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Something that I have been pondering lately is the psychology surrounding mooring vs. anchoring. Specifically, why is it that some people gravitate towards affixing their boats to mooring balls, and yet others, given the same opportunity, always anchor? I used to think that it was simply a financial matter – that those who were frugal, like us, preferred to take the free option and anchor – but now I think it’s more than that. It seems to me that, in some misguided way, certain people seem eager to pass on the responsibility for their boat. And if that’s the case, it’s sad, because it’s just not possible to do so.

Sometimes there is no other option except to leave.

I am fully aware that there are places where taking a mooring is the only option available. Marine parks often prohibit anchoring to protect the sea bed, and other spots are simply too deep to anchor well, or the bottom is unsuitable. And, of course, there are the highly commercialized areas where the local businesses simply want to pack in as many boats as possible. If you choose to frequent these locations, your options are limited.

There are other places though that are perfectly suitable for anchoring, and yet some people still choose to use a mooring ball, and pay for the privilege. Why, I’m not sure. Do they believe that their boat will be safer? If so, based upon all the accounts that I have read, and the ones that I have witnessed first hand, I think that they are greatly mistaken!

Some might have noted that while running charters in the Virgins, we occasionally tied up to mooring balls. This was purely for efficiency’s sake, as anchoring properly takes time. In these cases, we were busy focusing on our guests, and so made some concessions. As we gained more and more local knowledge though, the ratio of anchoring to moorings swung more in favor of using our own ground tackle.

Statistically speaking, you are safer at anchor.*

Do boats drag anchor? Of course they do. We hear about it every time a weather system blows through. It seems to me that this most often occurs in storm conditions, and/or when there is a big shift in wind direction, and the boat’s anchor is unable to reset. Those with more modern anchors (we use a Mantus, and have had no trouble with it resetting), and the knowledge of how to anchor properly, seem to be less affected by this.

Mooring balls have to be safer though, right? In my experience, no, they are not!

  • I have personally observed the obviously-too-small concrete blocks of virtually new moorings turned over on their sides, having been dragged by boats in less-than-storm conditions.
  • I have personally retrieved a broken mooring ball and pennant from shore, fortunately with no boat attached to it (see video about). Our friends just had one float by their boat yesterday!
  • I have been on hand to rescue a boat from the rocks after the mooring that it was affixed to failed.

And that’s just ones that I have seen with my own two eyes! The list of other moorings failing, often with catastrophic results, is longer than my arm!

Chris Doyle, well-respected author of Caribbean cruising guides, had this to say on his Facebook page:

“We, in the Caribbean, do not do moorings very well as a general rule. There are exceptions (Saintes are good so far, also many marinas and some marine parks). However, you cannot take it that, just because someone (or you) ties to a ball, your boat is safe. A mooring broke recently in Canouan with the total loss of a new 65 foot cat. Now there have been two in Saba, and one of the Saba ones brings up a new problem. If there is a mooring and plenty of line, can it hook on the under-body of your yacht, and then chafe with changing tides? That appears to have happened in one case. (And could also happen with an anchor and rope rode). Always snorkel on moorings and figure out if they are safe for you. Take nothing for granted. Be safe! I feel very sorry for the Saba park, I know they really try.”

What are the Saba incidents that he’s referring to? This one and this one.

Kudos to the salvage crew!

You are ultimately responsible!

As Mr. Doyle mentioned above, people are encouraged to dive on any mooring that they attach to in order to check its security, but often that’s difficult to do. As I wrote above, moorings are frequently put in places where the water is very deep, and most don’t have the ability to free-dive down to check them fully. Perhaps that is one reason why using your own ground tackle is safer, because you have the opportunity to inspect every inch of it each time you deploy and retrieve it?

Certainly, if the mooring you paid to be on fails, you’d be covered by someone’s insurance right? Well, your own perhaps, but good luck in getting someone else to take responsibility. I’m betting that just isn’t going to happen!

To be fair, we’ve witnessed at least one boat being beached after dragging their own anchor, but that was on the edge of a tropical storm. Even taking that into account, I’d still put my money – and I DO put my money (boat) – on a well-set anchor. The big irony of this post is that, if we wanted to leave our boat unattended here in Martinique, we could not leave her secured on her own ground tackle. Aside from the obvious marina or boatyard options, we’d be required to leave her on a mooring ball. At least, that’s what I have read.

*Based upon my own extremely-unscientific, uncontrolled survey.


  1. Thanks for the info.

  2. I tend to agree, and yet the trimaran headed out to sea that we rescued two weeks ago was “anchored”.

    • Yes, we have also been in a rescue party to re-anchor an unmanned, dragging cat. The number of boats being beached, especially in recent memory, have far more often been the result of a failed mooring. As I said though, a very unscientific analysis.

  3. In the Pardey’s book “Cost Conscious Cruiser”, they outline an anchoring strategy for leaving your boat unattended for a long stretch. They also subscribe to the anchor before mooring belief.

  4. I only pick up a mooring when forced to. When there is literally no other option.

    You just don’t know what’s down there, and if it’s deep or murky, you never will.

    Also our boat is larger than what most moorings are set up for. So unless I have spoken with the owner of the mooring and explicitly reviewed the size of my boat with them, I won’t consider picking it up.

    That being said, there are times when you have to. Some places, like St. Johns in the national park, or Savusavu in Fiji, where anchoring just isn’t practical. And in truth, if I am leaving my boat for a while, the advantage of being on a rented mooring is that someone else is looking at it.

    But on the whole I’d rather be anchored every night I can be.

    And yeah, I’m a cheapskate too. I don’t like to pay someone so I can sleep on my own boat.

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