Title:
Dock locking system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A dock line assembly for docking a vessel comprises a housing, first and second lines connected opposing ends of the housing, and a dampener contained within the housing and adapted to allow for axially extension and retraction of the first line relative to the second line. The first or second lines are configured to be deployable to a selectively adjustable length and lockable thereat in order to accommodate varying lengths between the vessel and the dock or mooring. The dock line assembly may further comprise a biasing element adapted to bias the first and second lines towards one another following axially extension or retraction under the influence of compressive or tensile forces transmitted as a result of wind, weather, tide or wake action.



Inventors:
Lawson, Michael (Palm Desert, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/643210
Publication Date:
12/20/2007
Filing Date:
12/21/2006
Assignee:
Auto-Mooring, Incorporated
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B63B21/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
AVILA, STEPHEN P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
STETINA BRUNDA GARRED & BRUCKER (ALISO VIEJO, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A dock line assembly for docking a vessel, comprising; a tubular housing having opposing first and second housing ends and defining a longitudinal axis; a first line connected to the first end and being adapted to be interconnected to a dock; a second line connected to the second end and being adapted to be interconnected to a vessel; and a dampener contained within the housing and having opposing first and second dampener ends and being adapted to allow axial extension and retraction of the housing along the longitudinal axis, the first and second dampener ends being connected to respective ones of the first and second lines; wherein: at least one of the first and second lines being deployable to a selectively adjustable length; the dampener being adapted to absorb energy transmitted between the first and second lines during relative movement of the opposing first and second dampener ends.

2. The dock line assembly of claim 1 further comprising: a spool rotatably connected to the dampener and having one of the first and second lines wrappable thereabout; wherein: the spool is configured to alternately reel out and reel in one of the first and second lines wrapped thereabout.

3. The dock line assembly of claim 2 further comprising a spool lock assembly adapted to prevent rotational motion of the spool such that extension and retraction of at least one of the first and second lines is prevented.

4. The dock line assembly of claim 3 wherein: the spool lock assembly is comprised of an annular shoulder formed on an end of the spool and having at least one bore extending radially thereinto; the housing further including a locking pin adapted to be selectively engageable with the bore to prevent rotation of the spool.

5. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein the dampener is adapted to absorb tensile forces transmitted between the first and second lines.

6. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein the dampener is configured as a gas shock assembly.

7. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein the dampener is configured as a hydraulic shock assembly.

8. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the first and second lines is fabricated of material including carbon fiber.

9. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the first and second lines is fabricated of steel cable.

10. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the first and second ends includes a resilient cushion disposed thereon.

11. The dock line assembly of claim 1 further comprising a tether line connected to a lateral side of the housing.

12. The dock line assembly of claim 11 wherein the tether line is adapted to be secured to a dock.

13. The dock line assembly of claim 1 further comprising a resilient biasing element adapted to bias the first and second lines toward one another.

14. The dock line assembly of claim 13 wherein the resilient biasing element is configured as a coil spring coaxially disposed within the housing and having at least one of the first and second lines connected thereto.

15. The dock line assembly of claim 13 wherein the resilient biasing element is configured as an elastomeric element disposed within the housing and.

16. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein the housing is comprised of a pair of telescoping tubular sleeves axially slidable relative to one another.

17. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein at least one of the first and second housing ends is adapted to be removably attached to the housing.

18. The dock line assembly of claim 1 wherein the dampener is adapted to absorb compressive forces transmitted between the first and second housing ends.

19. A boat dock adapted for securing a vessel thereto, the vessel having a boat cleat mounted thereon, the boat dock comprising: at least one dock cleat mounted to the boat dock; at least one dock line assembly connectable to the dock cleat and including: a tubular housing having opposing first and second housing ends and defining a longitudinal axis; a first line connected to the first end and being adapted to be interconnected to the dock cleat; a second line connected to the second end and being adapted to be interconnected to a vessel the boat cleat; a dampener mounted within the housing and having opposing first and second dampener ends connected to respective ones of the first and second lines and being adapted to allow axial extension and retraction along the longitudinal axis; wherein: at least one of the first and second lines being axially extensible to a selectively adjustable length; the dampener being adapted to absorb energy transmitted between the first and second lines during axial extension of the opposing first and second dampener ends.

