Mooring lines & safety

I’m an academy grad sailing on my first ship as an AB, because of my license I will probably be moving up to 3rd mate on my ship soon. Recently saw a degloving incident while tying up, and it seems like it could have easily been avoided if the mate who was stern PIC knew a bit more about what was going on. I’m new to this forum, and was wondering if anyone could recommend some reading/training videos that I could use to understand tying up more. I’ve seen a few lines snap already and honestly I’m pretty intimidated by them, and I’m worried that when I’m the stern PIC my hesitation will make me fumble the ball. (I tried asking my chief mate for some tips, he pretty much just brushed me off.)

I don’t know that you can study that topic more than you have already (reread the mooring section in American Merchant Seaman’s Manual). It really takes experience and having sense.

Dunno whether you’ll find this Navy video of any use. It’s about synthetic line snap-back.


Is it normal on ships to just point at something dangerous and say “figure it out”? I sure don’t do that with dinghy sailors not used to dealing with lethal loads on lines.

Seen a few lines snap already? I’ve only seen 2 part in 15 years. Time for a new ship.

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Yes, the danger varies wildly from trade to trade doesn’t it?

Four decades of sailing around the world, mostly in the Aleutians, doing wild-ass cargo transfers anchored in open roadsteads in gales, with mooring lines snapping frequently, we’ve hardly seen even minor mooring-line injuries. Ironically, the only serious one I’ve seen was returning to Vallejo on my second cruise as a cadet.

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Better question is, why are you working as a AB with a 3rd mate license with?? When the industry is bad, 3rd mates sail as ABs with the possibility of moving up. I haven’t heard of any new grads taking AB jobs right now. Besides a couple who are sailing as “extra thirds” on vessels and getting paid penalty for any AB work they have to do. There are ton of third mate jobs right now. Best thing to do is get on a ship and sail as a 3/m the more you tie up and be in charge the more confident you will get. I don’t know what you are working on but you shouldn’t be “intimidated.”


Thanks, I’ve read that already, hopefully more experience will make me more comfortable

This is very helpful, thank you!

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It may not be the preferred way of doing it but the best way to learn line-handling on deck is to actually handle lines. I mean as an AB. That’s what your doing, but you describe yourself as “an academy grad sailing on my first ship as an AB, because of my license I will probably be moving up to 3rd mate on my ship soon.” . Not as an AB but a sort of mate-in-waiting.

Why would a green AB go to the chief mate for line-handling tips when they are working, eating and taking coffee every day alongside the very crew members that are actually doing the job? Why wouldn’t they ask the bos’n or another AB?


I pretty much am a mate in waiting, my C/M has told me that he plans to bump me up very soon, when one of the current 3rds goes on leave. And I am fine handling lines as an AB, I don’t need tips on that. I need tips on being PIC and being in that position of leadership on the bow/stern where I make the calls.

My ship has no Bosun (yeah, I know, not a great situation)

I’ll pass on what an old shipmate told me.

I met AB Patterson when I joined an MSC ship as AB while holding a third mate’s license. . Patterson is probably the saltiest mariner I’ve ever met. He was born in England but had sailed in the American Merchant Marine on the Atlantic convoys during WWII.

Once at sea I got paired up with Patterson and we were painting one day and between his sea stories he told me I ought to get a license. I told him I had one and had already sailed as mate with a tug/barge outfit and a couple winters on an Aleutian freighter

Patterson told me to “keep the license in your back pocket” and only tell the chief mate that I was looking for a mate’s position.

Which is what I did, learned my job, kept my mouth shut and my eyes open. Eventually worked my up to unlimited master on a deep-sea foreign-going U.S. flag ship.


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Where is it that you work with no Bosun and a Chief Mate with hiring power?

Watch the 3/O and C/M when you are at mooring stations. Copy them. (DONT copy the parts where you said lines have been parted) That’s how you learn the job. When you are selected to be 3rd, you’ll muddle your way through mooring ops on the stern, get yelled at by the skipper, and eventually you’ll learn and be competent. That’s realistically how it will go for you.


Any near misses or parted lines typically would get discussed at a safety meeting.

Sorry to hear that you got the brush off from the CM, part of his job is mentoring and training his subordinate officers … you. The SOCP developed a video entitled Line Handling - Safe Working Procedures and Environments. It is available at

Kind regards

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One mistake I see new third mate making are not using or knowing the standard hand signals.

Another is not watching the lines when mooring or unmooring. The mate needs to stand where they can see the line-handlers on the pier and the crew running the winch. Need to watch to see the lines don’t get hung up on something.

The speed at which the line is paid out should be adjusted depending on the situation. If heavy lines are being pulled ashore by one or two line-handlers don’t dump 50 meters of line into the water.

On the other hand if the line is attached to truck or a forklift it should be paid out faster.

Let the bridge know when the lines are near the bow thruster or when the are clear. Also let the bridge know if for some reason there are problems carrying out the orders in a timely fashion.


Het, you are on the right track when you fear the danger of parted lines. But don’t fear the job, it has been done safely and there are techniques and procedures to safeguard the crew. Be wary of shortcuts, listen to the 'ol hands. They may explain in a way that is non-technical, but the gist of it will contain wisdom and know-how.