Here are a few tips that my crew and I have found very helpful when tying my boat in it’s slip.
Tying the boat to the dock seems to be taken for granted by many and not much thought put into it. Every boater has probably seen boats pull into their slip and as the dock lines are made fast to the cleats amidst much hand waving and “discussion” by the skipper about how to properly handle the dock lines.
All my dock lines have eyes on each end and the dock lines stay at the dock while we go sailing. The dock lines are then waiting when we return and mooring the boat is as simple as just dropping the eyes over the appropriate cleats and winch. Quick, easy and no confusion by the crew on where the boat goes and the boat is always moored in the proper place.
I had the marina add a second cleat (the one on the right side of the picture). Cleats should be properly through bolted, never use Lag Bolts to fasten a mooring cleat, Lag Bolts can pull out and the cleat can come loose, flying cleats can cause property damage or even injure people standing by a cleat that comes loose, your boat is now loose in the slip and your boat can be damaged as well as others in the marina. Using two cleats lets the bow of the boat be centered in the slip by the dock lines. I set the length of the lines to have the boat sitting a bit away from the dock so the fenders are not held against the dock (yes this is a tape measure distance).
Depending on your boat, equipment and marina you may need chafe gear on your boat to protect your lines.
Be careful when passing through the center of the cleat. Some cleats are not well finished in the center and require extra chafe gear in the base to prevent the line from being damaged. One cleat was so rough in the middle that the line was almost cut through in under two weeks when I forgot to check the base of the cleat.
This is the Stopping Strap. One end goes to the primary winch on the port side and the end at the top of the picture is dropped over the first cleat on the end of the dock. The Stopping Strap is to stop the boat before it hits the dock if I have a bad approach and enter the slip too fast, misjudge the speed, reverse does not work or any one of many things that can go wrong when entering a slip. The length of the Stopping Strap is set to stop the bow of the boat from hitting the dock. The extra length of line spliced into the eye is to make the line long enough that a crew member can step onto the dock at the shrouds and be able to hold onto the end of the line.
I use a Stopping Strap and not a regular dock line because no matter how many times I explained to crew members most of them, no matter how many times it was explained to them “don’t stop the boat early” they will dog down the line way early and stop the boat before it is in the slip ahead of my slowing the boat down. Also they will put the line on the wrong side of the cleat and the line will slip off the cleat as the boat goes by. Using a fixed length Stopping Strap with eyes on each end has reduced the confusion greatly.
I use the primary winch for several reasons. My boat only has three cleats. If the bow cleat is used, the bow of the boat will rotate into the dock fairly hard if the bow line is used to stop the boat and the stern will kick out away from the dock and toward the boat moored along side. The stern cleats will not stop boat boat before the bow hits the end of the slip. The primary winch has a good position for length and by being positioned in toward the center of the boat the tendency for the bow to swing into the dock is reduced.
I have several friends that use the mid-ship cleat on their power boat to stop forward motion when they are docking. They use the mid-ship cleat and not the bow cleat to reduce the bow into the dock problem when the dock line is used to stop the boat.
The cleat has orange surveyor tape on it as does the eye at the end of the Stopping Strap. When I have a crew member STEP (NOT JUMP) to the dock I tell them to put “Orange to Orange” this has gotten the success rate up to about 92% getting the Stopping Strap on the correct cleat.
The stern breast line is a bit undersized based on generally recommended sizes from the rope manufactures. I have done this to have better shock absorbing properties and the boat does not jerk suddenly when the slack is taken out of the line. CAUTION: The smaller sized line works in this application because the boat is light weight and the boat and marina are sheltered against strong off the dock winds. You should evaluate your own conditions carefully when selecting and sizing dock lines.
Your dock lines should be inspected on a regular basis and replaced when they show signs of wear or other problems. I wash mine yearly (Washing Your Sheets, Halyards and Lines) in mild soap and water to to remove dirt and salt crystals, help keep the lines from getting stiff and make line handling nicer to the hands. The dock lines are replaced every two years or so when they start to get stiff, loose some of their shock absorbing properties, start to show significant wear or other signs of deterioration.
Yes, I see very old dock lines that are so stiff I can’t understand how they got them to bend around the cleat but I am a bit more cautious.
Some people replace their dock lines annually, buying new lines when they are on sale as a loss leader at the local chandlery.
I use three strand line for the dock lines because three strand stretches more than double braid line giving a gentler movement to the boat at the dock which is easier on the cleats and anyone onboard the boat. Three strand eye splices are also easy for me to do myself.
I also have a full set of dock lines that stay on board for when I visit different marinas, the fuel dock, pump-out station or raft up with other boats.
As with all things related to boating, you need to assess your own situation and boating conditions and adjust your actions accordingly. What has worked for me might not work for you, please change things to fit your own needs. Please consider these ideas as a starting point and feel free to improve them to fit your own dock conditions.
Thanks for your interest in and support of boating safety.
Please see How to Tie Your Boat to a Dock That Has a Bull Rail – Part 1 for more information and instructions on tying your boat to a dock that has a Bull Rail.
Please see Chafe Protection – Or keeping your boat tied up in a storm for some tips on preventing chafe and damage to your lines.
The Towboat Hitch or Capstan Hitch, when you need a non-jamming tie to a single post, bit, bollard or sailboat winch.
How to Tie a Cleat Illustrated How to Tie a Cleat.
Useful knots to tie your fender with
Toe Rail Fender Knot, for boats with a perforated toe rail, Toe Rail Fender Knot.
Spar Hitch, holds well to slick and small rails.
An improved Fender Whip for fenders with a hole through the center, that holds knots much better than a standard Fender Whip.
Improved Fender Whip – Part 2 – for fenders that have a tab on the end for the fender whip to be attached to.