20. The boat dock of claim 19 further comprising at least one locking device adapted to secure the first line to the dock cleat.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to co-pending Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/814,455, filed Jun. 19, 2006, the entire contents of which is expressly incorporated by reference herein.

STATEMENT RE: FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH/DEVELOPMENT

Not Applicable

BACKGROUND

The present invention relates generally to energy absorbing devices and, more particularly, to a uniquely configured lockable dock line assembly which is specifically adapted for eliminating damage that may occur to a vessel during docking or mooring. The dock line assembly reduces potentially damaging shock forces transmitted to the vessel as a result of vessel movement under the force of wind, tides or large wakes from passing ships. The dock line assembly also improves safety for passengers boarding or disembarking from the vessel by preventing sudden movements of the vessel caused by the above-noted forces.

The conventional practice of securing a ship or boat to a boat dock or mooring typically includes the use of a series of ropes or lines extending between the boat and the dock. Conventional dock lines are arranged and secured in order to prevent substantial movement of the boat which may otherwise cause the boat to make contact with the dock, a pier or an adjacent boat. As is known in the art, boat hulls may be fabricated of lightweight materials such as wood and/or fiberglass and are therefore susceptible to cracking upon contact with relatively hard surfaces. As such, most vessels are secured to a dock so as to prevent fore-and-aft movement of the vessel in addition to preventing lateral movement of the vessel.

For these purposes, the vessel is secured at its bow by means of a bow line extending from a cleat mounted on the bow of the vessel to a cleat mounted on the dock. A stern line is typically used to secure the aft part of the ship or stern to the dock by means of a cleat mounted on the stern to a second cleat mounted on the dock. In addition, third and/or fourth lines may be extended from the same or alternative boat cleat(s) to dock cleats. The third and fourth lines are typically referred to as spring lines and are specifically oriented to extend at an angle forward and aft from the dock cleat in order to better resist fore-and-aft movement of the vessel.

In conventional docking practice, lateral movement of the vessel is further prevented by means of resilient bumpers or fenders which are typically dangled or hung over the side of the vessel. The boat fenders are positioned between the vessel hull and the dock in a manner to prevent direct contact therebetween which would otherwise cause damage to the vessel hull in the form of abrasions, cracking or even holes forming as a result of repeated or heavy impact of the vessel hull with the dock. The boat fenders are typically positioned between the vessel hull and the dock lines at the bow and stern of the vessel and the dock lines are tightened such that the fenders are in close proximity to or are captured between the vessel hull and the dock.

Despite the conventional practice incorporating the use of boat fenders in combination with bow, stern line and spring lines, damage to the vessel is still possible under extreme conditions. For example, in certain geographic locations, extreme tidal shifts occur. Although many modern docks are adapted to move up and down with the changing tides, certain docks are of the non-floating variety. These docks are rigidly supported above the water by means of pilings extending into the floor of the body of water above which the dock is supported.

Non-floating docks may be installed in locations where tide changes are minimal. However, it is possible that such docks may be installed in locations where extreme tide changes may sporadically occur or the water levels may rise as a result of tidal surge due to storm or hurricane activity. Damage to the vessel may therefore occur if the vessel is docked with the bow, stern and spring lines securing the vessel snuggly against the dock bumpers. As the tide goes out, extreme amounts of tension can develop in the line which can cause the line to break of cause the cleats to partially or fully release from their mounting locations on the dock or vessel. Once unsecured, the vessel can cause extensive damage to adjacent property as well as damage to the vessel itself.

Another scenario where damage can occur is in the case of adverse weather. More specifically, high winds acting against the vessel can place extreme amounts of tensile load on the dock lines as the wind tries to push the vessel away from the dock to which it is secured. Alternatively, the direction of the wind may be such that the vessel is pushed into the dock which may result in damage to the hull should the vessel fenders move out of position. Damage to the vessel can be fairly substantial if the vessel hull continues to rub and pound against the dock as the vessel moves up and down in choppy water conditions as may occur during a storm.

Another cause of damage to the vessel is a result of large wakes produced by passing ships moving at a high rate of speed. Although many harbors typically impose a low speed limit for all vessels traveling in and out of the harbor as a means to prevent shoreline erosion and/or damage to moored or docked vessels, many boats violate the speed limit. In particular, large vessels traveling at high speed produce large wakes which cause a docked vessel to bounce up and down. The bouncing movement of the vessel can place excessive loads on the dock causing the dock lines to break or the cleats to release from their mountings. As may be appreciated, even a single broken dock line or a demounted cleat can cause the vessel to swing outwardly under the force of wind and impact the dock or an adjacent ship.

