How To Tie Boat To Dock

How To Tie Boat To Dock

When your boat is not in use, it is important to properly dock it at a marina, and every savvy boater knows this. Leaving your boat unsecured in the water might cause it to bounce back and forth. This can cause scratches and damage to your boat. And worse, it can drift away during high tide or when there’s a storm.

Knowing how to tie off your boat correctly keeps it in place. Many boat owners overlook this essential skill, but with a little practice, you’ll be able to step away with confidence that you’ll be keeping your boat safe at the dock.

How To Tie Boat to a Dock

So, how do you tie your boat to the dock properly?

Going through all of the loop knots might be daunting for first-time boat owners. It’s just a matter of trial and error, and before you know it, it’ll become second nature. Here are a few steps you can take:

Choose Proper Docking Gear

Check for cleats

Proper Docking Gear

These are T-shaped metal gear (pictured above) often installed on the boat’s sides, near the edge, which you’ll also find on the dock’s side.

In order to hold your boat in place, the dock lines should be fastened to the dock’s cleats. When docking, most boats should come with cleats on the bow, stern, and sides. But if your boat lacks cleats, they’re widely available in many local boating stores.

You can install the cleats on your boat with thru-bolts and supporting plates. I recommend not using screws alone to fasten the cleats to the deck as they can break when you overwork the cleats.

If there are no dock cleats, look for pilings

If there are no dock cleats, look for pilings

Dock pilings are an integral part of any dock. These are long pieces of wood or metal with a cleat on them and are used to support the structure of a pier or dock. To attach a boat to a piling, you’ll need to employ dock lines and knots.

You can also use pilings if you wish to dock your boat for a long time. Pilings can keep your vessel secure for an extended period of time.

Get dock fenders to shield your boat from any damage while docking

shield your boat from any damage while docking

Boat fenders are cushions installed on the front and sides of your boat. Often made of foam or inflated rubber, their main purpose is to protect your boat from any damage and scratches. Fenders are useful for tying up your boat in a cluttered dock where friction from boats that are rafted together might scratch the sides of your vessel.

If you opt for fenders, you can simply attach them to your boat with the fenders’ ties. Allow the fenders to swing inside the boat until you need to dock. And before setting up the dock lines, position the fenders on the exterior of your boat.

Set Up the Dock Lines

Set Up the Dock Lines

Use the bowline, stern line, and forward spring line for a shortstop

Form a hoop with the rope through the stern line on the boat’s side far away from the dock. Then, attach the forward quarter spring line and tie off the bow line, which would be the rope that runs across the top of your vessel.

To set up the docking lines, you must pull the ropes through both the dock and the boat’s cleats. Your boat may have 9 dock lines but you can only tie it up using three to four lines at a time. The reason for this is that using too many ropes can cause entanglement.

For a longer stop, tie your boat with 2 bow lines and 2 stern lines

You can begin by connecting the two stern lines at the back of the boat. Then, arrange the lines in a way that they connect to the cleats on either side of the dock. Next, in front of the boat, attach the two bow lines by tying them into the cleats on either side of the dock.

To keep your boat secure, the dock lines must meet both sides of the dock. You should also keep in mind that if the ropes fall into the water as they might become entangled in the prop, which is a hassle to remedy.

Refrain from using only breast lines to easily tie the boat

Simply because they’re not secure as they’re too short and demand the least amount of rope to set them.  Breast lines are small lines positioned on the boat’s left side and extend to the dock. Such lines can also restrict the boat’s vertical motion, leaving it wobbly when you get on or off it.

It’s always best to have the stern, bow, and spring lines engaged while tying up your boat. These are the most secure lines you can use. You can incorporate a breast line though, once you’ve attached all the other three lines.

Secure the Dock Lines

Secure the Dock Lines

Use a cleat hitch to attach the dock lines

The cleat knot, also known as the cleat hitch knot, is perhaps the most widely used dock line knot.

To attach the dock lines using a cleat hitch, you slide the rope loop through the cleat and beneath the top of the cleat. Next, you roll the loop over the cleat’s claws and carefully twist it so it’s tied securely. Make sure not to release the rope until you’ve tied a knot so the boat doesn’t glide out of the dock.

For a secure tie, use a tricky cleat hitch knot

This is actually a very clever technique. You’ll want to make sure that the dock lines are really secure to withstand any weather. Doing a tight and complex cleat knot is a great way to secure the dock lines, however, it will take longer than a basic cleat knot.

