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Loving Lazy Lines.

This is a fuller article by request, about how to use Lazy lines.

Lazy-lines, or as they are often very appropriately called “Slime lines”, are lines that run from a block on the sea floor, out from a dock, back to the dock.

My Connie has always hated Lazy lines and in some ways feared them. She has heard so many stories of sailors getting them caught around the prop/s and disabling the boat right at that most critical moment, when you are close to other yachts and a dock and exposed to the wind.

So lets start by saying that Lazy lines are like dancing; it all about timing :-).

In my DailyWave I spoke about Lazy lines, “Last on, first off” and that is the way it should be.

Timing of events

So let’s first talk about timing and events.

The first myth I want to dispel is that you need your Lazy-lines attached to the boat to have control. The TRUTH is you need your lazy-lines attached at the point you don’t need your engines anymore. Before that they are of little benefit and pose potential issues.

Let me explain, just in case this part of boat handling is new to you. Once you have a windward stern line attached, you have control. Let me repeat that, once you have a windward stern line attached you have control.

This is because if you motor away from a dock with the windward stern line attached the boat will attempt to leave and be pulled windward by the line. You can use this technique to tighten up your position on the dock.

So the first and most important thing you aim to achieve when going stern-too with Lazy lines is not the lazy lines, but getting the boat back onto the dock with the Windward stern line attached. At this point you can relax ALOT.

The next thing you want to do is get the leeward Stern line attached. At this point you should be able to motor against the lines and pull the boat straight out from the dock, with a little rudder and throttle you can work the boat back and forward, side to side and get it sitting where you want it to be sitting in relation to the dock and other boats.

At this point you’re ready to secure your bow and turn the engines off. This is the point you want to get the Windward Lazy-line picked up and pulled to the Windward bow. Then the Leeward Lazy-line can be attached.

So, the order of events is:

  • Line up boat for a backward approach to the dock.
    • This can be square on, or if there is a little wind on an angle, remember getting the Windward lines on first is your priority.
  • Windward line on and at appropriate length you want from the dock.
  • Leeward line on and at appropriate length you want from the dock.
  • Windward Lazy-line picked up and run forward.
    • Do this with the windward motor turned off (More explanation later).
  • Leeward Lazy-line picked up and run forward.
  • Use the motor to tighten if need be.

So how do you deal with Lazy-lines

So you can see that the first part of this is all about your backing skills and stern-too mooring technique. If you get those stern lines secured and solid quickly, you are already on a winner.

The next bit is all about the Lazy-lines and using them INSTEAD of the engines to pull the boat forward and upwind.

Lazy-lines are actually two lines in most cases. So let’s describe what you are looking for.

A Lazy-line is a mooring line attached to a block on the harbour floor out in-front of the dock. When you have this line attached to a bow cleat it will be pulling the bow toward the block.

Mooring block

The end of this mooring line is attached to a thinner line called the trace or lead and this runs all the way back to the dock and is tied onto the dock, usually at water level. They are often coloured but not always and are usually around 8-10mm diameter or less.

Sometimes there will be a float connected at the connection point between these two lines, but this is unusual.

Both lines are made out of material that sinks and so when not pulled up these lines will have sunk to the bottom of the harbour and be well out of the way of your props or sail-drives.

This is an important point: Lazy-lines and their leaders will be sunk down out of the way of your props or sail-drives unless someone pulls them up from the harbour bottom.

A word of caution

Line handlers in Marina’s are often in a hurry to be helpful and will pick up a Lazy-line for you before you are ready. They are also more likely to be doing this from the dock and therefore your stern props are endangered. Pay attention to what your Marina staff are doing to help you out.

Picking up a Lazy-line

To pick up a Lazy-line you use your boat hook to either pickup one of the leaders from the Dock, or if there is a float attached pick up the main Mooring line at the Float, again using your boat hook.

Picking up a Lazy line is something that should ONLY BE DONE at the command of the helmsman as it is critical that the engines are not in gear at this time.

If you have a float, it is always best to pick up your lines from the float, it is closer to the main lines, so quicker and also further away from your props so safer.

