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How to Tie a Boat to a Cleat? – 3 Easy Steps (w/Tutorial Video)

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how to tie a boat to a cleat

Are you confused about how to tie a boat to a cleat and keep it safe at the dock? You’re not alone. Securing a boat is much more than making a few random knots. Owners must learn to spread dock lines, tie proper cleat knots, and add protection measures.

Boats are big investments that you don’t want to put in harm’s way. So, keep reading for the steps our experts recommend for tying a boat quickly and securely.

Table of Contents

Steps to Tie a Boat to a Cleat


What You Need

Marine ropes

Step 1. Plan the dock lines you will form

There are four common types of dock lines:

  • Stern line

A stern line connects your boat’s stern to the nearest dock cleat behind it. This line runs diagonally outward.

  • Bow line

A bow line connects your boat’s bow to the nearest dock cleat in front of it. This line runs diagonally outward.

  • Breast line

A breast line runs at a 90-degree angle, connecting the middle of your boat’s side to the nearest cleat.

It keeps your boat right beside the dock, allowing you to get on and off the boat easily. This line should be short and have no slack.

  • Spring line

You can form an AB (after bow) or FQ (forward quarter) spring line. An AB spring line connects the cleat on your boat’s bow to the dock cleat you tie your stern. An FQ spring line connects the cleat on your boat’s stern to the dock cleat you tie your bow to.

These lines will prevent the boat from rocking back and forth, especially on rough water. They also help lower the pressure on other lines.

Depending on the water condition and the positions of the dock cleats, choose at least two to three lines to tie your boat to the dock.

For a shortstop, you can use the combination of one bow line and one FQ spring line. For an overnight stop, form one bow line, one stern line, and one spring line.

The boat and dock cleats’ positions might vary each time you dock, so improvise but aim to secure your boat as strongly as possible.

Step 2. Tie the lines to the cleats on your boat


When you have decided on the dock lines, start tying the lines to the cleats on your boat. You should tie a cleat hitch. It is easy to form and remove.

  • Bring the rope around the base of the cleat.
  • Bring the rope over the top of the cleat and make one figure eight.
  • Twist the rope underneath itself to form a loop.
  • Insert the loop into the other side of the cleat and cinch it tightly.

The diagram below will help you visualize a cleat hitch knot.

Step 3. Tie the lines to the cleats on the dock


Bring the rope around the base of the on-land cleat and repeat step 2 to form a cleat knot. Tie one by one until all the dock lines are tight and secure.

Check out this video:

Helpful tips


Once you get used to it, a tying boat to cleat procedure will take you less than five minutes. But to ensure your big investment is safe on the dock, save these tips.

#1: Leave enough slack in the lines for changing water levels

If you dock your boat in an area with tide changes, make sure to put enough slack in the lines so your boat can go up and down with the water level.

If the lines pull your boat down when tidal waves happen, water will get into it and ruin the interior.

You should also avoid breast lines.

#2: Prepare fenders to protect the boat

Boat fenders (or boat bumpers) will provide a cushion between your boat and the dock. Prepare at least two fenders and hang them on the boat side that contacts the dock.

The cost to repair damaged paint and gel coat is high, so always dock your boat with fenders.

#3: Use strong ropes to tie your boat

Nylon ropes are best to make dock lines due to their strength and stretch. You should purchase double-braid or three-strain lines. On rough water days, double the lines for more protection.

If you are docking your boat for a long period, take measures, such as adding chafe guards, to protect the lines from chafing and tearing.

Also, if you are wondering how much is dock a boat, check it out here!


There’s a lot to be stressed about when owning a boat, but experiences will make you a better boater. So, experiment with different dock lines to find what works best for you.

We hope you’ve found useful practices from our guide on how to tie a boat to a cleat. Before you leave, explore other articles on our website for more boating tips and tricks. Thank you for reading!

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