Capable mariners

Once in a while I see something that restores at least a small bit of my faith in the capacity of the seafarer profession to transcend some of its own worst tendencies.

While standing by with our barge at a lay berth, I watched as a small containership approached the dock just ahead of us. The ship came in at roughly a 20°-to-30° angle to the dock, which was to port, with a 15-to-20-knot wind running parallel along the face. It had an assist tug with them, but it was standing by off the starboard side with no line up, ready to help, but not in the way. They eased past us, closing slowly and steadily on the dock.

By the time the ship’s stern was clear ahead of our barge’s bow, the ship’s bow was about 100′ off the dock. That’s when I saw a heaving line go streaking over. At that moment, I saw one of the crewman on the stern of the ship drop a few feet of small shot line down from his left hand and, with a deft flick of the wrist, set it spinning counterclockwise.

Within a few revolutions he had simultaneously gained speed and fed out more shot line until he reached a toggle in the line and the radius of the circle was about 10′. After another quickening four or five spins, he released it from about 100′ away. The line arced beautifully and the weighted end (yes, a weighted end) landed with a dull thud on the dock about three feet in from the edge.

It did not bounce, roll or otherwise move, and the line-handlers quickly darted over and grabbed it. Soon they were pulling over stern line as it was fed off the drum, and by the time the ship had closed to within 50′ the line had been dropped on a bollard and was slowly winched in.

Between the forces from the two mooring lines and the thrusters, the ship was brought dockside in a very controlled fashion. They never used the assist tug until the very end, pinning the ship until they were “all fast.”

About the author

Joel Milton

Joel Milton has worked aboard fishing boats, pilot boats, Coast Guard cutters and small boats, dredge tenders, offshore crewboats and supply boats, towing vessels, a small container ship, and a wide variety of small craft including an inflatable yellow “ducky” The Piker.


  1. Avatar
    CAPT Hugh Stephens on

    Dear Joel,
    What is a “shot” line? How does it differ from a heaving line?
    I can’t quite see how a counter-clockwise spinning line with a 10′ radius can suddenly travel horizontally 100′.
    I teach Seamanship at SUNY Maritime and would like to pass it on to my students once I understand how it can be done.

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.