As can be seen, there exists a need in the art for an improved dock line which can withstand high tensile forces in the event of high winds. Furthermore, there exists a need in the art for an improved dock line that can also withstand the high tensile forces and potential breakage of the dock line occurring as a result of extreme tide changes or large wakes from passing ships. Furthermore, it would be desirable if such an improved dock line included the capability to reduce movement of the vessel during passenger boarding and disembarking. Finally, it would be desirable if such an improved dock line included the capability to secure the vessel to the dock or mooring to prevent to theft of the vessel.

BRIEF SUMMARY

The present invention specifically addresses the above-described deficiencies and drawbacks associated with dock lines of the prior art by providing a dock line assembly which is specifically adapted to prevent the transmission of shock loads to a vessel secured to a dock or mooring and which could otherwise cause damage to the vessel or the dock.

In its broadest sense, the dock line assembly comprises a housing having opposing first and second housing ends. A first line is connected to the first housing end and may be secured or tied to a dock by means of a dock cleat. A second line extends from the second housing end and is adapted to be secured or tied to a vessel via a boat cleat mounted thereon. The dock line assembly is adapted to allow the first and second ends to move toward and away from one another as the vessel move toward and away from the dock. A vessel may be secured at its bow and stern with a pair of dock line assemblies.

Importantly, the dock line assembly includes a dampener contained within the housing and to which the opposing first and second lines are connected. The dampener is adapted to absorb energy transmitted between the first and second lines as the lines move away from one another as may occur as the vessel is pushed away from the dock. In this regard, the dock line assembly is adapted to absorb energy transmitted between the first and second lines during movement of the vessel under the influence of other weather, tide and/or due to the wake of a passing ship.

Furthermore, the dock line assembly may be adapted to prevent the vessel from contacting the dock by holding the vessel away from the dock. The vessel may be pushed into the dock under the influence of wind or tide action. The housing may be configured in a telescopic arrangement comprising an inner sleeve slidable within an outer sleeve. The dampener is adapted to absorb energy transmitted between the first and second housing ends as the inner sleeve is pushed into the outer sleeve. The second housing end may include a resilient cushion to prevent damage to the vessel hull during contact with the second housing end as may occur when the vessel is pushed into the dock.

The dock line assembly may further include a locking device for securing the first and/or second lines to a dock cleat and/or to a boat cleat. In this manner, the dock line assembly may prevent theft of the vessel. The locking device may be configured as a combination lock or key lock which is secures the first and/or second line to a cleat after threading a loop formed on the first and second lines to the cleat.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These as well as other features of the present invention will become more apparent upon reference to the drawings wherein:

FIG. 1 is a top view of a vessel secured to a dock by means of a pair of dock line assemblies;

FIG. 2 is an enlarged perspective view of a cleat as may be mounted on the vessel or the dock and to which first and second lines of the dock line assembly are respectively connected and optionally secured by means of a locking device such as a padlock;

FIG. 3 is a side view of the dock line assembly comprising a housing having first and second ends with first and second lines extending respectively therefrom and illustrating a tether line optionally extending laterally outwardly from the housing; and

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional side view of the dock line assembly illustrating a spool contained within the housing and having the first line wrapped thereabout and further illustrating a dampener and biasing element adapted to allow partial extension and retraction of the first and second lines relative to one another.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring now to the drawings wherein the showings are for purposes of illustrating preferred embodiments of the present invention only and not for purposes of limiting the same, shown in FIG. 1 is a vessel 12 secured to a dock 20 using a pair of dock line assemblies 10 constructed in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. The dock line assembly 10 includes first and second lines 40, 42 extending from opposing ends of the dock line assembly 10. Advantageously, the dock line assembly 10 is specifically adapted to absorb shock forces between the first and second lines 40, 42 by controlled extension and retraction of opposing ends of the dock line assembly 10. Such shock forces may occur in response to movement of the vessel 12 relative to the dock 20 as a result of wind or tide action or due to motion induced by a large wake from a passing ship.

