Cleat mounted to a wooden dock with a rope tied to it in a cleat hitch knot

If you have been on a boat while it is docking after a fun day out in the sun, or some night fishing, you may notice some mounted fixtures that look like curved hooks placed on either side of the boat. These are known as boat cleats, which are used to secure vessels to docks. You might even see a longer or bigger version of the boat cleat on the dock before and after you get on the boat. Finally, you have probably noticed that the boat is tied to these cleats with a rope using a unique type of knot. Those are known as hitch knots, which secures the rope to a cleat. For any boat owner or operator, it is always important to know how to tie your boat to a dock cleat to prevent your boat from ever drifting away and we want to make sure that you are well-informed on how to do that properly. Before we dive in, always make sure your boat cleats are sized and installed properly to avoid any damage under pressure, especially during storms or windy conditions.

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How to Tie a Cleat Hitch Knot

Diagram showing 4 steps on how to tie a cleat hitch knot for securing boats to docks

The cleat hitch knot is recognized as the best way to tie a boat to a dock. Before you tie your boat to the dock, however, you need to know how to tie the hitch know so it is secure. It is shocking to see how many boat owners are not familiar with what a hitch knot is, especially how essential it is to everyday boat protocol. This specific knot ties and unties quickly, so you can easily impress everyone when you take hand of the rope. Tying the hitch knot is simple with these steps:

  1. Take a turn around the base of the boat cleat and bring the line over the top of the cleat.
  2. Then, wrap the line back under the arm of the cleat opposite of the first turn, then back over the top of the cleat.
  3. Wrap under the first arm a second time and then back over the top of the cleat.
  4. Now, have made a figure-eight pattern over and around the boat cleat. At this point, you will form an under hand loop and slip that loop over the arm of the cleat, which enables the pin to be free under the last wrap.

Finally, pull the free end tight and you have a secure cleat hitch!


How to Tie a Boat to a Dock Cleat

One of the most important things you will learn when owning a boat is how to securely tie your boat’s lines to dock cleats. The last thing you want to happen is your boat coming loose from your dock and drifting off. Dock cleats are pieces of hardware that are attached to a dock. The most common dock cleat is called the double-horn cleat, which is shaped like a handlebar. The steps to properly tie your boat to a dock cleat is as follows:

  1. Take your rope and bring it around the bae of the cleat on the side that is farthest from your boat. This will create the tension you need to keep it in place.
  2. Bring the rope along your side of the cleat’s base then loop it around the back and over the top of the horn that is closest to your boat, pulling the rope towards you.
  3. Loop the rope under and over the other horn of the cleat. This will create a figure-eight design.
  4. Then, you will double up the remaining rope into a loop and twist (figure-eight) and twist it once so the loose end is on the bottom. Make sure to pull the line tightly towards yourself to keep it secure.

Once you made your hitch knot, leave the remaining rope (if you have any) in a neat coil next to the cleat to prevent any hazards. And voila! You have tied your boat to a dock cleat.


How to Tie a Boat to a Dock if There is No Dock Cleat

A green boat tied to a wooden dock post because there are no dock cleats to use

Although dock cleats are very common for tying and securing your boat, sometimes they are not available. In this case, pilings are the second option for preventing your boat from drifting away. Opposite of a hitch knot, you will tie your boat to a dock piling with a bowline knot. Here are the steps to tie a bowline knot:

  1. Wrap your line around the piling and make sure you are holding both ends.
  2. Make a loop with the main line and put the tag end through the loop.
  3. Bring the tag end over the knot and through the loop again.
  4. Tighten the loop by pulling it towards yourself to make sure it is secure.

To keep your new knot from sliding down the piling, you can wrap the line around a second time then tie the knot.


Boat Docking vs. Mooring: Is There a Difference?

Docking and mooring have different uses but share the same purpose, to secure your boat. Mooring is securing it to a permanent anchor location in the water, where Docking means pulling your boat up to a dock (or similar structure) and securing your boat to it.


Boat Lines and Their Importance in Docking and Mooring

When securing your boat, it is important to know the different types of boat lines it comes, since mooring/docking cleats and pilings will vary based on location. Bow and Stern Lines run from the ends of the boat to the dock, normally at an angle, and keep the boat from moving side to side. Spring Lines run forward from the stern and aft of the bow of the boat to keep it from moving forward and backward along the dock. Based on the size of the boat, dock lines should be strong enough to hold the boat without losing its shock-absorbing characteristics.


Are Boat Cleats and Dock Cleats the Same Thing?

Difference between how to tie a boat cleat compared to a dock cleat

Dock cleats are pieces of hardware that are mounted to a dock and used to secure a boat to a dock, so it does not float away. Although both boat cleats and dock cleats look similar, they do have their differences. For example, boat cleats can be made out of stainless steel or chrome, while dock cleats are made of galvanized steel or stainless steel. Galvanized steel is heavier but less expensive than stainless steel, which is why owners tend to use them on the dock, but stainless steel is just as strong and corrosion-resistant. For look and appeal, stainless steel boat cleats are great as they give boats and docks a new aesthetic, and you can expect the same durability and strength (just way better looking).


Sardine Marine Has Premium Marine-Grade 316 Stainless Steel Boat Cleats for Sale

Sardine Marine is known for being an expert and a trusted source of boating knowledge, especially when it comes to boat safety. We know the importance of properly and safely tying your vessel to a dock or piling. As a leading supplier of boat parts and accessories, our stock includes marine-grade, corrosion-resistant, 316 stainless steel boat cleats that will secure your boat properly without getting in the way of a fun day out on the lake or sea!

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By Jim Radack


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