, meaning you’d have to awkwardly scramble up from your deck.

If you have to moor between 2 other boats, check where their anchors and anchor chains are and keep this in mind when dropping your anchor. According to RYA rules, the anchor should be marked with a marker buoy, but the truth is you probably won’t come across this in Greece.

2. Anchor and boat preparation

Prepare to drop the anchor. It’s good to know how many metres of chain you have at your disposal. When your anchor is holding nicely, you don’t want to discover that you don’t have enough room to comfortably lower the gangway.  With a standard 42, the chain tends to be 60 metres long. And always make sure the winch is working properly.

Put fenders on the sides of the boat and at least one at the stern. Use the fenders even if you’re the only one moored there — you never know who’ll ride up next to you or how. Prepare 2 lines long enough for the stern, one on the port side, one on the starboard side. 

3. Reverse 

Stop with your stern facing the spot you have chosen on the wharf around 100 m away, then start slowly backing up perpendicular to the wharf. Always perform manoeuvres such as this at the lowest possible speed but with maximum concentration of all crew members. If you are reversing in between boats and have enough crew members, send them out to the sides with fenders in hand to prevent a possible collision. Assuming you have 60 metres of chain, drop anchor when your bow is about 50 metres from the wharf, leaving a spare 10 metres. By this time you should have the movement of the boat astern completely under control. However, you must judge the right place to drop the anchor yourself. It depends both on the length of the anchor chain and the depth and slope of the sea floor.

If you haven’t landed anyone, back up close to the quay (a temporary fender at the stern will be useful here) so that one crew member can get out and moor the boat. Quite possibly someone on the wharf will offer to help, though of course it is questionable how much help they will actually be.

But there are places (for example in Norway, Patagonia or generally anywhere away from civilization) where it is not possible to back up to the shore and land someone. In this case you can use a dinghy to help bring the lines to the shore and get out. 

4. Secure the stern

The person on the jetty or wharf will moor the stern to the bollards (or whatever is provided) using the lines provided. Start by doing this on the windward side. The starboard line should be slightly angled starboard and likewise, the port line angled to the port side. The lines should be just long enough so that you are not touching the quay, but can lower the gangway. This will ensure the stern is secured against any sideways movement. 

5. Tighten the anchor

Here comes the moment of truth. Now you will find out if the anchor is holding well and whether you’ll have to repeat the whole manoeuvre (don’t despair, this happens to even the best skippers). Slowly, bit by bit (and not by force) start tightening the anchor chain. Always wind it in just a bit, watch how the slack is taken up on the chain and stop the winch as soon as the chain is taut. Wait a moment to see if it slackens again and if it does, start tightening again. Repeat this procedure several times. This is much better than using brute force which might pull up the anchor. Keep in mind though, that if you are taking up the slack for the fourth time, it is relatively likely that the anchor isn’t holding and you will have to repeat the manoeuvre. 

6. Final check

Make sure the anchor is holding, the stern lines are taut (tighten them if necessary) and to prevent any inconvenience when you depart again, check that your anchor is not crossing another boat’s anchor. Do these checks repeatedly and in the evening before going to bed to make sure the anchor chain is still taut and the anchor is holding as it should be.

7. Un-anchoring

When leaving the wharf, start by untying the stern. If the wind is from the side, untie the leeward line first and then the windward side. If you have a helper on shore, just loosen the lines and leave untying for later. It is a good idea to keep the stern secured with at least one line for as long as possible, providing it doesn’t slow you down or get into the propeller. Slowly approach the anchor while tightening the chain. Once the anchor is loose, hoist it onto the boat, wave to any helpers on the pier and embark on your next adventure.