The dock line assembly 10 may also be configured to allow for relative movement (i.e., axial extension and retraction) of at least one of the first and second lines 40, 42 in such a manner as to avoid transmission of high tensile forces to either the dock 20 or the vessel 12. In addition, the dock line assembly 10 is optionally adapted to absorb compressive forces applied to a housing 26 of the dock line assembly 10. Such compressive forces may occur due to wind or wave action causing the vessel 12 to move toward the dock 20 to which it is secured. Advantageously, the dock line assembly 10 also includes a means for safeguarding against theft of the vessel 12 by providing a locking device 24 optionally installable on the dock 20 cleat 22 and/or boat cleat 22.

In its broadest sense, the dock line assembly 10 comprises the housing 26 having opposing first and second housing ends 34, 36, the first line 40 connected to the first housing end 34, the second line 42 connected to the second housing end 36, and a dampener 44 contained within the housing 26 and which indirectly connects the first line 40 to the second line 42 across the housing 26. Notable, the dampener 44 is specifically adapted to slow the rate of extension and retraction (i.e., dampen the reciprocation) occurring between the first and second lines 40, 42. In this manner, the dampener 44 is adapted to absorb energy (i.e., dampen shock forces) transmitted between the first and second lines 40, 42 during relative movement occurring between the first and second lines 40, 42 and/or between the first and second housing end 36 in a manner as will be described in greater detail below.

In a further embodiment, the dock line assembly 10 is specifically configured such that at least one of the first and second lines 40, 42 is deployable (i.e., extensible) to a selectively adjustable length to allow securing a wide variety of different vessels 12 to a dock 20 or mooring. Toward this end, the first line 40 is connectable to the dock 20 cleat 22 and is preferably outwardly extensible in order to accommodate variations in distance between different vessels 12 and the dock 20 to which the vessel 12 is to be secured. However, it is contemplated that the second line 42 (which is connectable to the vessel 12 at the boat cleat 22) is additionally or alternatively selectively deployable to a desired length to accommodate variations in distance between the vessel 12 and the dock 20 to which the vessel 12 is secured.

Referring to FIG. 2, the extreme ends of the first and second lines 40, 42 are preferably configured in a loop configuration to facilitate attachment thereof to the dock 20 cleat 22 and/or boat cleat 22. The loop may be formed by folding the line back upon itself and being fixedly secured thereto in the manner as shown. If first and second lines 40, 42 are formed of metallic material such as braided flexible steel cable, the loop may be permanent formed by swaging the cable to itself as shown. The swage acts to clamp the portions of cable together to prevent relative movement therebetween while forming a loop that may be secured to the dock 20 cleat 22 and/or boat cleat 22 in the manner shown.

Each of the first and second lines 40, 42 is preferably sized and configured to resist breaking under extreme tensile forces such as may occur during windy conditions or as a result of a large wake. In addition, each of the first and second lines 40, 42 is preferably formed of a material that can withstand severe environmental conditions (i.e., sun, salt water, extreme temperature variations) common in boating environments. In this regard, nylon may be an preferable material due to its desirable strength and stretching qualities as well as its ability to maintain these characteristics in a harsh environment. In this regard, any synthetic material such as synthetic rope or synthetic webbing may be utilized to fabricate the first and second lines 40, 42.

To improve strength properties, carbon fiber may be utilized in the synthetic rope or webbing. Furthermore, metallic materials such as steel wire rope or braided steel wire may be utilized for the first and second lines 40, 42 in order to provide the capability to handle extreme tensile forces as may be desirable in larger vessels 12 or in severe weather conditions. Regardless of the material from which the first and second lines 40, 42 are fabricated, such lines are preferably capable of providing sufficient strength as well as being sufficiently flexible to allow for weaving or tying of the loop ends of the first and second lines 40, 42 to the boat cleat 22 and/or dock 20 cleat 22 in the manner shown in FIG. 2.

The dock line assembly 10 of the present invention may further be provided with a locking device 24 such as a combination lock or padlock which may be installed on the first and second lines 40, 42 at their attachment to the dock 20 cleat 22 and/or boat cleat 22. In this manner, the locking device 24 acts as a theft prevention mechanism for the vessels 12. The locking device 24 may be provided on at least one of the dock 20 cleat 22 and/or boat cleat 22 depending upon whether the dock line assembly 10 is permanently installed to the dock 20 or vessel 12.

