Yesterday, Mrs. Horne and I decided to head over to the Sail Loft in Padanaram for a late lunch (or was it an early dinner). I love Sunday afternoons at the Sail Loft because one of my friends Ken Richards and Neal McCarthy always perform from  3:00 PM to 6:00 PM.

I also love it because it one the few free Dock and Dines on Buzzards Bay! As I said in my prior post, to dock at South Wharf for dining at The Sail Loft simply hail them on Channel 8 as you enter the harbor, which I did.

All the finger piers were full and they directed us to one of the dreaded 4 piling back-in slips! Mrs. Horne was a bit befuddled at first trying to figure out what side to put the fenders on and then realized that was the least of her problems. With a mild panic, she looked at me and said — “what do I do?”

The fact is, this was only the 3rd time we’d faced the dreaded 4 piling back-in slip scenario. Once was with Mean Kitty at Cuttyhunk and the other was with Tenacity at the Block Island Boat Basin. We have yet to overnight at the Black Dog Wharf, but they only offer the dreaded 4 piling back-in slips as well.

Anyway, we survived, but Mrs. Horne was very interested in learning more about how to do it right (there’s gotta be a better way), so this morning I went to the Internet looking for answers and discovered there aren’t any!

I found a lot of stories about tying up to docks, finger piers, and finger pier slips, but the only thing I found regarding the dreaded 4 piling back in slip was this debate in a Sea Ray owners forum.

That’s all I needed to get out my crude graphics tools and give you a step by step guide on how to tie up in the dreaded 4 piling back in slip.

As far the helm goes, it’s pretty easy with Vigilant due to our 24 volt bow and stern thrusters. In the case of Padanarm, the slip was quite wide, which gave me plenty of space on both sides, but also made getting to the pilings on either side more work.

The most important thing about backing in is to know where the wind is coming from so you know where to apply the thrusters. I our case, it was coming from 45 degrees off the starboard bow which told me to hug the pilings on the right and be ready to tap the big Cummins into gear if the wind blew us back into the float too fast.

Since I know that the piling that is closest to the wind will be the hardest to reach, I’d tie that one off first. If the piling is tall, you’ll need to get close enough for your crew member to wrap the line around the piling (rather than pass it over the top).

If the piling doesn’t have a neat little hook to keep the line from sliding down into the water, the crew will need to wrap it twice and put a little half hitch on it.

I like to bring the other end of the line back to the boat and cleat it. This makes it easier to adjust and to cast off later.

I suppose it may be preferable to actually tie the line to the piling with a more proper knot if you’re staying overnight, but for a 2 hour Dock and Dine, I think going with the easiest is the best.

Don’t go crazy getting everything set just yet. You’ll be coming back to this line (and all the others) several time to make adjustments before you’re done.


The piling that is closest to the wind will be the hardest to reach, so I tied it off first.

Since the wind is pushing us back into the float, I want to get my first spring line in place next. Once again, if there are no jacks to keep the line out of the water, you’ll need to add a loop.

This is the first spring line. It should be set to keep the stern from ramming the float

Now that I’m holding against the wind and safe from ramming into the float, it’s time to grab the piling off the port bow. Depending  on how much slack was left on the line to the starboard piling, you may need to loosen that first. The good news is that the wind will push you toward the portside pilings.

At this point, you’re pretty much secured and there’s no magic to which lines you tie off next. Here is the sequence we followed yesterday:

At this point we called it a day and headed for lunch. If the winds were shifting or we were going to be away for more than a few hours, I would have added two more spring lines on the midship pilings.

I hope you find this little tutorial helpful and if so, please share it with your fellow boaters!