How to raft up like a boss
(Adapted from an article I published in the Mount Vernon Yacht Club Beacon, July 2019)
Are you planning to raft up with other boats for 4th of July fireworks? Rafting up can be the highlight of a day or weekend on the water, and it's a skill every boater should learn! Even when it’s just two boats for a quiet sunset, you too can raft-up safely by observing a few simple suggestions.
DO: Communicate. Before rafting up with an anchored boat, call by VHF or phone. Decide how you’ll tie up, and be clear about your intent (“my starboard side to your port side”). Ask if there are stern anchors or other obstacles. In general, the heaviest boat sets the anchor, and boats planning an early departure will wait and tie up last.
DON'T: Arrive unprepared. As the incoming boat, you’ll be using your own lines to tie up, so stop and prepare your boat before approaching the raft-up. Pre-tie lines to your bow and stern. Coil the lines so they are ready to be thrown. Hang fenders as needed. Tell your crew exactly what you want them to do.
DO: Throw the bow line first. (You’ve already tied the lines to your boat, right?) The anchored boat will have people waiting for you. Your crew should typically throw the bow line first. That makes it easier for you to maneuver the stern to where your crew can throw the stern line.
DON'T: Kill the engine and drift the last few feet. Stay at the helm with your engine(s) running until your bow and stern lines have been made fast to the other boat. You never know when the crew might mishandle a line, or you might need a little bump of engine power to align the boats. Don’t shut down the engine until you are sure you won’t need it.
DO: Invest in good mooring lines. Lines are basic safety equipment, so don’t skimp. Typical power boats need 1/2” lines, or at most 5/8” (bigger lines won’t fit the cleats). Get double-braided lines that are flexible so you can easily tie, untie and stow them. Did your boat’s previous owner leave you an ancient single-braid line that is stiffer than a whiffle-ball bat? It’s not worthy.
DON'T: Bring wimpy, under-sized fenders. When waves or boat wakes rock the raft-up, your best insurance policy against expensive damage is big fenders between the boats. A fender the size of a meatball sandwich is useless. Size guidelines can be found online. Bigger is safer. Make sure fenders are well-inflated.
DO: Adjust your lines. To prevent damage, here’s a tried-and-true method for adjusting the lines for power boats. First, slack the bow line a bit. Then tighten the stern line, pulling the sterns close together so people can safely step across to your swim platform. Then snug up the bow line to keep the boats from bouncing. Add a spring line, which is your connection to the other boat’s anchor.
DON'T: Depart unannounced. Clear the water of swimmers, toys and lines near your boat. Tell people you are leaving, and get helpers to cast off lines. Usually you can let the wind or current carry your boat to the stern rather than powering forward.
DO: Be responsible for your boat. Various situations might require that you quickly board your boat and untie from the raft-up, so be aware of what’s going on.
In larger raft-ups, other nuances come into play, so please ask questions if you’re unsure. Have fun at your next raft-up!