How to Install Boat Cleats

Written by linda zukauskas
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How to Install Boat Cleats
Installed correctly, a cleat won't fail when you need it most. (bow of a boat image by Cliff Lloyd from

You depend on your boat cleats. Whether she's tied to the dock, towing or under tow, you don't want the cleats to let go and set her adrift. To safely secure a cleat to a boat, do a little research to find the right size cleat and then take the time to drill through the hull and use nuts on the backside. Don't consider wood or self-tapping screws that simply thread into the top of the boat's surface.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Cleat
  • Marking pen
  • Wood or metal backing plate
  • Bolts
  • Nuts
  • Washers
  • Epoxy or caulk
  • Drill
  • Wrench

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  1. 1

    Mark the holes through the cleat and into the deck.

  2. 2

    Drill holes for the bolts into the boat deck.

  3. 3

    Move the cleat to the wood backing plate, mark the wood and drill holes to match the ones you created in the above two steps.

  4. 4

    Seal the gap between the cleat and the bolts with epoxy or caulk. Make the space as watertight as it was before you began to drill.

  5. 5

    Place the cleat on the deck and slide the bolts through the holes.

  6. 6

    From below deck, add the backing plate through the bolts.

  7. 7

    Add washers and nuts below the backing plate and tighten the bolts.

Tips and warnings

  • Usually, you won't be able to reach both the cleat and the backing plate at the same time because you'll need to crawl into a small area and do some stretching just to access the bolts as they poke through the deck. A second set of hands can turn the bolts as you hold the nuts.
  • Spend a few extra dollars to get a cleat made from solid metal rather than plating. Not only will you enjoy a shiny cleat, you'll appreciate one that keeps its structural integrity and doesn't corrode over time.
  • Instead of wood, you can use stainless steel or sheet bronze as a backing plate. Use a metal drill bit to bore into these; expect this step to take time whether you use metal or hard wood because you want something that will resist pressure as you tighten the bolts.
  • Purchase the right size cleat for your boat so that it can take the strain when a rope pulls on it.

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