With waves big enough to beach the 77,000-tonne cargo ship, Pasha Bulker, it would be hard to overestimate the force of the storms that hit the coast of NSW in June. As we are beginning to learn as we sift through the wreckage, the toll of the storms was truly staggering. Club Marine Insurance alone processed 250 claims involving over $3 million worth of damage on boats unfortunate enough to be moored in NSW during the Queen’s Birthday storms.
But a surprising number of mooring-related accidents – nearly 80 per cent – could have been prevented had the owners taken steps to make their mooring lines more dependable. During the storms, when the waves were at their worst, scores of boats broke free of their moorings and were set adrift.
In the midst of a storm of that magnitude, when everything is suddenly out of the control of the boat owner, it’s too late to consider your choice of mooring lines. But even when the weather is fine, it’s too often the case that little thought is spared on their importance. If you’re like the average boat owner, the only thought you give your mooring lines is when you’re casting them off at the beginning of the day, or tying them up at the end of the trip.
The statistics drawn from the damage suffered by boat owners during the storms prompted us to have a second look at how boat owners choose, or rather, choose not to, maintain their mooring lines. To learn more about it, we spoke with John Messenger, Mark Stredwicht and Hugh Trehane, three of the most knowledgeable men in the marine industry, and each personally involved in the cleanup and recovery after the storms. Combined, John, Mark and Hugh have over 70 years experience. On?the subject of mooring lines, and lines that come over your boat’s bow fittings in particular, the consensus of these professionals can be summed up with the phrase “chain and maintain.”
John Messenger, expert marine assessor and salvage contractor, has a low opinion of rope being used for bow fittings: “Far too many boat owners tempt fate with the state of their moorings,” he says, unequivocally. Messenger has been assessing marine insurance claims for more than 30 years and his investigations into the damage caused by the storms has only strengthened his unfavourable view of rope mooring lines. “My advice to boat owners is: go back to chains.”
Ropes are not weaker than chains – at least, not at first. The evidence suggests that ropes can be strong and dependable, but not in the long term. Ropes chafe over time, no matter how big they are or what they’re made of. When mooring ropes are stretched across the bow, the constant motion of the boat on the water can turn the bow into a saw that slowly carves its way through the rope. If the ropes are not maintained, they will chafe and, inevitably, snap.
Mark Stredwicht, Mooring Manager for Polaris Marine in NSW, says that out of 400 of his customers, maybe four or five use chains across the bow. But the thing that kept their boats safe during the storm was the fact that their ropes were well maintained. “Every twelve months, we send out reminders,” he says. “If you’re going with ropes, you have to have them looked at least once a year.”
For Stredwicht, it all comes down to simple mathematics: “After you’ve spent $40,000 or $50,000 on your boat, why wouldn’t you spend the extra $150 a year to have someone maintain your lines?”
LOOKS OVER LOGIC
As Messenger says, using ropes over bow fittings is a relatively new practice in boating. “In the old days, chains were used everywhere,” he says, “but today, too many people don’t want to bring a rusty old chain on their boat.” It seems that too many boat owners are trying to replicate the show-room look, but when choosing mooring lines, it’s important to put protection before aesthetics.
Messenger also points out that many of the fixtures currently found on the bows of boats can actually compromise the safety of the vessel. “Shiny stainless steel bow fittings these days have sharp edges that can cut through ropes like a knife,” he says.
Many boat owners assume that using plastic sleeve-guards over their mooring ropes will increase the longevity of the ropes. But this is not always the case. If neglected or improperly maintained, the sleeves hold the rope in one place and, over time, they harden, crack and cut through the rope.
The same plastic sleeves and flexible hoses are available for chain moorings, of course. Using them with chains offers the best way to maintain the aesthetics and the safety of your boat. And if you really need to avoid the ‘rusty old chain look,’ buy a new length of tested grade L chain on the birthday of your boat each year.
MAINTAIN TO RETAIN
Above everything else, Hugh Treharne, owner-operator of Treharne Mooring Systems in NSW, stresses maintenance. Hugh is a second generation moorings man whose experience has shown that there are two main criteria to consider in your selection of mooring lines used across your bow: (1) the bow fitting design and (2) the mooring location.
“PVC-covered rope should only be used if the bow-fitting is of a smooth, well-rounded and flared design,” he says, addressing the first criteria, adding: “If the bow fitting has any sharp edges or small radius curves, chain or PVC-tube-covered chains should be used.”
Furthermore, Treharne points out that the choice of chain or rope mooring lines has a lot to do with where the boat will be moored. “A?mooring site that is exposed to direct storm winds, where there is a long fetch where waves can be high makes chain the safer option.”
In any case, probably the most important choice you can make is to hire a qualified mooring contractor to oversee the installation and maintenance of your mooring lines.
No one wants to end up a statistic. But one of the most important things we can do in the aftermath of the NSW disaster is to learn from it. And one of the most useful things that we have learned is how seemingly small choices, like using chains across the bow and hiring a qualified mooring contractor, can have an enormous impact on how well your boat will fare if it ever has to endure similarly savage conditions.