For example, for larger vessels 12, the dock 20 line may be permanently secured to the dock 20 cleat 22 at the first line 40 such that only the second line 42 must be tied to the vessel 12 when the vessel 12 is docked or moored. Although the locking device 24 is disclosed and illustrated as a padlock, any number of locking devices 24 providable in a variety of alternative configurations suitable for engaging the first and/or second lines to the dock 20 cleat 22 and/or boat cleat 22.

Referring more particularly now to FIGS. 3 and 4, the housing 26 of the dock line assembly 10 is shown configured as a generally hollow tube formed of a suitable metallic or non-metallic material such as polyvinylchloride (PVC) having opposing first and second housing ends 34, 36 and defining a longitudinal axis A extending therethrough. However, the housing 26 may be provided in a variety of alternative shapes other than the elongate tubular arrangement shown in FIGS. 3 and 4. The housing 26 may be configured in a telescopic arrangement comprised of an outer sleeve 28 and an inner sleeve 32 axially slidably disposed therewithin as can be seen in FIG. 4.

The inner sleeve 32 is coaxially maintained within the outer sleeve 28 by means of an annular ridge formed on an interior end of the inner sleeve 32 and another annular ridge formed on an outer end of the outer sleeve 28 as best seen in FIG. 4. The outer sleeve 28 itself may further include a generally thickened portion within which the inner sleeve 32 is coaxially maintained. The thickened portion of the outer sleeve 28 may be formed by mounting an outer tube over the outer sleeve 28 at one end of the housing 26 as can be seen in FIG. 4. The thickened portion allows for the formation of threads on the outer sleeve 28 and which are engageable by an end cap 54 which may be removably attachable to the housing 26 to allow for assembly, inspection and repair of the dock line assembly 10.

An end cap 54 may likewise be installed on the second housing end 36 as shown in FIGS. 3 and 4. The end caps 54 serve to enclose the housing 26 at the first and second housing ends 34, 36 in order to provide protection of the inner contents from the elements. On the first housing end 34, the end cap 54 is preferably permanently secured thereto such as by mechanical attachment means or with an appropriate adhesive. The end cap 54 on the first housing end 34 may provide enhanced resistance to damage of the housing 26 in the event of contact with a vessel 12, dock 20, mooring or other surfaces. An aperture is provided the center of each of the end caps 54 to allow passage and/or connection of the first and second lines 40, 42.

On the second housing end 36, the end cap 54 may be configured to be removably attachable by means of threadable engagement as shown in FIG. 4. The end cap 54 on the second housing end 36 provides enhanced structural and mechanical durability to the housing 26 as well as providing a slidable bearing 62 surface for the inner sleeve 32. Installation and removal of the end cap 54 on the second housing end 36 may be facilitated by the use of appropriate surface features such as the raised beads angularly spaced about the outer surface of the end cap 54 to assist in rotation of the end cap.

As can be seen in FIGS. 3-4, the dock line assembly 10 may further include a resilient bumper or cushion 32 installed on at least one of the first and second housing ends 34, 36 in order to prevent damage to the vessel 12 hull or other equipment which. The cushion 32 is preferably fabricated of any suitably resilient and weatherproof material and which can also prevent scratching, denting or otherwise marring the surface finish of the vessel 12 hull h. The resilient cushion 32 may include an aperture from which the second line 42 may extend in a manner shown in FIG. 4.

The cushion 32 may be disposed on the first and/or second housing ends 34, 36 and may be secured thereto by means of an annular groove formed in the first and/or second housing ends 34, 36 with a complimentary mating rib formed on an interior of the cushion 32 as shown in FIG. 4. However, the cushion 32 may be secured to the first and second housing ends 34, 36 by any suitable means such as by bonding. The first and second lines 40, 42 may be secured to the housing 26 by means of a permanent mechanical and/or adhesive bond or by forming a suitable knot on the first and second lines 40, 42 such that the knot is located inside the housing 26 at the first and second housing ends 34, 36.

Importantly, the dock line assembly 10 of the present invention incorporates the dampener 44 within the housing 26 to absorb energy or otherwise dampen shock transmitted between the first and second housing ends 34, 36. Such dampening prevents damage to the vessel 12 and/or dock 20 or mooring by minimizing tensile forces that otherwise occur in conventional dock lines as a result of movement of the vessel 12 with respect to a dock or mooring. As can be seen in FIG. 4, the dampener 44 is preferably coaxially disposed within the housing 26 and is sized and configured complimentary to an interior chamber of the housing 26. The dampener 44 may be provided in any suitable dampening form including a gas shock assembly or a hydraulic shock assembly.

