How to Tie Down a Boat to a Dock

by Will Charpentier
Wrap the line around a cleat and secure it with a figure eight.

Wrap the line around a cleat and secure it with a figure eight.

As you ease your boat into its appointed docking space, you needn’t dread the systematic madness that ties up your boat to the pier. The process begins before you begin to dock and, with a bit of practice, soon becomes second nature. While you can’t control all the forces that affect your moored boat, in most situations a bow and stern line alone are sufficient for short-term docking.

Put Out Fenders

Fenders between boat and pier prevent damage.

The first step in tying up your boat is to move the fenders to the side of the boat that will be in contact with the pier. Fenders are pieces of plastic or rope used to prevent your boat from rubbing against a pier. They protect the boat’s hull and finish from damage.

Basic Lines and What They Do

Bow and stern lines keep your boat from moving forward or backward.

The bow line is the line from the deck cleat that’s almost at the bow. It angles away from, and forward of, the boat’s bow. It prevents the boat from moving backward. The stern line angles away and aft of the stern, and prevents the docked boat from moving backward. Breast lines lead straight from the sides of the boat to the pier, to keep it close and facilitate loading of passengers and provisions.

Placing Basic Dock Lines

Bow and stern lines angle away from the boat toward the pier.

Place the loop -- called the eye – at the end of the line over a cleat or bollard -- on the pier. Lines forward of the center of the boat must angle forward from the boat. The forwardmost line must go beyond the boat’s bow, to the pier. Lines aft of the center of the boat angle aft, with the rearmost line angling past the boat’s stern to the pier.

Securing the Dock Lines to Cleats and Bollards

Bollards can be made of wood or metal.

Put the loop in your dock lines over the cleat or the bollard on the pier. Bring the line back to the boat. Loop lines on the forward half of the boat under the rear horn of your boat’s forward cleats and wrap them around the cleat at least twice. Secure the line by making two figure eights under the cleat’s horns and over its top. Loop lines on the rear half of the boat under the forward horn of the cleats. Wrap the line twice around the cleat and secure with two figure eights. Coil any excess line and hang it over the cleat or lay it neatly on deck.

Chafing Gear

You can fit a waterhose, split on one side, over small lines for chafing gear.

When a shoe pinches your foot, you may end up with a blister because of the friction between foot and shoe. When a dock line rubs against any part of your boat on its way to the pier, including the boat’s cleats, you need to place padding between the line and the part against which it rubs. Known as chafing gear, you can acquire it at boating supply outlets.

Spring Lines

A spring line allows you

Spring lines tied to cleats close to the bow and stern cleats, run in the direction opposite the bow and spring lines. They are used to spring off the pier – for example, you can leave a bow or spring in place on the pier and the boat. You then use the engine and rudder to twist the boat in its dock space. When you have sufficient sea room to move away from the pier, remove the spring line and back out.

Tying Your Boat Up for Heavy Weather

Heavy weather can damage docked boats, even with good docklines.

For heavy weather, use two of each of bow, bow spring, breast, stern spring and stern lines on the deck cleats and the pier. For very heavy weather, use offshore bow and stern lines, extending from the bow and stern cleats on the side of the boat away from the dock, to the same cleats or bollards as the bow and stern lines. These lines prevent your boat from breaking other dock lines. Use as many breast lines as possible to keep the boat near the dock. Leave some slack in the lines if a storm surge -- such as that preceding a hurricane -- is expected.

Choosing a Dock Line

Three-strand nylon rope is the yachtsman's best choice.

Dock lines come in four materials: natural fiber; polypropylene, made from plastic fibers; nylon; and aramid fibers, such as Kevlar. Natural fibers shrink when wet and part with explosive force. Polypropylene is stronger than natural fiber, but it won’t stretch to allow for vessel movement at the dock.. Nylon lines are stronger than polypropylene and can stretch to 140 percent of their original length. They provide the optimum dock line for a recreational vessel. Aramid fiber line is the strongest of all – 1-inch aramid-fiber dock lines have a breaking strength of 50,000 pounds; however, they do not stretch and can damage small boats.

Line Handling Safety

After you tie your boat up, stay away from the lines.

Natural fiber and nylon lines that part explosively snap back like a broken rubber band, with potentially lethal effect. Both aramid fiber and polypropylene lines are strong, but won’t stretch and don’t part explosively. Instead, they collapse into a pile of plastic fibers. When using nylon or natural fiber dock lines, never stand in line with a dock line that's secured to both your boat and the dock unless you're actively tying or untying your boat.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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