Mooring balls change all over the map. In some cases, the pennant (loose line coming from the ball) is too nasty for words... in my experience, the ones that weren't could be counted on the thumbs of one hand... Anyway, in some cases there is no pennant (maybe they didn't plan it that way?). And occasionally it's on a whip (think float with a pole sticking up). Whips are often fiberglass
poles (think whippy little flags
on bikes) and they can be nasty to pick up without gloves (splinters!). In general, plan on running a line through the eye on the pennant and making both ends of the line off to your boat (so sad to forget to make off the other end of the line, doncha think?).
A little paranoia about moorings is a good idea. If the weather's settled and the mooring field is open (see above re: thumbs of one hand), all will probably be well. If the weather's uncertain and the field is fairly tight, at least check the pennant out for fraying or other signs of potential thrills when the wind
really cranks up at oh-dark-thirty. It also helps to at least know who set the mooring and ask what's on the bottom of the line holding the mooring ball. If you're picking up a strange mooring in some obscure harbor, you may be riding to a Chlorox bottle tied on with some old clothes line tied to an engine
block(*). It helps to be able to ask questions.
Picking up a mooring... the best thing is to give everyone a heads up that you're comin' in! Hit the horn and then steam flat out for the mooring, jam into reverse about half a boat length before the mooring, and scream and yell as the bow bunny tries valiantly to snag anything associated with the mooring. Trust me, the rest of the folks in the area will appreciate the comedy.
If you want to be dull and boring, maneuver around to come up to the mooring while heading dead into the wind, and carry as little way as possible. A touch of reverse to kill the last bit of motion will make the job easier for the bow bunny. That and having that line for the pennant made off on one end, too. Do not try to center-punch the mooring ball but put it slightly on one side or the other (kinda helps to agree on this one before hand, BTW). If the person on the bow points to the mooring as you finish the approach, so much the better.
If the approach fails, grit your teeth and circle around to do the approach again. Trying to rescue
things by backing and filling is usually just more fun for everyone else but you.
(*) True story: We borrowed a friend's mooring in Tiverton, RI. As a "thank you", I dove (scuba) on his mooring and ours to be sure all was well. Our friend's mooring chain was wrapped around the humongous cement block acting as a weight - not good for the chain. Fortunately, our chain was fine and all of the shackles, etc. were in good shape. I decided to take a quick look around to see what the bottom looked like (it was my only dive that summer) and found a bunch of old cast iron radiators lying on the bottom. When I surfaced and told our hosts about it, they said, "oh, that explains why the old mooring never held!"