How to Tie Up a Boat to the Dock

Written by peter hall
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How to Tie Up a Boat to the Dock
Tying off to a floating dock. (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Tying a boat to the dock is far more difficult than parking a car, but with the right planning and preparation any skipper can manage this manoeuvre. Depending on the style of dock and the length of time you plan to be ashore, there are several factors to consider when securing your vessel to the dock. The ultimate goal of tying your boat up is to know that when you come back to the boat it will be where you left it. You need to protect your vessel against tide, weather, broken lines and failed knots.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Spring lines
  • Dock lines
  • Fenders

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Instructions

    Tying Up In A Slip

  1. 1

    Hang fenders from your gunwales (side rails of the boat) as you approach the dock. The fenders will protect your hull from the dock.

    How to Tie Up a Boat to the Dock
    Boats docked in slips. Note that there is a dock on two sides of each boat and a piling separating each slip (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Either throw a spring line to someone on the dock, or get close enough to the dock so one of your crew can safely step from the boat to the dock. Then throw that person a spring line. A spring line is any line that you use to help position the boat more easily in confined areas.

  3. 3

    Motor into your slip. The crew member with the spring line should be ready to either wrap the line around a cleat or post if you need a pivot point, or catch dock lines once you are in position.

  4. 4

    Tie the stern (back) to the dock with the dock lines in an X pattern. One line should go from the port (left) side of the stern to the starboard (right) side of the dock. The other should go from the starboard side of the boat to the port side on the dock. Depending on your dock, you may use lines that are permanently attached to the dock, or lines that are aboard your boat. If you are tying to a cleat or a bollard (short post with a pin through it), either on your boat or on the dock, use a cleat knot. If you are tying off to a post, use a rolling hitch. See the boating knots website, netknots, to learn how these knots are tied.

  5. 5

    Tie the bow of the boat to the dock in a V pattern. The cleat on the port side of the bow should be tied to the dock or post on the port side. You don't want your dock lines to crush any of your deck-mounted equipment (lights, horns or life lines).

  6. 6

    Adjust the four dock lines to centre your boat in the slip. When positioning your boat, you need to allow for tide and current changes.

    Docking Alongside A Dock With Mooring Whips

  1. 1

    Hang fenders from your gunwales (side rails of the boat) as you approach the dock. The fenders will protect your hull from the dock.

  2. 2

    Either throw a spring line to someone on the dock, or get close enough to the dock so one of your crew can safely step from the boat to the dock and then throw that person a spring line.

  3. 3

    Tie the port side bow cleat to a dock cleat behind the midpoint of your boat, if you are port side to the dock. If you are tying to a cleat or a bollard (short post with a pin through it), either on your boat or on the dock, use a cleat knot. If you are tying off to a post, use a rolling hitch.

  4. 4

    Tie the port side stern cleat to a dock cleat in front of the midpoint of your boat. Your two dock lines should form an X between the boat and the dock.

  5. 5

    Adjust these two lines to keep your boat centred between the bases of the two mooring whips. Leave enough slack to allow for tide and current changes.

  6. 6

    Tie bow and stern of boat to cleats nearest the bases of the mooring whips. The X should now have a top and a bottom line running from boat to dock.

  7. 7

    Tie the starboard side bow cleat to the mooring whip. The mooring whip is a flexible fibreglass rod which will hold your boat away from the dock to prevent damage to your hull. From the dock, pull on the mooring whip line to put enough tension on the mooring whip so that it is bent over and holding the boat away from the dock.

  8. 8

    Tie the stern mooring whip to the port side stern cleat. From the dock, pull on the mooring whip line to put both whips under equal tension. If you tie the mooring whip to the starboard side cleat, it will pull your boat to the dock, defeating the purpose.

    Tying Up To A Dock Without Mooring Whips

  1. 1

    Hang fenders from your gunwales (side rails of the boat) as you approach the dock. The fenders will protect your hull from the dock. If the dock does not have fenders attached, be sure that your boat fenders cannot ride up over the dock. The fenders will be the only thing protecting your hull from the dock while you are tied up.

  2. 2

    Either throw a spring line to someone on the dock, or get close enough to the dock that one of your crew can safely step from the boat to the dock and then throw that person a spring line.

  3. 3

    Tie the port side bow cleat to a dock cleat behind the midpoint of your boat, assuming you are port side to the dock. If you are tying to a cleat or a bollard (short post with a pin through it), either on your boat or on the dock, use a cleat knot. If you are tying off to a post, use a rolling hitch.

  4. 4

    Tie the port side stern cleat to a dock cleat in front of the midpoint of your boat. Your two dock lines should form an X between the boat and the dock.

  5. 5

    Tie another dock line from the starboard side bow cleat to a dock cleat in front of the bow of your boat.

  6. 6

    Tie a dock line from the starboard side stern cleat to a dock cleat behind your boat.

  7. 7

    Adjust all four lines to keep your boat centred between the two outermost cleats. Leave enough slack to allow for tide and current changes.

Tips and warnings

  • Keep your engine running until the boat is secured to at least two places on the dock.
  • Leave enough slack in the lines to allow for falling and rising tides, but not enough that your boat will hit the dock at mid-tide.
  • If your boat and tide and wind conditions are light enough, the person with the spring line can pull you into the dock instead of using the boat engine.
  • Ask the harbormaster or another boater how much tides vary if you are not familiar with the area.
  • If you are tied to a floating dock, you don't have to leave slack for changing tides, as the dock builder accounted for the tides already.
  • If you are docking in a river or another body where the current always goes in the same direction, dock with your bow upstream and leave a bit more slack on the bow lines than the stern. The current will hold your boat away from the dock.
  • Don't expect crew or passengers to make huge leaps from boat to dock. Use your fenders to get the boat close enough that a crew member can step from boat to dock.
  • Make sure that everyone keeps clear of the area between boat and dock. Crush injuries can be fatal.
  • Only tie off to cleats on your boat. Don't tie off to railings, lifelines or any other deck mounted equipment or fittings, as these won't be strong enough.
  • If you don't leave enough slack for high and low tides, you will break your lines, dock or boat.

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