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Boating Basics: Tying Up Your Boat

Learning to use docklines and tie a few essential knots will give you the skill and confidence to leave your boat unattended at the dock.

Boating Basics: Tying Up Your Boat

If you are new to boating, the “Boating Basics” series of videos from Mercury Marine provides an engaging, educational guide to our favorite pastime that will help you gain confidence on the water. Even if you are an experienced boater, you might pick up a few tips.

Understanding how to tie up your boat properly goes hand in hand with learning how to bring it to the dock. All it takes is preparation, practice and knowing how to tie a few essential nautical knots. Once you have acquired the knack of tying up your boat, you will gain the confidence to leave it at the dock unattended while you have fun dining or exploring ashore.

Get Your Lines Ready

As we cover in “Boating Basics: Docking Your Boat,” before approaching a dock to tie up, the first step is to stop and set up your docklines. To fasten a dockline to a cleat at the bow or stern of your boat, take the loop at the end of the line, reach over the side and feed it up through the center of the cleat from the bottom. Open the loop, slip it around each horn of the cleat and pull tight.

The Cleat Hitch and Clove Hitch

After docking your boat, you or a member of your crew should first secure the dockline at the end of the boat that is facing into the wind or current. Typically, this means attaching the bowline to a cleat on the dock using a cleat hitch.

The videos below show the proper way to tie a cleat hitch – one of the most useful knots for any boater. Remember to start the cleat hitch by wrapping the line around the far horn of the cleat. From there, follow the steps in either of the videos. Once the bow is tied off, do the same for the stern.

When preparing for docking, you also can use the cleat hitch to tie your fender lines to cleats on the side of your boat. But if your boat does not have cleats or using them will put your fenders at the wrong height, you may need to attach the fenders to your boat’s railing, tower or T-top. For that, you will need the clove hitch, which is also covered in the videos. To ensure each fender stays securely in place, add a half hitch after tying the clove hitch.

At some point while boating, you are bound to tie up at a dock that has no cleats, but has pilings for tying up boats. You can use the clove hitch with an added half hitch or two to secure your docklines to the pilings.

Add Spring Lines for Longer Stays

Tying off the bow and stern and using fenders is sufficient when you are leaving your boat tied up for an hour or two. But, if you plan to leave your boat in a slip for a longer period during which the wind, current or tide may change, you should use additional docklines to keep it secure. If you’re in a slip, start by tying lines from all four corners of your boat to cleats or pilings. Typically, it’s a good idea to cross the stern lines, leading them to cleats on the opposite side of the dock. This will help prevent the boat from moving side to side and potentially contacting the dock. If tying up alongside a dock side-to, just secure the bow and stern.

Next, get out two more lines to rig as spring lines. Take one line and secure it to a cleat on the side of your boat that is aft of center. Run the line forward to a dock cleat or piling near your bow and tie it off. This spring line will prevent your boat from drifting backward in its slip. Then, take the other line and fasten it to a cleat closer to your boat’s bow. Run it aft to a dock cleat or piling near the stern of your boat. This will stop your boat from drifting forward.

Check all your docklines before leaving your boat. It is important to make sure they are tight enough to keep the boat off the dock, but loose enough to rise and fall if the water level changes. In tidal waters, be sure to use a tide chart to determine how much slack to leave in your docklines.

Once you know your knots and how to tie up your boat, you will be able to confidently leave your boat unattended and be secure in the knowledge it will be waiting for you, safe and sound, when you return. 


Boating Basics: Tying Up Your Boat (Saltwater)


Boating Basics: Tying Up Your Boat (Freshwater)
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