You can start by wrapping the line once around the cleat’s base and looping it around the opposite end of the cleat. Then, slip it across the top of the cleat. Lift the line of the cleat and loop it around the first arm to create a figure 8 pattern. Next, form a little sneaky loop and wrap it around your first arm and tighten the rope’s end.

Once you’ve made a complex knot, the cleats should have a good, snug figure 8 shape. This technique is also ideal for knotting the cleats of docking lines.

When docking at a piling, tie a clove hitch

Also known as a clove hitch, a clove knot is suitable to secure dock lines to a piling instead of a dock. You can do a clove knot by looping the loose end of the rope around the piling’s hook. Next, you pass the line over itself and wrap that loose end around it again.

Then, tuck the loose end of the line beneath the wrap you made and tighten the knot. You can apply the clove knot on all 3 4 dock lines to keep your boat secure to the piling.

Different Types of Docking Lines

Stern Lines

A stern line runs in a slightly diagonal line outward from the stern of the boat to the dock cleat behind the boat. It restricts a boat’s stern from sliding side to side. And when tying it up against a bulkhead or dock, stern lines keep your vessel from drifting away.

Bow Lines

Bow lines run in a slightly diagonal pattern outward from the boat’s bow or stern to the dock cleat forward of it. A bow line’s main role is to make a solid loop at the end of the rope. You can’t tie it straight around anything or knot it ahead of time. This way, you can secure it later over a piling pole or cleat.

Breast Lines

Breast lines are small lines that you can use to bring your boat close to the dock. This will make getting on and off the boat a lot simpler. These lines should be placed at a 90-degree angle to the wharf of the boat docked beside and without any gap.

Spring Lines

A spring line goes diagonally from the bow to the dock cleat closest to the stern or it can run from the stern to the dock cleat closest to the bow.

If carried at a suitably tight angle, a spring line can help keep the boat from rushing forward and aft, but possibly more crucially, it acts as a lever. You can also use a spring line to relieve some of the strain on your other lines.

Spring lines are classified into AB (after bow) and FQ (forward quarter). The AB spring lines connect the cleat on your bow to the dock cleat to which your stern line is attached. FQ spring lines connect the cleat on your stern to the dock cleat to which the bowline is tied.


What is a dock cleat?

A dock cleat is a piece of hardware that you fasten to a dock. It’s often built of strong materials such as stainless steel, galvanized metal, or nylon. The most common type of dock cleat is the two horns cleat with an anvil or handlebar shape. It’s attached to the dock by a center post that’s topped by a bar that runs parallel to the dock’s side.

What are clam cleats?

Cam cleats can be used for small boats which are only docked for a brief time. Such a cleat doesn’t require any intricate knots; simply draw the line between the cams, and they’ll secure it into place.

Should you tie boat tight to dock?

Yes. You need to tie your boat tightly to a dock with lengthy ropes to protect your boat from sliding about. This might imply skipping a cleat or pile in favor of one that is far off. Keeping your lines lengthy is particularly necessary for tidal areas since long lines let your boat move up and down even with a tight line.

When anchoring where should you secure the anchor line to the boat?

Connect the line to the bow cleat and never to the stern since the extra weight might bring up water. To prevent capsizing, you must lower the anchor slowly from the bow instead of the stern. Once the anchor has reached the bottom and enough rode has been released, provide a firm tug to secure the anchor.

How tight should dock cables be?

It should be relatively tight. Because it is a floating dock, there is no need to account for the tide. A three-strand nylon dock line must have between 8 and 10 percent stretch in order to withstand stress loads.

How loose should dock lines be?

Dock lines should be a little flexible to reduce shock loading on them and the hardware. Three-strand nylon, for example, should suffice and snubbers would be helpful. Also, the dock lines need to be strong enough and checked regularly to reduce the possibility of failure.

Can you tie a boat to a dock without cleats?

Yes, you can tie a bowline knot around a dock’s pilings if required. You can do so by looping the rope over the piling with one hand and gripping the end and the mainline with the other. Finally, wrap your rope around it and back up through the hole, pulling tightly.

What kind of rope is used for fenders?

Jute rope is an excellent choice for fender rope since it is strong, robust, and inexpensive. Such a rope makes a sturdy, lasting fender for both your boat and the dock.

Final Words

It is important to learn how to correctly tie a boat to a dock. I hope this guide helps you in doing the job right. It may take some practice, but it will surely get easier. Make sure to always use three lines to secure your vessel as this will give adequate protection in the event that one of the ropes splits or goes untied.

Good luck!

Related Articles

best solo canoe featured image

Best Solo Canoe

Some of the most critical considerations in choosing the best solo canoe are the boat’s weight, capacity, material, and dimensions.

Read More »