Is This Your Cleat?

How to tie a cleat - bad example

Not a good example of how to tie a cleat

Walking down any dock and you will soon decide that tying a cleat is a dying skill.  Many docks have up to 40% and sometimes more of the cleats tied strangely, this includes the docks of  yacht clubs that bear the names of major cities in the Northwest.  Boating is part style and poorly tied cleats cause you to loose style points as how your cleats are tied is one of the first things people notice when walking by your slip.  Badly tied cleats can also be a safety issue in some circumstances.

So lets style a safe cleat!

How to tie a cleat - Step 1

Starting to tie a cleat

Start by going around the base of the cleat on the end of the cleat that is farthest away from the load.    Wrap the turn around the base then come up over the top of the cleat.

How to tie a cleat - Step 2

Tying a cleat – Step 2

Go over the top of the cleat and under the first horn that you started around and over the top of the cleat.

Now put a Half Hitch around the second horn.  Put an underhanded half turn in the line to form the Half Hitch and put the loop that is formed around the second horn.  The Hitch is also called the Weather Hitch.  Don’t worry if the turn is the wrong way and the line starts to lay along side the cleat and not over the top, just reverse the turn twice to form the Half Hitch.  You are tying a Clove Hitch on the cleat.  Only ONE Weather Hitch on the cleat.  The Weather hitch should be the last Hitch on the cleat.  If more than one Weather Hitch is used, untying the cleat can be very difficult and it can take extra time to untie the cleat.  More than one Weather Hitch can also cause the line to jam on the cleat under heavy load.  A jammed cleat can be a serious safety issue and result in injury or death to people in the area or damage to the vessel.

How to tie a cleat - Step 3 - Weather Hitch

How to tie a cleat – Step 3 – a Loose Weather Hitch around the second horn

How to tie a cleat - Step 3 B - Weather Hitch

A second view – tying a cleat with a loose weather hitch around the second horn

Now pull the slack out of the line and that is all there is!  The line should form a nice smooth knot on the top of the cleat.

Tying a Cleat - Finished

Tying a Cleat – neat finished knot

How to tie a cleat - Finished

Side view – Tying a cleat – neat finished knot

If the cleat is highly polished or the load is high an additional “8” turn or  may be required.  Take an extra “8” before putting on the Weather Hitch, don’t make an extra turn around the base as that can cause the line to jam.  Usually one extra “8” is sufficient.  Mismatched cleat and line size may also require and extra “8” or two if the line is small compared to the cleat.

Tying a cleat - In slick line - Extra hitch added

Tying a cleat – In slick line – Extra hitch added

Side view - Tying a cleat - In slick line - Extra hitch added

Side view – Tying a cleat – In slick line – Extra hitch added

A finished cleat with an extra hitch on it is shown below.

Remember, no matter how many turns, “8’s”, or hitches are made, use ONLY ONE WEATHER HITCH!

Finished cleat tied  In slick line - Extra hitch added

Finished cleat tied In slick line – Extra hitch added

Side view - Finished cleat tied  In slick line - Extra hitch added

Side view – Finished cleat tied In slick line – Extra hitch added

In a hurry or need to be ready for a quick getaway from the dock?  Then just put some extra “8’s” or hitches on the cleat and omit the Weather Hitch.  If you are towing another vessel, tied in the locks or need the cleat to be untied quickly the weather hitch should be omitted and extra “8’s” added, it is always a good idea to have a line tender in these cases should a problem occur that requires a quick untie.  Some people omit the weather hitch and use the extra “8’s” method even at their home slip.

Quickly tying a cleat - use several Figure 8 Hitches

Quickly tying a cleat – use several Figure 8 Hitches

Side view - Quickly tying a cleat - use several Figure 8 Hitches

Side view – Quickly tying a cleat – use several Figure 8 Hitches

What to do with the bitter end?  I just zigzag it back and forth alongside the cleat.  Some people like the neat look of a Flemish coil, the neat bull’s-eye coil that is flat on the deck, if a Flemished coil is left too long it will pick up extra dirt and in the Northwest leave a round, slick, green mess of mold on the deck and the underside of the line.   I prefer the zigzag method that, while it does not look quite as “nautical” or neat, but the zigzag leaves less of a slick spot on the deck.

