Basic Seamanship: Line Handling

Basic Seamanship

If you are new to the industry, and have never been on a large vessel before. It can be pretty intimidating. Especially when part of your duties include handling mooring lines. Basic Seamanship is a vital part of any deck ratings daily duties. As you become a seasoned mariner, your basic seamanship improves, not only in handling lines, but every aspect of your daily duties. 

This article on Basic Seamanship: Line Handling will give you a brief overview of how to properly handle lines, What dangers to look for when line handling, and some proper terms when handling lines.

Making Up Lines

When line is removed from the manufactures coil, the line may be made up by either winding it on a reel or by Coiling Down, Faking Down, or Flemishing.

Coiling Down 

Coiling down a line means laying it up in circles, one on top of the other. To coil down a line properly, always coil down a right-laid line clockwise, and a left-laid line counterclockwise.

Faking Down

Faking down a line is laying it in long, flat bights, one alongside the other, instead of in coils. Faking down a line is usually done to make the line run out more easily. Mooring lines are usually faked down to make mooring easier.


Flemishing a line is done in successive circles (one beside the other) with the bitter end in the center of the circle. Right-laid line is flemished clockwise, and Left-laid line counterclockwise.The easiest way to flemish a line is to lay down loosley on deck, then place hand in the center of the line and twisting (either clockwise or counterclockwise) until you have the appearance of a mat.

Line Handling

Heaving lines and messenger lines are small lines used to carry larger lines across from one point to another. Heaving lines usually have either a monkey’s fist or a rubber ball at the end of the line to make it easier to throw.

Mooring Lines

Mooring lines are the large lines used by vessels to tie it up. Each line has a name to describe its location. 

Waist Line (Breast Line)

 The line that runs perpendicular to the vessel’s keel. This line is used to help hold the vessel close to the pier or dock.

After Spring Line

 is used to stop the vessel’s forward motion when mooring. The stern line is also used to stop the vessel’s forward motion.

Forward spring line

 Along with the bow line, are the lines used to stop the vessel’s after motion.

Warping the Vessel

 Means to use the lines to shift the vessel either forward or aft.

Chafing Gear

This gear is put around the line where the line goes through the mooring chock. Chafing gear protects the line from the chock. It is usually made of heavier canvas.

Line Commands

Hold the line means do not allow the line to slip.

Check the line– means hold the line, but ease it off when

necessary so that the line does not part.

Ease the line– Means pay out enough to remove most of the


Slack the line– Means pay out the line so all tension is removed.

Take a strain– Means put the line under tension.


Line Dangers

Handling mooring lines is a very dangerous endeavor. Knowing where to stand to avoid “snapback” will keep you in the Safety Zone. Be sure you look out for your fellow crew members as well when handling mooring lines. 

Your position should NOT be directly behind the line, but rather beside it. A line that is taking a lot of stress usually “creeks” this is an indication that the line is close to it’s breaking point. 

Remember to ALWAYS take one round turn on the bitts before you start your figure eight.


If you are new to the industry, please remember that basic seamanship & safety are the most important factor when mooring a vessel. The senior crew members should be showing you the in’s and out’s of line handling as part of your vessel orientation. 

Remember that no two vessels are the same. So even if you are a veteran of the Maritime Industry, you can learn something from someone who has been on the vessel longer.

We must keep each other safe out there. Stay Safe Shipmates!

If you are looking to get your Captains License, you can read our article on: Captains License: Step by Step to Issuance

If you are looking to take any maritime courses give MTC Maritime Training Center a try. They have some of the best instructors in the industry.

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