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OK, rant of the day… I HATE when people/businesses fill every square inch of usable anchoring space with mooring balls and then feel that they have the right to charge exorbitant daily fees to use them.

Is there a place for mooring balls? Of course there is. There are certain spots where the bottom is too deep or falls off too rapidly to allow for proper anchoring. Saba is apparently like that and so are certain places in St. Lucia. There are also spots that have been officially designated marine parks where the government has installed mooring balls to prevent damage to the reefs. I have no problem with either of those two situations. What I do have a problem with is restaurant owners who fill the bay adjacent to their business with balls, or other opportunists who do the same, and then sit back and collect a ridiculous amount of money for their efforts, especially if they do little to maintain the moorings. We hear that the going rate for a mooring ball in the BVIs is 30 bucks although I can’t verify that with first hand knowledge. While I have, on occasion, been agreeable to paying $10.00 to pick up a ball that I know has been well maintained, I will be damned if I will pay $30.00. It’s just not happening!

“Balls” is the word my Dad would say when he wanted to curse. Now I can understand why. 🙂

In the land of bareboat charterers, which the BVIs most certainly is, mooring balls are also a bit of a double-edged sword. Many of those people chartering boats have little experience with anchoring so picking up a ball is, no doubt, much easier for them, especially given that many of the boats being rented have, by cruiser standards at least, inadequate ground tackle. But, in always opting to tie to a fixed mooring, these same people never actually learn how to anchor properly and when forced to, because they arrive at an anchorage late in the day after all of the balls are gone, they are stuck*.

*I shared this story on our Facebook Page the other day but I’ll post it here too just so that those of you not out here cruising can get an idea of some of the silliness we witness. Last Saturday, we sat on our friends’ boat watching a poor group of sailors on a Leopard 4600 try to anchor over and over (all of the mooring balls were taken by this point in the day). After dropping their anchor right in front of us, one of their crew jumped in the water wearing a mask and snorkel to swim out and check the anchor. This was not a bad idea as the bottom in that spot is very bad. As he was swimming back to the boat after making his inspection, the remaining people on board obviously decided that they didn’t like that spot and proceeded to pull the anchor back up. Just when the swimmer made it to the back of the boat, they started motoring forward. As he swam towards the boat trying to catch it, it continued to stay just out of his reach. At this point he is visibly gassed, panics and yells HELP but no one on board the Leopard heard, with the exception of the helmsperson, they were all on the trampoline and had forgotten all about him! By now he looks as if he is in real trouble, rolls over onto his back and tries to float. Finally, one of the other passengers notices, says something to the helmsperson and then goes back to the stern to give him a hand. After first relaying this story, some people asked why we didn’t do anything as this was unfolding in front of us. To be honest, it was so unbelievable that we were stunned. Just another crazy day in the islands!


  1. I am with you on this one “BALLS” As you know in the states the government is putting in BALLS… in the best anchorages

  2. … or as we see frequently in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands: People put out mooring balls, most of which are not intended or suited for mooring at all, for the sole purpose of keeping boats from anchoring in “their” view.

    s/v Eolian

  3. How do you know which size of ball is appropriate to your size of boat?

    How do you know which ones have reliable ground tackle and risers?


    • The truth, you don’t!

      Many established mooring fields are written up in guide books so they may give details. Some balls are also labeled with the size of boat they are intended to hold. All that means little though. You need to check them yourself. The challenge is, in the case that I described where the water is too deep to anchor, it is likely to deep for people to properly check without dive gear.

      As an example, a friend of ours tied up to a mooring ball in Saba. There are installed by the island’s park dept. I assume. The ball was attached to NOTHING! All that was holding his boat was the weight of the chain. As you can imagine, it did not hold his boat in place and he dragged closer and closer to the rocks. He noticed it just in the nick of time. By then it was near dark and he had to go searching for another ball, not knowing how well it would be attached.

      Another example, Rebecca and I tied our DINGHY up to a PARK mooring in the Grenadines. We were there to snorkel so, just for kicks, I dove on it. The sand screw was half out of the ground and bent at an almost 90 degree angle. I do not think that it would have held a real boat!

      THIS, in addition to the obvious money grab which I have a thing against, is the reason we prefer to use our own anchor.

      • A mooring ball SHOULD be attached to a 3+ tonne granite boulder, a sand screw a metre long weighing over a hundred kilos, a rock bolt drilled into the bedrock, or some other seriously massive, seriously sturdy point.

        And yet I keep hearing stories about balls tied to old car engines, to the worm screws you use to tie up a dog in a yard, to bundles of concrete blocks….

        If I had a quarter-million dollars tied up in a yacht, I would not trust that yacht to an unknown mooring without some good assurance that it’s built properly. Your own anchor’s performance is a known, predictable quantity.

  4. I wonder how some commercial entity such as a restaurant lays claim to these mooring ball spaces?

    In a crowded harbor situation I’d be tempted to use a commercial ball and pay nothing since (in my opinion) they have no right to hijack the space that would otherwise be available for anchoring.

    On the subject of seamanship, it’s quite amazing how many charter operations have stretched the requirements for ‘captaincy’ to such a thin veneer. I imagine that this is only possible because the damages that rightly follow are simply absorbed by the companies and/or their insurance arms as part of doing business. It’s sad that the so much of the self-responsible, competent culture of the sailors from an earlier time (60’s ~ 70’s) is being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of chartering commercialism.

    • How do they do it? They just do. This ain’t the US or Canada where people need a permit for every single thing!

      As for using it and not paying, they don’t own the water but they do own the tackle so if you use it, they can expect you to pay. It would not be worth the confrontation.

  5. Mike, I completely agree with the points you made, but MY biggest complaint would be a harbor full of “private” balls that eliminate the space to anchor. We saw this repeatedly from Maine to Massachusetts, these “private” balls seemed to always be empty, but be in such poor condition that it would be ill advised to borrow one for a night. They blocked the ability to use our own ground tackle, filling the best places to anchor. We’d have to anchor outside the harbor and yet there were no boats nearby, just empty balls – very frustrating.

      • if the balls are empty is there anything that would keep you from dropping your own anchor down in a field of empty balls ?

        • Most times it is preferred that you not anchor in the middle of the mooring field. Just because the balls are empty when you arrive does not mean that they will stay so. This is especially true around here where the charter boats all roll in around 4 PM.

  6. I hear your frustrations, but the other perspective is that the BVI’s are a heavenly and easy sailing ground for first-time bareboat charters who want to leave thir home port and sail somewhere new and beautiful without much difficulty. The mooring balls mean bareboat newbies can secure their charter boat in a harbor without worrying about the quality of their unfamiliar ground tackle. Also most weekend sailors don’t have much prior experience anchoring near their home port so having cheap mooring balls made available is a relief to them.

    It was making trips to sail the BVIs that inspired a then-newbie like me to consider full-time cruising and going out to trickier territories. We all have to start somewhere. And many start in the BVIs.

    Plus, consider the amount of tourist money the BVIs attracts by making those mooring balls accessible to less-experienced sailors than cruisers like yourselves. And that money helps the islands’ economy. After all, they make more money from short-term charters down there than they do from long-term cruisers.

    Just another angle to consider 🙂

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