Everything you need to know about mooring balls in the BVI

Catamaran in a mooring field

When you are sailing in the British Virgin Islands, each night you’ll stay in a cove. To secure your boat for the night, you’ll have the option to “grab a mooring ball” instead of anchoring. You also may moor during the day as some great snorkeling spots are in protected waters where you’ll need to moor instead of anchoring in order to avoid damaging coral.

What is a mooring ball?

A mooring ball is a place to safely secure your boat for a few hours or the night. A mooring ball floats on the surface and is connected to a large, heavy anchor permanently attached to the seabed. A length of line called a pennant – usually with a loop at the end – is attached to the mooring ball. You attach your boat to the pennant. There are various reasons why you might use a mooring ball instead of anchoring:

  • to protect coral from the damage of anchoring
  • to be able to stay in waters that might be too deep for anchoring
  • lack of good anchoring surface
  • ease of use – many charters are more comfortable grabbing a mooring ball than anchoring (but make sure you do know how to anchor too!)

How do you grab a mooring ball?

You are going to end up with two lines attached to the pennant. One going from your starboard side through the pennant and back to the same cleat and one going from your port side through the pennant and back to the same port side cleat. Your boat will automatically float to the downwind side of the mooring ball and up facing into the wind.

bvi theo 032

Photo by Glenn Malone

Your boat should have come with a long pole with a hook on it. You’ll use that to grab the pennant.

  • Get your lines ready, attach one end to the forward cleats (one starboard and one port) that you will be using.
  • Decide who is going to catch the pennant. Have them stand up on the bow with the boat hook. Decide on good hand signals before hand. The driver may not be able to see the mooring ball and pennant and so the person at the front of the boat needs to be able to indicate via hand signals if you should go left, right or straight ahead or stop.
  • Decide what mooring ball you are going to approach. Make sure nobody else is heading for it. Try to avoid racing for a mooring ball.
  • Approach the mooring ball from downwind, so that you are driving into the wind.
    • Approach as slowly as you can. (If you are going to fast, your crew will have trouble grabbing the pennant. If you are going to fast and they succeed in grabbing the pennant, they may be pulled overboard.)
    • You will want to be using your motors not your sail power for this until you are much more experienced.
    • If you miss the mooring ball, just circle around and try again. Be careful not to drive over the mooring ball or the pennant.
  • The person in the bow with the pole should hook the pennant as soon as possible and then run one of the lines through the eye in the pennant and quickly attach the lose end back to the same cleat the line came from.
    • Know before hand where they are going to put the boat hook while they are attaching the lines so that it doesn’t go overboard!)
    • Once you have a line attached, be sure you are no longer applying forward power!
    • Attaching the line back to the same cleat prevents chaffing. If you run a line from a starboard cleat through the pennant and then to the port side, the line will rub agains the pennant all night and it may fray enough to break.
  • Take the other line and run it through the pennant as well and back to its cleat.
  • Jump in and check out your mooring line and pennant. Make sure they look strong and not frayed.

The loop is what you will put your line through. Your two lines will be where the chain in the photo is. Photo by Domiriel

How much do they cost?

$25-35/night. The average is about $30/night. On St John in the USVI, you pay $15/night to the national park service. Someone will come around to collect your money usually around 5pm. Be sure to get a receipt. In one harbor, different mooring balls may be owned by different companies.

cooper sign says pay at  the bar

At Cooper a sign at the bar directs you to pay at the bar.


Where can you find a mooring ball?

Almost any major harbor. The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands book will provide you a current list of mooring sites that are available.

Do the mooring balls fill up?

You will not usually have any problem finding a mooring ball in the BVI. They’ve been adding more over the past few years too. Sometimes it’s a problem to find a place to anchor! (You should never anchor in a mooring field.) Some times Cooper will fill up, so people try to get there early. However, you can get there too early as Cooper as a good lunch crowd and people often leave after a late lunch. If Cooper is full, you can easily sail or motor over to Trellis, Marina Cay or Peter Island.

How do you know what type of mooring ball it is?

Most overnight moorings are white. A few colors are reserved for other types of moorings:

  • National Park moorings are red, are for day time use and have a 90 minute limit. You’ll find them at some snorkeling spots and at frequently visited places like the Baths. 
  • Yellow are for commercial dive vessels.
  • Dinghy moorings are blue. There’s usually two of them with a line between them. You tie your dinghy to the line not to a pennant.

Grabbing a mooring ball will take a bit of practice the first couple of times – be supportive of your crew if they miss the first few times! But after a few tries – and some good hand signals – most people find it a very convenient and stress free way to secure their boat for the night.