6 Simple Steps to Tie A Boat To a Dock Cleat

Are you new to boat docking?

Do you want to know how to dock your boat the right way?

For many beginners, docking can seem quite scary, especially handling a large boat. Naturally, you would be scared of the boat floating away or damaging nearby boats.

The good news is that you can quickly learn how to dock your boat. With a little patience and lots of practice, you’ll know exactly how to do it.

In this article, I will show you the easy steps to help you tie a boat to a dock cleat. I will explain some terms you should familiarize yourself with and offer tips on safely and correctly docking your boat.

So, let’s jump right in.

What Is A Cleat?

What Is A Cleat

A cleat is a horn or t-shaped piece of metal or wood attached to a dock. These pieces of hardware are secure enough to hold a boat and keep it from floating away or colliding with other nearby boats.

Most boats will also have cleats. These are typically located in the middle of the boat, along the stern and towards the bow.

Cleats are the only pieces of hardware you should use when you want to dock a boat. Unfortunately, many boaters try to secure their vessels using other parts such as railings, grab handles, the dashboard, or even the windshield.

The cleat is a really simple item but, at the same time, super important when it comes to docking boats. The two ends of a cleat extending outward are known as ears, horns, or arms. The lower part is known as the base. Familiarizing yourself with these parts will help you learn how to tie a boat to a dock cleat faster.

To tie a boat, you will also need a dock line. One end of this line has a loop, which you will mount on the base of the cleat and over the horns, pulling the line toward the boat.

The other end of the dock line is attached to the dock cleat using a hitch knot, also known as a cleat hitch. When done correctly, a cleat hitch secures the boat to the dock.

Different Types of Docking Lines

Different Types of Docking Lines

Before learning how to tie a boat to a dock cleat, it helps to understand the different lines you will use to get the job done. Docking lines are attached from the cleats on the boat to the cleats on the dock.

  • Bow lines

The bowline runs diagonally from the boat to the dock. It connects the bow cleat to the dock cleat at the front of the boat.

  • Stern lines

The stern line also runs diagonally from the boat to the dock cleat like the bowline. It secures the back part of the boat to the dock.

  • Spring lines

Spring lines prevent the boat from rocking back and forth. They also take the load off the other lines, preventing breakage.

There are two types of spring lines—the after-bow spring line and the forward quarter spring line. The after-bow line runs diagonally from the bow to the dock cleat where the stern line is tied.

The forward quarter spring line runs from the stern cleat to the dock cleat where the bowline is tied.

  • Breast Lines

Breast lines run at a ninety-degree angle from the dock to the boat. These are shorter, tighter lines that help keep the boat close to the dock. You can use breast lines to get on and off the boat. Remember to keep these lines as tight as possible.

Next, I will take you through a step-by-step guide to tie a cleat hitch and moor your boat safely.

Step-by-Step Guide to Tie A Boat To a Dock Cleat

Follow these simple steps to tie a boat to a dock cleat.

Step 1: Set up the docking lines

Set up the docking lines

Setting up the docking lines entails running the lines through the boat cleats first before tying a cleat hitch on the dockside.

Start by looping the line through the stern cleat at the back of the boat. Use the looped end of the docking line.

Next, set up the forward quarter spring line from the cleat on the stern to the dock cleat closest to the boat’s bow.

Then, run the dock line through the bow cleat, where you will secure it to the dock cleat closest to the bow.

Some boats can have as many as ten cleats. You do not have to pass the dock line through all these cleats. It is best to run three to four dock lines to avoid tangling up and weakening the dock line.

Step 2: Lay the second stern and bowlines

Lay the second stern and bowlines

In my experience, tying a boat with two lines is the best way to secure it close to the dock and not worry about the vessel drifting away in high tide.

To get started, loop the second docking line over the stern cleat at the back of the boat. Ensure that the first and second lines are parallel and laying over each other.

Next, run the forward quarter spring and finally the bowline, which you will loop over the dock cleats. Avoid any slacking and keep both ropes close to each other for reinforcement.

At this point, you can add breast lines by looping a docking line from the cleats on the sides of the boat to the dock cleats. Breast lines are optional and only support the bow, spring, and stern lines.

Pro tip: Never tie a boat using breast lines only. It might seem like the easiest way to secure your vessel to the dock, but in reality, your boat will not be secure and may get damaged from the back and forth rocking.

Step 3: Secure the line to the base of the dock cleat

Secure the line to the base of the dock cleat

After running the lines through the boat cleats, take the other end of the rope and loop it around the base of the boat cleat.

Say you are standing on the dock with your feet in front of the cleat. If your boat is to your left, loop the line around the right side of the cleat. If the boat is to your right, loop the line around the left side of the cleat. This sequence keeps the rope tight enough.

Step 4: Tie the first knot

Tie the first knot

Pull the line toward you or what would be the front of the cleat’s base. Then, take the line around the base toward the back, then over the horn facing your boat, keeping the line facing you.

Step 5: Create a figure eight

Create a figure eight

A cleat hitch knot is also known as a figure-eight knot. This term is borrowed from how the line is tied to the dock cleat.

After passing the line over the horn closest to your boat and pulling it toward you, pass it over and then under the horn furthest from the boat to come up with a figure eight.

Step 6: Make a final loop

Make a final loop

For a secure knot, create a loop and then slide it over one of the horns. To create a loop, simply twist the line toward yourself. Then, cross the loop over the cleat horn closest to the boat, pulling the line toward you.

If you have done the cleat hitch correctly, the line should form a clean figure eight. The two lines should be parallel, and toward the middle, one line should cross on top of the other in the opposite direction.

To wrap it up, coil the remainder of the rope and place it tightly close to the cleat to avoid tripping on it.

Congratulation on tying your first cleat hitch! Don’t give up if you don’t do it right the first time. Try doing it a couple more times, and you will soon be a pro.

Extended Tips

  • Check the wind’s direction

Before you approach the dock, be sure to figure out how best to position your boat. Trying to dock against the wind and water currents can be difficult, and it is a hardship you can avoid. So, check the wind’s direction to determine if the tide is low or high so you can know the best way to moor your vessel.

  • Use fenders to protect your boat

Fenders are good to have to protect your boat from damage. When docking, your boat can sway and knock against the dock, pilings, boats, and other surrounding objects. This can leave scratches or even shutter the outside of the boat. You can prevent this by hanging fenders on the sides of your boat. These are made of rubber or foam and come with ties you can use to hang them from the boat while you dock.

Summary: How To Tie A Boat To a Dock Cleat

Tying a cleat hitch is one of the most basic skills you should learn as a boater. A well-done cleat hitch knot will secure your boat, keeping it from drifting away or rocking and knocking against other objects. As you can see, tying this knot is not difficult. With some practice, you will be well on your way to tie a boat to a dock cleat like a pro!

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