Parking Your Dinghy Is Never a Problem

Moor your dinghy on an outhaul and have a stress-free time ashore

While cruising aboard Starship, our Islander 36, we often found dinghy dock facilities to be lacking or nonexistent. Sometimes a dock or wall would pose a threat, with exposed rebar or sharp fittings threatening to poke a hole in our inflatable. Other times there would be a large swell running that could potentially plunge our dinghy up and down several feet under a dock or against some other solid structure.

To cope with these kinds of situations, we decided to adopt a variation of a mooring technique we’d seen Mexican fishermen use. To moor their pangas, these men set permanent buoys off the beach and run continuous outhaul lines from the buoys to stakes set on shore. This allows them to haul the boats onto the beach for loading and unloading, and then safely pull them back out into deeper water when they’re finished.

You can achieve a similar result you’ll need a dinghy anchor and rode with appropriate scope, about 70 feet of line spliced or knotted into a continuous outhaul loop, a carabineer or similar piece of hardware, and a mesh bag in which to stow your outhaul line and anchor rode. For our rig, we use a 10lb mushroom anchor that sets on 10ft of chain plus 60ft of polypropylene rode. Your outhaul line, of course, can be longer than 70 feet if you want to moor your tender farther away from whatever it is you’re tying off to.

Preparation and Execution

To set your temporary outhaul mooring smoothly, you need to first make sure all your lines are free to run before you approach the shore, and then attach one end of your continuous outhaul line to a strong point near the bow of your dinghy and the other end to a strong point at the stern. After that, attach the carabineer clip to the end of your anchor rode and hook it onto the outhaul line near where you tied it off to your stern. Finally, shove the outhaul line into your mesh bag, followed by your anchor rode so that both are free to run.

Now you are ready to approach the dock or shore. As you come in, throw out your anchor in a spot that will allow you to reach the end of the rode about where you want your dinghy to be moored. Generally, you want this to be the total length of your continuous outhaul line divided by two, minus 10 feet for handling and tying off. In our case, that works out to around 25 feet away from the dock.

In our experience, it is best to err on the side of setting the anchor too close to the dock. You can always tie a knot in the rode at the appropriate distance away and connect your carabineer and outhaul line there instead. By comparison, if you set your anchor too far out, you will need to go out and reset it closer in.

After throwing your anchor over the side, proceed toward the dock or shore while feeding out the anchor rode, followed by the outhaul line, from the storage bag. Once you reach shore, hop out with the outhaul line in your hand and pull on the end of the line running through the carabineer clip back to the bow of the dinghy until it’s tight against its clip and safely above the anchor.

Finally, tie off the outhaul line and walk away knowing your dinghy is safely moored and out of reach of any sharp objects.

We used this technique with great success in French Polynesia. At one island where a large swell was reaping havoc, we were the only boat that was able to send our entire crew ashore. Others had to leave someone aboard to ferry people back and forth, and the hard dinghy of one friend was badly cracked when the swell crushed it under the dock. As word spread, the other new boats in the area made a point of avoiding this particular anchorage due to its challenging dinghy-docking situation. What a shame to miss out on an otherwise spectacular spot because of “dinghy anxiety.”


The more we use this technique, the more we like it, and the more situations in which we find it useful. In big cities we use it to keep the dinghy out of the reach of playful sticky-fingered children. By swapping out the ends of the outhaul line, we can also keep the bow of our dinghy pointed away from the dock or shore into oncoming waves and swells. Alternatively, we sometimes tie both ends of the outhaul line together, and then tie the dinghy painter to a loop in the outhaul, so the dinghy can swing freely and keep its bow pointed into the dominant wind or current.

When setting up your temporary outhaul, it is important to be mindful of local traffic patterns. Make sure your dinghy and anchor rode are not a hazard to passing boats. If chafe becomes a problem where your outhaul line passes through the carabineer, you can use a pulley with a swivel instead, which will have the added advantage of making the system operate that much more smoothly. Also, be mindful of the tidal range. It may be smart to tie a length of shock cord into your anchor rode to account for changes in water depth.

This dinghy-docking technique does require extra equipment and can take some getting used to, but it’s well worth it. You may also make some new cruising friends. We found there were often other cruisers who were impressed with our dinghy-docking method and wanted to know how it works.

Photos by Anne-Marie Fox

Illustrations by Dick Everitt

Anne-Marie and Chris Fox recently completed a two-year voyage aboard Starship and spent a year exploring Mexico before crossing the South Pacific to Australia



Cyclone Season in Polynesia

Thinking of spending cyclone season in the South Pacific? Plenty of sailors take the chance every year, with the recent travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic making this an especially popular option in 2020. Cyclone season in this part of the world runs from November to ...read more


Eight Bells: Bruce Kirby, Creator of the Laser

With 2021 drawing to a close, Laser sailors find themselves reflecting on both their class’s 50th anniversary and the passing of the man who made it all possible: Canadian designer, sailor and sailing journalist, Bruce Kirby. Kirby, who died this past July at the age of 92, ...read more


Southern Yacht Club Wins Rolex NYYC Invitational Cup

Newport, R.I. -- The 7th Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup wrapped up on Saturday after five days of highly competitive racing in an international fleet that saw the Southern Yacht Club (SYC) of New Orleans best a fleet of 19 teams from Europe, Canada, Bermuda and ...read more


Boat Review: Dufour 530

Dufour Yachts seems to have shifted its strategy with the introduction of the new 530. Previously, the French builder maintained two lines: Performance and Grand Large, with the latter targeted at the cruising crowd. With the Dufour 530, however, Dufour decided to combine the ...read more


11th Hour Christens Two IMOCAs, Hits a Snag

This week has been a big one for the American-founded, sustainability-centric ocean racing team 11th Hour Racing. In addition to christening their two new boats, the team also took them out for a quick test ride—against some of the most intense IMOCA 60 skippers in the world. ...read more


Clewless in the Pacific

Squalls are well known to sailors who cruise the middle Latitudes. Eventually, you become complacent to their bluster. But squalls vary in magnitude, and while crossing from Tahiti to Oahu, our 47ft Custom Stevens sloop paid the price for carrying too much canvass as we were ...read more


SAIL’s Nigel Calder Talks Electrical Systems at Trawlerfest Baltimore

At the upcoming Trawlerfest Baltimore, set for Sept. 29-Oct. 3, SAIL magazine regular contributor Nigel Calder will give the low down on electrical systems as part of the show’s seminar series.  The talk will be Saturday, October 2 at 9am. Electrical systems are now the number ...read more


Bitter End Yacht Club Announces Reopening

Four years after being decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Bitter End Yacht Club is set to reopen for the Winter 2022 season. Hailed as one of the best anchorages in the Caribbean and built by sailors, for sailors, this island outpost in the BVI has been a favorite with ...read more