Boat cleat mounted on a wood railing on the side of a boat

What Size Cleat Does My Boat Need? Size, Type, and Placement Explained

Whether you own a boat or are looking to make a new purchase, it is important to understand all of the important tools that help the boat stay its course. Obviously, when you are done using your boat, you want to tie it up, so it does not drift away. The useful parts that help you on this mission are known as Cleats. However, you might be at a loss when it comes to the boat cleat size, type, or placement for your particular vessel. Let’s take a moment to go over what boat cleats are, what they are made out of, how to properly use a boat cleat, how to size and place boat cleats, and where to buy boat cleats. As a premium supplier of corrosion resistant, marine-grade 316 stainless steel boat cleats, Sardine Marine is an industry expert who leads the pack for the highest quality cleat parts and materials.

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What is a Boat Cleat?

Close up view of a stainless steel cleat on a boat tied to a black rope

Boat cleats are pieces of hardware that are fastened to your vessel. Normally in the shape of a handlebar, they assist with tying off your boat to a dock or mooring when not in use. A normal boat cleat can withstand tension between 1,190 and 7,500 pounds. The lower end is equivalent to the load of what a 40-foot boat exerts while working under normal conditions.


Why are Boat Cleats Important for Your Vessel?

When your boat is not in use, boat cleats are there to prevent your boat from drifting off or bumping into another object (or even a neighbor’s boat). It is very important to get cleats for your boat that sized and installed properly to prevent any damage under pressure, especially during storms of windy weather conditions. Without boat cleats, your boat will have a greater chance of drifting away and causing damage to another boat or object.


What Materials are Boat Cleats Made Out of?

Close up view of a white nylon boat cleat tied to a gray rope

Boat cleats are manufactured from various materials, including:

  • Stainless steel
  • Galvanized steel
  • Aluminum
  • Nylon
  • Wood

Out of the materials listed, the most common type you will see on a boat is a stainless steel boat cleat due to its versatile look that can match anything and everything you decorate your boat with along with its resistance to corrosion. Additionally, stainless steel is a very strong material that be used for many years without any risk of damage to itself or your vessel. On the other hand, if you are looking for a cleat that will appear as a unique accent feature to your boat’s design, then a wood or stainless steel boat cleat would be a better option as they stand out and capture attention. Wood cleats are mostly suitable for unique looks or for dropping fenders from, while stainless steel cleats are recommended for use on the main bow or stern dock lines to prevent any damage as they are much stronger.


Different Types of Boat Cleats

Close up view of a stainless steel pull-up boat cleat where you pull up the sides of the cleat when ready for use

Just like the different types of material boat cleats are made from, you can select different types of boat cleats to use. Aside from the list of cleats below, many boaters (novice or expert) are familiar with the classic two-horned cleat, since they are suitable for almost every situation. Here’s a list of the various types of boat cleats out there:

  • Dock Cleat: these are used for securing a boat to a dock.
  • Deck Cleat: these are used for securing a boat on and off a deck.
  • Portable Cleat: these are used for multi-purpose solutions based on your need.
  • Jam Cleat: these are used to tie off a line (i.e., halyards, reef lines, sheets, etc.).
  • Cam Cleat: these are used when rope passes between two cams, which resists a pull in a direction away from the camera.
  • Flip-up Cleat: these are used just like a normal two-horned cleat, but can be hidden away when not in use by laying flat on the boat.
  • Pop-up Cleat: these are used in a similar situation like the flip-up cleat, but pop-up and down rather than laying flat.
  • Pull-up Cleat: these are used by pulling the cleat up above deck when ready to tie up.
  • Solar Light Cleat: these are used for the same purpose as a two-horned cleat, but collect the sun’s energy to maintain power throughout the night and offer more visibility for nighttime boaters.
  • Samson Post: this is used when securing an anchor cable.
  • Mooring Bollard: this is used as a vital component of any mooring system by being an anchor point for mooring lines to secure the vessel.
  • Zamak Cleat: these are polished, chrome-plated cleats that prevent dock rash while moored.


How to Determine Boat Cleat Size and Placement

Port side of a boat with red arrows pointing out where the cleats are placed

Similar to determining the proper boat lights to install on your vessel based on its size, the same practice goes into selecting boat cleats. It is easy to select the right option for your boat by following chain of dependencies:

  • The size of your boat cleat depends on the size of line you use.
  • The size of the line you use depends on the size of the boat you have.

Like a domino effect, once one question is answered, the others will follow suit. More specifically, the cleat length from the tip to tip should be equal to 1-inch for every 1/16-inches of line diameter and dock lines should be 1/8-inches of diameter for every 9-feet of boat length. Knowing the above calculation when determining the proper size of your boat cleat will result in a minimum size; so, the bigger the better, especially in boat terms!

As for determining the proper placement for your boat cleat, be sure to place it at regular intervals along the port (left) and starboard (right) of the boat. The minimum requirement for boat cleats is to have 3 per side of the boat so each boat line has an assigned location. For most boats, we recommend using at least 7 cleats for the best docking and mooring experience: 1 bow cleat, 4 midship cleats (2 port, 2 starboard), and 2 stern cleats. All in all, the more cleats you install on your boat, the better you will be in the long-run (just don’t go crazy and install 12 cleats on both sides of your boat).


Need to Know How to Tie Off Your 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 (or bollards). The last thing you want to happen is your boat coming loose from your dock and drifting off. 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. 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 when you follow our easy steps, which you can find on our other article here: How to Tie a Boat to a Dock Cleat Properly


Corrosion-Resistant, Marine-Grade 316 Stainless Steel Boat Cleats for Sale

Image of a stainless steel retractable boat cleat for sale online at Sardine Marine

Sardine Marine has been acknowledged for being an expert and a trusted source for boat cleats. As a leading supplier of boat parts and supplies, Sardine Marine only stocks 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 ocean, lake, or river!

For more information, please visit us at or click the button below to shop stainless steel boat cleats in our online store.

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