In this regard, the dampener 44 itself may include a piston 50 axially slidable within a cylinder formed within the dampener 44. The cylinder may be filled with an appropriate fluid such as nitrogen gas and/or hydraulic fluid although any other suitable dampening fluid may be utilized. Extending from one end of the piston 50 and passing through the cylinder is a rod 52 which, in turn, is directly or indirectly connected to the inner sleeve 32. As was earlier described, the second line 42 is preferably permanently attached to the inner sleeve 32 at the second housing end 36. However, it is recognized herein that the housing 26 may be provided in a non-telescopic version such that the second line 42 is connected directly to the rod 52 of the dampener 44. In this manner, the dampener 44 allows for movement of the second line 42 relative to the first line 40.

Referring still to FIG. 4, the piston 50 and, hence, the rod 52 is axially slidable relative to the cylinder of the dampener 44 such that rate of movement with which the inner sleeve 32 slides outwardly from the outer sleeve 28 is slowed or reduced. In this manner, the dampener 44 reduces tensile forces that may otherwise build up in conventional dock 20 lines as the vessel 12 is pushed toward and away from a dock 20 or mooring. As can be seen in FIG. 4, the dampener 44 includes first and second dampener ends 46, 48 and which are directly or indirectly connected to respective ones of the first and second lines 40, 42. In this manner, the dampener 44 may absorb energy transmitted between the first and second lines 40, 42 during relative movement of the opposing first and second dampener ends 46, 48.

The dock line assembly 10 may optionally include a biasing element 56 shown in FIG. 4 as a coil spring 58 which acts to bias the first and second lines 40, 42 toward one another under the influence of relative room between the first and second housing ends 34, 36. More specifically, the biasing element 56 shown in FIG. 4 may act to absorb energy during outward movement of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28. In this regard, the biasing element 56 may be configured as an elastomeric element 59 such as a rubber cylindrically shaped member installed within the housing and directly or indirectly interconnecting the first and second lines 40, 42. The dampener 44 may act to further absorb energy during such relative movement and may also reduce the rate at which the second line 42 extends outwardly relative to the housing 26.

It may be appreciated that the biasing element 56 may be provided in a number of suitable arrangements. For example, it is contemplated that the biasing element 56 may be configured as two portions of coil springs 58 contained within the cylinder on opposite sides of the piston 50. In this regard, the biasing element 56 in combination with the dampener 44 may be configured similar to a coil spring shock absorber 72. The overall length of the dock line assembly 10 may be reduced by integrating the coil springs 58 into the dampener 44. In such an arrangement, the biasing element 56 (comprised of the coil spring 58 portions) also performs a centering function wherein the coil spring 58 portions acts bias the piston 50 to a neutral position following extension or a retraction of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28. In this regard, the resilient biasing element 56 is directly and/or indirectly connected to the first and second lines 40, 42 in order to assist in absorbing energy transmitted therebetween.

Referring still to FIG. 4, the biasing element 56 may be adapted to absorb compressive forces that may be transmitted between the first and second housing ends 34, 36. More specifically, during retraction of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28, the biasing element 56 acts to absorb the compressive force induced by the retroactive (i.e., inward) movement of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28. The dampener 44 further absorbs energy and slows the rate of the movement of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28 in order to reduce potential damage that may occur due to contact of the vessel 12 hull with the first and/or second ends of the dock line assembly 10.

The dampener 44, in combination with the biasing element 56, allows for reciprocation of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28 along the longitudinal axis A. Although the biasing element 56 is shown as being coaxially disposed within the inner sleeve 32, other arrangements for connecting the biasing element 56 to the housing 26 are contemplated. In the embodiment shown, opposing ends of the biasing element 56 may be securable to the rod 52 and inner sleeve 32. The biasing element 56 may be secured to the inner sleeve 32 by any suitable structural connection including a web or post formed within an interior of the inner sleeve 32. Likewise, a cup may be provided on a free end of the rod 52 in order to engage or receive an opposing end of the biasing element 56 thereto.

