Line Handling in Shipping: Techniques and Guidelines

Best practices for line handling in shipping operations

Line handling in shipping is mooring the vessel to the dock along the shoreline for berthing. The vessels sailing the sea reach the destination port and are anchored for unloading and loading the ship before its departure. The ship is secured using ropes that attach the vessel to the shoreline structures. After mooring, the ship is positioned and ready for unloading and loading processes. The benefits of mooring vessels are that they minimize the movement of ships during berthing, allow easy loading and unloading, assist in systematic departure, and avoid vessel collisions with other vessels or port structures. Let us learn how line handling occurs in shipping. 

What is line handling in shipping?  

In maritime shipping, vessels are berthed at shipping ports to load and unload shipping containers and passengers. Line handling refers to anchoring of ships on a dock for mooring. Line handling systematically and effectively manages the ship’s mooring lines and securing the vessel on the port or berth when it arrives. It also handles the departure of ships for other ports. Vessels docked at ports tend to float on the water and may drift away due to turbulence or sea waves. Mooring lines help position the ship in its place during its docking period to prevent the ship from drifting away from its berth. Personnel working along the shoreline are responsible for mooring the ships and coordinating with the ship’s crew to ensure the timely allocation of berths and proper anchoring of ships. The mooring operations are performed on the ship’s deck, and personnel need to follow an effective mooring technique to reduce the risks of maritime accidents.  

What are the key elements of effective line handling in shipping?  

The maritime workers are responsible for effectively handling the vessel to ensure a safe and efficient berthing and departure of vessels by implementing a well-planned ship mooring strategy. The key elements contributing to a successful line-handling operation are –  

  1. Clear communication – Seafarers, such as the ship’s crew, harbor workers, and shoreside personnel, must follow standardized communication during line handling and know the signals used while berthing the ship. Lack of communication can delay reserving and acquiring shipping berths at ports and properly anchoring the ships. 
  2. Systematic planning – Based on the ship’s design, the crew and port authorities devise a mooring plan to allow adequate space for berthing and allow ships to depart easily on their schedules. 
  3. Weather considerations – Weather conditions are crucial in drafting a vessel mooring plan. Conditions like wind, tide, and current can significantly impact the efficiency and possibility of timely line handling. All the personnel involved in line mooring must know the proper techniques to work under different climatic conditions. 
  4. Sufficient equipment – The mooring process uses multiple pieces of equipment, including winches, capstans, and bollards, that are crucial for effective line handling. Based on the type of ship incoming, the crew and port workers must be prepared with well-maintained and appropriately sized equipment. It is necessary to ensure the timely availability of this equipment to minimize port congestion and passenger or cargo unloading delays.  
  5. Safety standards – Line handling is challenging, especially as it involves risks of injuries and fatal accidents that can damage ships and risk human life. Shipping companies need to adhere strictly to safety procedures. The ships’ personnel must be well aware of all safety and emergency procedures and wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent accidents and injuries at the port. 

Benefits of line handling 

The advantages of line handling in shipping are as follows – 

  1. Securing the ships appropriately – Ships anchored in ports are likely to float and move along the ocean tides and collide with adjacent ships, damaging their hulls and decks. Inefficient line handling in shipping, where the ship is anchored with well-maintained and correctly tensioned lines, helps address vessel safety and reduces the risk of the ship’s collision with other vessels or port structures. It also ensures the safety of crew and personnel. 
  2. Efficiency in berthing and departure – The ships are moored based on a systematic plan to allow easy docking and undocking operations within time. The greater the efficiency of the line handling, the smoother the berthing and departure processes of the vessel. Line handling assists in having precise control over the ship’s movement for passenger or cargo loading and unloading. 
  3. Easy cargo handling – Properly and securely moored vessels act as stable platforms that allow unrestricted cargo loading and unloading. This safeguards the lives of port workers, as inefficient line handling can cause the ship to drift, leading to difficulties for workers.  
  4. Minimizes vessel downtime – A significant factor contributing to the efficiency and productivity of shipping ports is the capability of ports to minimize the time required for berthing, unloading, loading and departure of the vessel from the port. Proper line handling helps ensure faster turnaround times for vessels in ports. 
  5. Cost savings – Effective line handling in shipping is essential for ship owners, port operators, and the port management system, as it helps reduce damage to the port infrastructure and other vessels in weather-related accidents. Minimizing the risk of accidents and associated damage reduces damage control and maintenance investments, leading to cost savings. 

Technique of line handling in shipping  

The process of line handling in shipping and the techniques involved are as follows- 

  1. Heaving lines – It is difficult to directly connect the mooring lines from the shore to the vessel by throwing them onboard. Heaving lines are thin ropes the shoreside workers throw on the vessel for the crew to catch. It helps in connecting the vessel to the shore. The lightweight of the heaving lines makes it easier to throw at longer distances. 
  2. Pulling mooring lines – The skilled and trained personnel on the shore and in the vessel must be efficient at catching and pulling the lines to pull heavier mooring lines through these heaving lines. 
  3. Placement of spring lines – The use of spring lines in vessel mooring controls the ship’s fore and aft movement. It helps maintain the vessel’s positioning and prevents excess movement while afloat at berths. The spring lines are connected to the vessel at right angles from the shore. 
  4. Securing breast lines – These ropes are attached to the ship’s bow or stern and help keep the vessel near the dock. The breast lines in line handling prevent the vessel’s sideways movement and are the first line to be secured on the ship while docking. 
  5. Understanding knots – The crew and shoreline personnel secure the mooring lines to the bollards, cleats or other structures in the dock by tying a range of knots such as bowline, round turn, clove hitch, etc. It is necessary to lock the ship to the shore using appropriate knots. 
  6. Line tension – The weather conditions at sea keep on fluctuating. Thus, it is necessary to monitor line tensions. The mooring lines must be neither too loose nor too tight. Adjustments must be made to the various mooring lines based on the environmental conditions. 
  7. Communication technique – The distance between the vessel crew and shore personnel makes communication challenging. Therefore, various hand signals in line handling, such as circular hand movements in the air, crossed arms and raised hands with clenched fists, are devised to communicate. 

Guidelines for efficient line handling 

Shipping companies must adhere to these guidelines to ensure effective line handling in shipping. 

  1. All the extra crew and personnel onboard, except those involved in vessel mooring, must be asked to leave the vessel for their safety and the security of other crew members. 
  2. The ship’s master and the responsible authority must note the weather conditions at sea beforehand. This helps in planning the right time to commence mooring operations. 
  3. All personnel must know the snap-back zone and rope bight (U-shaped loops and knots made from the rope). If the mooring line breaks, all the tension and energy are released through the snack back zones, which may even cause injuries or fatalities.  
  4. Proper maintenance and equipment availability, such as mooring winch, drums, etc., is necessary. 
  5. The size and material of the mooring line must match the length and material of the breast line, spring line and bow line. Mixed mooring must be avoided as it leads to uneven mooring. 
  6. The workers must tend to only one line at a time; otherwise, it may cause tension on the other lines. 

These guidelines for line handling in shipping increase the effectiveness of the techniques involved in vessel mooring. 

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