No matter how a line is stored on a boat in the Northwest, if the line is in the weather it will tend to get moldy during the winter so just get used to cleaning your lines in the spring to make them better to handle.

Your choice on tying a cleat

Well Sailor – Tie My Cleat – Which one will it be?

Printer Friendly Handout (PDF)

Please see How to Tie Your Boat to a Bull Rail – Part 1 for  information and instructions on tying your boat to a dock that has a Bull Rail when there is not a cleat to tie to.

Please see How to Tie Your Boat to a Bull Rail – Part 2 for more ways to tie your boat to a Bull Rail when there is not a cleat to tie to.

Tips on Tying Your Boat to the Dock


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10 Responses to Is This Your Cleat?

  1. Steve H says:

    Far better to simply put the eye of the mooring line on the cleat, leaving a clean dock. You’ll never see the big boys with a bazillion miles of mooring line on the dock. By the same token, when you pass a line to the dock for someone else to take, give them the eye, ask them to put the eye on the cleat and stand back. It ‘s a u-boat, not their boat. A line handler on the dock with a bitter end suddenly becomes the captain. More lines, more captains. Bull rails are a bit more problematical, captains everywhere until you can abandon ship and take over.

    Same goes for rafting. Give the receiving boat the evil eye.

    Remember, if they get hurt or pulled into the water, it’s your fault, no mater how incompetent they are.

    • Ken F says:

      Steve H,
      I’m not sure I agree. First of all, I wouldn’t hand the line off to someone that didn’t know what to do with it. Secondly, if I do hand a line to someone on the dock I want them to put it around the cleat and help control the load. As for rafting, I learned to double the bitter end back to the boat so that you can leave without a line handler on the other end. Either would work I suppose.

  2. Great discussion. Badly tied cleats are a pet peeve. Good to know that I’ve been doing it the right way. Thanks dad!

    I usually take the bitter end to the dock and leave the eye splice aboard the boat. However, I’ve heard those who moor in windy or storm area caution against this. For them, the reason to use the eye loop on the dock is so they can adjust their mooring lines without leaving the boat. This could be an advantage if you tie up to a fixed pier in an area affected by tides.

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  7. Dan Lehman says:

    Looking at the example of the supposed badly tied rope
    to the one of several fig.8s, there is not much difference.
    The “bad” one has neatly consumed all of the line, avoiding the moldy spots on the dock;
    the other leaves a tail to be reckoned with.
    Sometimes I see the tail half-hitched out along the line –decorative in a way, and it consumes
    the line while keeping it off of the dock.

    It occurs to me that a round turn on one ear of the cleat might do more to arrest the flow
    of tension to the end than adding extra fig.8s, which don’t have so much frictional bearing.
    And the finishing half-hitch could be slipped, and the slip-tuck further secured with a slip-knot
    –all fairly easily hauled undone with a stout tug on the tail. (“tail” : any “bitter” end ought to
    be by BITTS, hence the name). I’d be much less restrictive about the tail tie-off if the boat’s
    to be left unattended long : quick-release is a non-issue then, and the workings of time and
    who-knows-what *mischief* on a mere half-hitch worries me –I’d want something more.

    It is interesting to see some *new-fangled* cleats of an “S” shape, which presents different
    geometries depending on the direction of one’s approach to such a cleat (!) : too clever by


  8. Knot Mate says:

    Just wanted to thank you, too many pleasure boaters are married to the single figure-8 that Ashley shows. But we don’t work with tarred hemp; we have slippery, stretchy stuff. An extra figure 8 ’round the cleat isn’t a crime. The locking hitch isn’t meant to secure the load, simply to secure the bitter end against untyin’ back ’round the cleat. I’ve seen, a few times, people get to their boat during a storm surge high tide, and the cleats can’t be released ’cause the tension’s made its way ’round the cleat. One of the breast lines is cut, easing tension on the others.

    Tug boats, etc., would never lock a cleat hitch while towing.

    • captnmike says:

      Thanks, I try very hard to have accurate and safe information on the site.
      Yes a locking hitch on a tow or other application that may require a quick release under load is a very bad idea. Same for a Samson Post. I also teach knots and line handling to Crew and Coxswain candidates and safe line handling is always emphasized.

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