For configurations wherein the biasing element 56 is integrated into the dampener 44 on one or both sides of the piston 50, the free end of the rod 52 may be directly connected to the inner sleeve 32 by any suitable mechanical and/or non-mechanical means. It should also be noted that although the dampener 44 and biasing element 56 are shown as being mechanically coupled to the second line 42 by means of the inner sleeve 32, the second line 42 may be directly connected to the dampener 44 and/or biasing element 56 with the inner sleeve 32 being omitted from the housing 26. In such a configuration, the second line 42 may be passed through an aperture formed in the end cap 54 disposed on the first housing end 34.

Referring still to FIG. 4, the dock line assembly 10 may be adapted to accommodate variations in vessels 12 that are securable to the dock 20 or mooring using the dock line assembly 10. Due to the wide variety of vessel 12 shapes, sizes and configurations and, more particularly, the wide variety of mounting locations for cleats 22 on different vessel 12 designs, the distance between the boat cleats 22 and the dock 20 cleats 22 for one vessel 12 is typically different than for another vessel 12. To accommodate the variations in vessels 12, at least one of the first and second lines 40, 42 is preferably configured to be deployable and/or retractable to a selectively adjustable length so as to be compatible with the particular vessel 12 configuration. In this regard, the dock line assembly 10 may further comprise a spool 60 disposed within the housing 26 in a manner shown in FIG. 4. The spool 60 is adapted to be rotatable within the housing 26 but is mounted so as to prevent axial movement.

At least one of the first and second lines 40, 42 may be coiled or wrapped about the spool 60. The spool 60 is configured to alternately reel out (i.e., deploy) and/or reel in (i.e., recover) the line which is wrapped about the spool 60. Free rotation of the spool 60 within the housing 26 may be facilitated by means of a pair of bushings or bearings which may be mounted within the housing 26 at opposing ends of the spool 60. Such bearings may be mounted in suitable bearing 62 fixtures which prevent axial movement but allow rotational movement of the spool 60.

The dock line assembly 10 may further comprise a selectively actuatable spool lock assembly 64 which is specifically adapted to prevent rotational motion of a spool 60 once the line is extended out of the housing 26 at the desired length. In this manner, the spool 60 is adapted to prevent extension and/or retraction (i.e., reel out and reel in) of at least one of the first and second lines 40, 42 depending upon which of the first and second housing ends 34, 36 the spool 60 is installed. The specific embodiment of the spool lock assembly 64 may be tailored according to the desired form of lock actuation.

In one embodiment best seen in FIG. 4, the spool lock assembly 64 may include an annular shoulder 66 formed on one end of the spool 60. The shoulder 66 may include at least one and, more preferably, a plurality of angularly spaced bores 68 extending radially through the annular shoulder 66. The housing 26 may further include a locking pin 70 which is radially moveable in the manner indicated by the arrow in FIG. 4. The locking pin 70 is adapted to be selectively engageable with at least one of the bores 68 in order to prevent rotation of the spool 60 after the line has been extended out to the desired distance.

In an alternative embodiment, the spool 60 may further include a self-winding mechanism (not shown) wherein the first line 40 may be extended out of the housing 26 to the desired distance. The spool 60 may include a torsion spring or other suitable rewinding mechanism such that following disengagement of the locking pin 70 from the bore 68 of the spool lock assembly 64, the spool 60 tends to rewind the first line 40 back into the housing 26.

As shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, the dock line assembly 10 may further include a tether line 74 connected to a lateral side 38 of the housing 26. As is illustrated, the tether line 74 may extend laterally outwardly from the housing 26 such as at the location of increased thickness portion (i.e., outer tube). The tether line 74 may be secured thereto by any suitable mechanical or non-mechanical means (i.e., bonding, internal knot). Ideally, the connection of the tether line 74 to the housing 26 is such that a smooth inner surface is maintained within the outer sleeve 28 such that slidable movement of the inner sleeve 32 is unimpeded.

As shown in FIG. 1, the tether line 74 may be secured to dock 20 cleats 22 mounted on the dock 20 and may be oriented in such a manner as to prevent fore-and-aft motion of the vessel 12 relative to the dock 20. In this regard, the tether lines 74 may function similar to conventional spring lines utilized in prior art dock lines. The tether lines 74 may be formed of any suitable material such as nylon rope. The tether lines 74 may have reduced load-carrying capability relative to the material from which the first and second lines 40, 42 are fabricated.

