Mastering 'Springing Off'

Top tips for using springs

Picture this scenario…

It is the height of the summer season and you have moored alongside a pontoon for some refreshment. When you arrived there was nothing else immediately around you, but now you find there are moored boats close fore and aft of you.

To try and manoeuvre the boat away from the mooring by purely reversing away might work. But there is another way, another technique you could use that would make the process a whole lot crisper and have you motoring away in no time at all.

Using a spring…

“Coming away from a pontoon is a relatively simple manoeuvre if the route ahead is clear and there is no wind or stream,” explains Rachel Andrews, RYA Chief Instructor Motor Cruising and Power.

“However if the wind or tide is pinning the boat onto the pontoon, or space at the berth is restricted, motoring against a line can allow the stern to get into clear water to allow an easy exit. This is springing.

“Using a spring line is a way of getting a boat out from the quayside using a warp and engine power. The boat effectively pivots on the line. It is basically a mechanical ‘shove’ out using lines rather than hands, during which you can keep all crew and their limbs onboard.

“It is a great technique to learn to deal with busy visitor berths, especially at this time of year, and for getting away from the mooring when the breeze or stream is holding your vessel against it. It is also popular with solo helms, because it doesn’t require a push off the pontoon from anybody else.”

Springing the stern clear of the pontoon – a step-by step guide

This technique uses a bow spring line and works particularly well for single shaft drive craft.

1. First check the route is clear. Then reposition the bow line from the cleat near the bow to a point on the pontoon about a third of the length of the boat, towards the stern.

2. Pass the line around a bollard or cleat, or through a mooring ring, then return to the boat and make off on the bow bollard or cleat. It is now set up as a slip line so it can be released and retrieved easily from onboard. This line is known as a bow spring.

3. Get the crew to release the stern line and stow the warp securely aboard.

4. Now get the crew to standby the attached bow spring. The helm gently applies power in either reverse with the wheel away from the pontoon (if the bow cannot be well fendered), or ahead and steer towards the pontoon (if good fendering is available). Using either method, the stern will start to gently pivot out from the pontoon.

Springing using reverse gear

Springing in forwards gear

5. Once the stern is clear of any obstacles astern, engage neutral and direct the crew to retrieve the bow line, stowing it safely onboard.

6. If the way is still clear the helm can then re-engage astern gear, to reverse clear of the pontoon prior to engaging ahead.

7. Enjoy the rest of your day!

One of the most important things to remember when using springs is making sure the line is not too short so that the boat is free to ‘roll’ on the fender forwards. As a point of safety, never use springs with a person holding a line without taking a turn around a cleat.

You can use either a stern spring, or a bow spring. The principles of the technique are the same, with the actions required to spring the bow out just reversed from those detailed above, but this time with the crew controlling the stern spring.

Take care using a stern spring as the potential for touching the pontoon or quay with the most expensive part of your boat is high!

Come along!

Go back to the first scenario in your head, but now picture that the marina is already pretty busy and/or the wind is blowing you away from the pontoon.

You definitely want to go to that particular restaurant you have heard great things about so could you employ a spring to assist you coming alongside? Definitely.

Here’s how…

  1. Attach a bow line to a cleat on the pontoon by lassoing it
  2. Turn the steering wheel towards the pontoon, and engage the engine in reverse at tick-over/idle
  3. Your craft will move slowly alongside in reverse.
  4. Once alongside attach a stern line and take out of gear.

Alternatively, you can pivot the vessel alongside in forwards. Using the stern line the crew lasso the cleat, leaving some slack in the line between the stern and the pontoon. Steer towards the pontoon and engage forward at tick-over speed. This will bring the boat alongside in a controlled manner.

This technique is especially helpful for craft that are affected significantly by the wind or where bow access isn’t great.

Whichever way you choose it works a treat!

Rachel adds: “Being a good boat handler comes from understanding how the elements can affect a boat, where the pivot points are on the boat and how altering steering and engaging a gear move a craft. It all comes with plenty of practice.

“Having the confidence and competency to use springs to come alongside in close quarters or with tricky wind conditions is a sign of someone with advanced skills.

“No-one gets the manoeuvre perfect first time, every time. But providing you’re in control, your crew, if you have any, know what is expected of them and you have a planned ‘escape route’ in case the execution doesn’t quite work out first time then you are being as safe and responsible as you can be in a test of your handling skills.”

Find out more

More information, including audio diagrams and animations, on the use of springs and other techniques to enjoy stress-free boating this summer, can be found in the RYA’s Start Powerboating, Powerboat Handbook and Day Skipper Motor Handbook.

Download the RYA Books app for Apple and Android to purchase the eBooks to get the advice you want digitally or visit to buy any of these books in hard copy.