Coming up to a Buoy

Prior to National Service in the RN., I was a sea cadet onboard HMS Termagant(1954) I remember a very slick operation of coming up to a buoy the result of much practice. And I have recorded it in a book I am writing
From my memory the procedure was to use the ship's whaler (a 27ft boat with four or five rowers and a cox) the crew get in the whaler together with buoy jumper/s - young sailor/s both agile and strong swimmers. The whaler was lowered to just above the water, the falls (ropes that lower the boat to the water) are fed from the whaler bow through the bullseye or fairleads on the ships fo’castle and back along the upper deck, then ‘clear lower decks’ to ‘man the falls.’ As the ship slowly approaches the buoy, the whaler is slipped into the water, the crew manning the falls heave on the falls moving swiftly along the upper deck giving the whaler way and with its tiller hard over moves rapidly away from the ship. Then rowing to the buoy, the buoy jumper leaps on to buoy who catches a heaving line from the ship to pull in a heavier line and eventually the anchor cable (chain) from which the anchor has been detached and secured to the deck with a wire strop or Blake Slip. While the Buoy activity is progressing the whaler rows back to the ship to be hoisted back on board by the crew again manning the falls. So what about the poor buoy jumper stranded on the buoy, no problem, he climbs up the anchor cable back on to the fo’c’s’le. The time from start to finish under 3 minutes. It was an excellent example of the culture of Navy training and practice of procedures repeatedly, to perfection. Although I may have witnessed this procedure several times, this description has strained my memory of 60 years, to the limit and I will be grateful if any old salt can offer more detail and corrections. Remembered also is Able Seaman Campbell who had the onerous responsibility of caring for a dozen sea cadets.


LF, one or two discrepencies in your account about "Buoy" jumping and using the whaler/cutter, (motor boat).
My buoy jumping days were in the early sixties, so I would imagine the routine was the same as in 1954.
You are correct in saying the boat was manned by coxn and crew plus buoy jumpers. But your description of the boats falls being used to move the whaler away from the ship is wrong. The whaler had Robinsons disengaging gear fitted and when slipped the for'd fall would hang straight up and down. On proceeding to sea the "boat rope" would be rigged. As you say it went from the fo'csl to the sea boat (whaler), the eye of the boat rope was secured between two thwarts, (seats) using a short length of timber. On slipping, the whaler would move away from the ships side by means of the "boat rope" and the fact that the tiller was lashed to Port using seaming twine. Once away from the ship oars were shipped and the coxn would order "slip the boat rope". The bow man would pull the baulk of timber and the boat rope would disappear over the side, at the same time the coxn would pull on the tiller bar to snap the seaming twine and start steering the seaboat. Meanwhile the boat rope was recovered by the ship and made ready to fit it to the whaler when it was hoisted inboard. The boat would stand by the buoy all the time the jumper was on it. I think the story about climbing back inboard via the cable is someone spinning dits!
Thank you so much for your reply, I was fairly sure there was someone out there with experience of coming to a buoy. I knew my description of the procedure was not totally correct and you have considerably clarified the procedure for me.

Obviously the order to ‘marry the Falls’ only comes into play when lowering and hoisting the boat, I had completely forgotten the Boat Rope and thought that somehow part of the Falls was used as a Boat rope. I feel sure the Robinson Disengaging Gear would have been used in the procedure I have described but I never did see what was going on in the whaler.

The Buoy jumper getting back on board by climbing up the anchor cable is true and I did say, ‘I suspect that this operation was a departure from strict Naval procedure in coming to a Buoy.’ it was how such an excellent time was achieved. You didn't comment on the Time.

As I said in my original Post I was a sea cadet at the time and that was 62 years ago, no wonder my memory failed me. When I eventually entered the Royal Navy in 1956, I wasn’t a ‘Sailor’ I was a Radio Mech. REM and never was involved in ‘coming to a buoy’ again but I still know my knots, lashings and splices.

I really appreciate you taking the time to make an excellent reply


Book Reviewer
Marrying the falls was a technique used only when hoisting the seaboat onboard. The lowerering was done by passing the falls around a cleat on the davits. Depending on the size of the ship it was 'both watches' or 'clear lower deck' that hoisted the boat back onboard. One set of falls inboard, one set outboard. At the command 'hoist' both would heave on their falls. If the seaboat came up at an even keel then the order 'marry the falls' was given, so by holding both falls together the seaboat would be hoisted. If, when the seaboat reached deck level and was slightly uneven, the order would be given 'separate the falls' thereby allowing them to be adjusted to bring the boat up to the davit head, where it would be secured to the cleat once again.


War Hero
I did not have that much opportunity to know the intricacies of such seamanship evolutions, but I do recall ( like the OP as a cadet) ship's company being required to hoist a whaler back on board. I can also remember an incident with the Robinson's disengaging gear ( mentioned by Onions) when someone failed to mouse the pin; the boat was swiftly cleared of personnel apart from a hapless midshipman, who was instructed by the 1st Lt to "hold it with your fingers, boy!"
There was a wail of "It's slipping, sir!" followed by a bang, with 27 feet of seaboat plunging seawards, suspended by just one fall. The midshipman made a spectacular but ungracious entry to the English Channel, and was fortunately recovered unhurt. We were afterwards told that this illustrated precisely why personnel should never sit other than between the falls; to do otherwise risked being cut in two in the event of such an accident.
Thanks Granny
The procedure is now making sense to me, I can see that that lowering with falls around a cleat would enable individual adjustments to be made to keep the sea boat on an even keel. I knew that there were gaps in my memory, and you have really updated it. I now have a much clearer memory of the whole procedure. It would great to see a video of it all.
Thanks for your input Wightsparker
An interesting tale but discredits my claim of the culture of Navy training and practicing procedures repeatedly, to perfection! Hopefully perfection was ultimately achieved. LF


When the order "out pins" is given the bowman is Not to remove his pin, before the coxn removes the aft falls pin. As an aside, when and where did you join the RN?


Book Reviewer
It always amazed me how the first turn around the cleat was done with all the weight of the seaboat on the falls when it reaches the davit head. Heart in mouth on many occasion. lol