However, it is contemplated that the tether lines 74 may be fabricated of the same material as the first and second lines 40, 42. Preferably, the tether lines 74 are fabricated of material having sufficient flexibility to allow fixing of the free ends of the tether line 74 to the dock 20 cleat 22 in the conventional manner. Furthermore, the material for the tether lines 74 may inherently possess some degree of shock absorption capability under load.

Shown in FIG. 1 is an arrangement of a pair of dock line assemblies 10 and tether lines secured to the four dock 20 cleats 22. The arrangement shown is believed to restrict movement of the vessel 12 relative to the dock 20 in four directions. More specifically, the tether lines resist fore-and-aft movement of the vessel 12 relative to the dock 20 due to their angular orientation relative to the vessel 12. The dock line assemblies 10 located at the bow 14 and stern 16 of the vessel 12 resist movement of the vessel 12 away from the dock 20. Likewise, due to the compressive capability of the dock line assembly 10, movement of the vessel 12 toward the dock 20 is also resisted with dampening.

The operation of the dock line assembly 10 will now be described with reference to the figures. After bringing the vessel 12 into position relative to the dock 20 as shown in FIG. 1, the pair of dock line assemblies 10 are located at the bow 14 and stern 16 of the vessel 12 at the boat cleats 22. The first line 40 of each of the dock line assemblies 10 may be secured to an adjacent one of the boat cleats 22 in a manner similar to that shown in FIG. 2. Following connection of the second lines of the dock line assemblies 10 to the boat cleats 22 at the midship 18 of the vessel 12, the first lines 40 are secured to the adjacent dock 20 cleats 22.

The tether lines 74 may then be secured and are preferably tied off at an orientation to prevent relative fore-and-aft motion of the vessel 12. As can be seen in FIG. 1, forward motion of the vessel 12 may result in impact of the bow 14 with the dock 20. Therefore, it is necessary that the tether line 74 at the bow 14 is relatively taut and is oriented at a shallow angle relative to a length of the vessel 12.

Movement of the vessel 12 relative to the dock 20 as a result of wind, tide changes, heavy wake from a passing ship, or even storm surge in the case of a hurricane, may induce movement of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28. For example, in cases where forces move the vessel 12 away from the dock 20, the second line 42 and, hence, the inner sleeve 32 is moved axially outwardly relative to the first line 40. However, movement of the second line 42 relative to the first line 40 is dampened by means of dampener 44 as well as biasing element 56, if included. After subsidence of the forces pushing the vessel 12 away from the dock 20, the biasing element 56 tends to move or bias the second line 42 back toward the first line 40 into a neutral position assisted by the dampening effect of the dampener 44.

Under the influence of forces which tend to move the vessel 12 toward the dock 20, after the slack in the first and second lines 40, 42 is taken up, the cushion 32 located at the second housing end 36 may come into contact with the vessel 12 hull. The resulting compressive force on the housing 26 induces retraction (i.e., inward movement) of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28. Such inward movement may also be resisted by the biasing element 56 depending upon its configuration and/or installation within the housing 26. The rate of movement of the inner sleeve 32 relative to the outer sleeve 28 may also be reduced by means of the dampener 44. In this manner, axial compression and tensile forces transmitted between the first and second lines 40, 42 as a result of movement of the vessel 12 toward and/or away from the dock 20 are reduced in order to prevent damage to the dock 20 and/or vessel 12.

As was earlier mentioned, fore-and-aft movement of the vessel 12 is resisted by the tether lines 74 which are oriented at an angle that is substantially parallel to the length of the vessel 12. The shallow angle allows the tether lines 74 to better prevent contact of the vessel 12 bow 14 or stern 16 with the dock 20. Theft protection may be provided by installing locking devices 24 on each of the first and/or second lines in a manner shown in FIG. 2. As was described earlier, such locking devices 24 may be provided in any suitable configuration including, but not limited to, combination locks, padlocks or any other devices commonly available.

This disclosure provides exemplary embodiments of the present invention. The scope of the present invention is not limited by these exemplary embodiments. Numerous variations, whether explicitly provided for by the specification or implied by the specification, such as variations in structure, dimension, type of material and manufacturing process may be implemented by one of skill in the art in view of this disclosure.