How To Tie A Boat To A Dock

Boating is many things for many people. For some, it means a lazy day while riding a slow river. For others, it means a fast-paced, exciting day of water skiing. But these days end the same way when you tie your boat to the dock.

Mooring your boat is a relatively straightforward process, but it is crucial to get it right. If your boat is tied up improperly, it could get damaged or even float away. Here’s how to tie a boat to a dock correctly.

Tying Your Boat To A Dock

As with all things nautical, it is essential to plan ahead. Remember, boats don’t maneuver as well as cars, so you have to plan your approach to the dock in advance. Part of this involves planning how you are going to tie the boat to a dock.

Keep an eye out for cleats and pilings, which are the tie-down points for your boat. We will discuss the mooring equipment in more detail later. But knowing where you are tying your boat is key to securing it correctly.

Another critical thing to look for is the high watermark and where the current water level stands in relation to that. This won’t be relevant in rivers and small lakes. But on the ocean or a large lake, the tide is a significant factor in tying up your boat.

If you are near high tide, leave plenty of slack when you tie off. You want your boat capable of sinking naturally with the water level. Similarly, at low tide, secure the boat firmly. As the water rises, your lines will develop slack. This is only necessary if you are tying up to a fixed dock.

If you are tying to a floating dock, tie up securely regardless of the water level. A floating dock will rise and fall along with your boat, so no extra slack is needed.

Of course, you will also need to keep in mind all the other factors that can affect your approach to the dock. Consider the wind and the current, and don’t approach the dock faster than necessary.

As you approach, make sure your mooring lines are ready and your fenders are deployed. It helps to have a crew at this point, but it is perfectly possible to securely tie your boat on your own. You just need to be alert and meticulous.

First, secure your bow line to a cleat or a piling. This will keep the front of your boat in place while you maneuver the stern up to the dock and secure the stern line.

When attaching the bow and stern lines, tie them off at a wide angle and not perpendicular to the boat. The bowline should be tied several feet forward of the bow, and the stern line several feet behind the stern. This will give the boat more leeway to float up and down and less leeway to float side to side.

Tying Your Boat To A Slip

Tying up to a slip is a bit more complicated since you need to secure both sides of your boat. Once you have backed in, secure lines to both stern cleats and tie them off to pilings or cleats on the appropriate sides.

Next, secure bow lines to both sides of the slip. As with tying up to a dock, tie these lines forward of the bow, allowing the boat to rise and fall easily.

Tying Off To A Cleat

Cleats are the T-shaped metal tie-down points found around the edge of your boat. When tying off your boat, it is imperative to only tie to a cleat. 

Never tie to a railing, a seat, or part of the frame. You don’t know how much stress these parts can handle, while cleats were explicitly engineered for tying off. The last thing you want is for your boat to float away, leaving a steering wheel dangling from the dock.

The exact number of cleats depends on the boat. Most small pleasure boats have three sets of cleats found at the bow, stern, and centerline. Some boats have an additional single cleat at the bow peak, and some larger crafts have four pairs instead of three.

Most docks these days are also built with cleats to tie off to. The alternative is tying off to a piling, which we will discuss in the next section.

The knot used for tying to a cleat is called a cleat hitch. To tie a cleat hitch, wrap the rope in a loop around the cleat’s base, leaving a couple of feet of extra line at a bare minimum. Now, take that extra line and make two figure-8 motions around the top of the T. Make another loop around the vertical part of the cleat, and your line is secure.

Tying Off To A Piling

As we mentioned, the alternative to tying your boat to a cleat is tying off to a piling. Pilings are vertical columns, usually wooden but sometimes metal or concrete, driven into the lakebed or seabed around the dock.

The easiest way to tie your boat to a piling is a simple clove knot. Make a loop around the piling, pass the end of the rope underneath, and pull it out the top of the loop until it is snug. Do this three or four times, and you have a reasonably secure knot.

A clove knot is appropriate for temporary mooring — for example, if you are getting dinner at a restaurant. But if you are parking your boat overnight or longer, you will need a more secure knot. The pile hitch was invented explicitly for this purpose.

To tie a pile hitch knot, double the line over and loop it around the piling. Then, take the end of the loop, wrap it under the bottom of the loop, and pass it over the top of the piling. Take the free ends of the line, and pull the knot tight. 

Untying a pile hitch is also easy. Simply slide the whole knot off the top of the post, and drive away.