Choosing a Lazy-line

Often times there are multiple Lazy-lines and you want to pick up one that is running off to windward if possible. This means, usually picking a line that is not directly behind the boat but off to the windward side of the boat.

Ready. Set. GO

Once the captain or helmsman is ready for the lazy-line pickup he should give a solid command to pick up the Windward line.

If you are on a boat with two engines, like a catamaran, the Leeward line should not be touched at this time so that the helmsman can use the Leeward engine to control the boat whilst the windward Lazy-lines is being picked up. This give more control and time for doing so.

The linesman should have already got a hold of the leader using the boat hook and be ready, once the command is given to pick up the line he/she then runs forward, sliding the leader through the hook and pulling it up into his/her hands.

A note here about gloves. Lazy-lines are often called slime lines, because they live undersea and develop quite a growth of nasty slimy and often sharp fouling. Wearing good gloves is important, I personally find heavy weight rubber garden gloves are great, they are strong enough to cope with the lines and water proof to keep your hands more or less clean-ish and cut free.

As soon as the Leader is in hand it should be pulled up AS FAST AS POSSIBLE and then continuing onto the mooring line.

Once you have the Mooring line. you should pull it onboard with some energy. The main reason for this is that now you are the control pulling the boat away from the dock and also to windward. Not the Engine. This is especially true if you only have the single engine.

Once you have pulled it forward to the forward cleat, run it around the cleat and again sweat it onboard until you have the correct tension and control over your bow.

When happy tie it off using a cleat hitch and dropping the tail back into the water to allow it to sink.

At this point you have control of the boat. The windward line, combined with the two stern lines are enough to have control of your boat. You can relax a little.

Now on command of the helmsman, also pull up and attach the Leeward Lazy-line.

It’s very important that all this is done by co-ordination with the Helmsman. Again pull up from tracer, forward into hands and up to mooring line, down under lifelines and around the cleat, tied off and dropped back into the water.

Sinking lines.

Once dropped back into the water the lines will sink, quite quickly but give them time. Once they have sunk if you need to tighten up or get more tension onto the stern lines you can use the engines to motor forward and then pull up the Lazy-lines at the bow. This usually won’t pull up the stern part of the line so you can do both together to get yourself tight and under control.

What if it all goes wrong and you wrap a prop??

Well, firstly your engine will stop. If this has happened when you have at least one (windward) stern line on, your course of action should be to get a windward bow line onto the adjacent yacht quickly or if there is no adjacent yacht onto the dock from mid-ship to stop the boat being blown down wind into other yachts. Once this is done you can manually get the boat tied up and under control and then go about freeing your prop from the errant Lazy-line.

Two major causes for wrapping a prop

  • backing over another boats lazy-line as you come back into the dock. Helmsman you need to be watchful and make sure you have identified ALL the lines in the water before you head back into the dock.
  • Pulling up a line too early whilst the engine is still in gear.


“Last on first off” The safest way to exit a stern-too with lazy-lines is to drop your lazy-lines as the first action you do, allow time for them to sink and then motor off your stern lines under control.

The dock side of the lines should be sunk already and you should be able to engage the engines against the stern lines before you release them to hold the boat in place. Leave time for them to sink before releasing the stern lines and driving forward.


Alongside with Lazy-lines.

The other major situation you need to be aware of is when you have along side Lazy-lines. These are usually on shorter positioned blocks (closer to the dock) and designed to hold your boat off the dock and possibly sharp parts of the dock or to reduce swell impact.

The same rules apply, “Last on first off”, except by the time you are raising the Lazy-lines your engines can be completely off. You should have docked normally but left your dock side mooring lines slightly loose and you’ll be pulling those tighter as you pull up the lazy-lines.

If it’s a windy day, keep your dock side mooring lines tight to start with and then trade off tension on lazy-lines against easing of mooring lines to move the boat off under control.

When you come to leave, same thing, drop the lazy-lines before the engines are in gear at all and depart normally as you would springing off etc. Just allow time for the lines to sink out of your way first.

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