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How to Tie a Boat to a Dock? – Some Basic Types of Knots

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

how to tie a boat to a dock

For experienced rowers, tying up a boat to the port is a daily routine, nothing challenging. But if one day you own a boat, be it bought or rented, to have fun with your family, this task can cause difficulties if you do not do your research first.

We guarantee you won’t want to see your boat wobble in the water or slip and drift away, leaving damage and scratches. Don’t worry because, in today’s article, I will show you how to tie a boat to a dock with ropes – the most popular, effective, and flexible way. Please scroll down to learn more about techniques that have been used for thousands of years and are so perfect that nothing needs to be changed. In detail, I will take you through the methods for:

  • Cleat hitch/cleat knot
  • Clove hitch/clove knot
  • Bowline knot

For details, continue reading!

Why Tie Boats to Docks with Ropes


The rope is made from different materials, but mainly polypropylene and polyethylene. A complete rope will have four or more strands tightly twisted together. Some of the highlights that make ropes so popular are:

  • Excellent buoyancy and waterproof ability.
  • Acid and heat-resistant, oil-repellent, and does not corrode by saltwater or other chemicals.
  • Long service life that can withstand extreme weather conditions.
  • Despite its wide diameter, the rope is quite easy to use for tying and anchoring.
  • Easy to find and buy at a reasonable price.

Factors Affecting Boat Mooring

  • Cleats: Cleats are T-shaped or horn-shaped pieces of metal that are usually installed on the sides of both the boat and the dock to secure dock lines.
  • Pilings: Pilings are pieces of timber that serve as cleats on the docks. There are many types of pile designs. They can stand alone and plug into the bottom or be attached directly to the dock or pier.
  • Fenders (or bumpers): Fenders are soft vinyl, foam pads, or inflatable rubber sheets designed to be hung on the side of a boat, facing the dock. Without them, your boat will face the risk of unwanted damage or scratches, especially in busy berths.
  • Dock lines: Dock lines are designed to limit the ship’s movements and keep the ship close to the dock. Each boat has nine dock lines, but we usually only use 3-4. Tying so many dock lines does not make our boat safer; we only have a higher chance of getting them tangled up.

Some Basic Types of Knots


Aside from the essentials, knowing how to tie a knot correctly is crucial. It may take some time to practice and memorize but it is certainly worth it.

1. Cleat hitch (or cleat knot)

The most common and simplest knot can be used to tie your boat to the cleats on both your boat and dock.

  • Step 1: Weave the rope into a loop under the cleat, starting from the farthest point under that cleat, fasten it with the other side of the top, and finally drape it back to the center.
  • Step 2: After sliding the rope around the two horns of the cleat, make many additional figure-eight rounds around each horn.
  • Step 3: Follow the sequence, sliding enough loops to avoid tangles from the ropes wrapping around each other.
  • Step 4: Pull hard to tighten the rope; so it can hold down your boat. It is an extremely important step. Surely you do not want to see your boat slip and drift into the middle of the lake.

If cleats are unavailable, you should consider this way to tie your boat.

2. Clove hitch (or clove knot)

This knotting method is a helpful solution if the dock where you settled has only pilings.

  • Step 1: Make 3-4 full round turns around the piling.
  • Step 2: Cross over the piling, then slide it back from behind the rope.
  • Step 3: Tighten it so it can resist a lot of tension in that direction.
  • Step 4: Repeat the process with the rest of the dock lines until all the important aforementioned lines are tied to about four pilings.
  • Step 5: Now, by softly rolling the knot, you can move it up or down the pilings to adjust the slack of the rope.

3. Bowline knot

Known as the “King of knots” in the boating world, this method of tying is a little more challenging than the previous two. Yet, its efficacy is astounding. It’s so powerful that you can have your boat tied to a dock with a large cleat, a piling, or even temporarily secure an anchor.

  • Step 1: Hang the rope over the object, then form a loop of the desired size, while still making sure it is large and loose enough.
  • Step 2: Continue with the running end below the loop, pull it over the standing end, then back up to do a half-round.
  • Step 3: Insert the running end of the rope into the hole of the loop from the bottom. Then, loop back into the space between the two lines.
  • Step 4: Put the tip of the running end into the hole again, but this time from the top, and then tighten it.
  • Step 5: Finally, pull the standing end to adjust the knot up and down.

Tips and Tricks for a Fulfilled Journey

  • When docking, you must ensure the distance between the boat and the pier. It is to create convenience for passengers and minimize collisions between your boat and the dock or between your boat and other boats.
  • Depending on the weather and other external factors, slow down as you approach the pier to make sure you have proactive control and avoid accidentally hitting anything.
  • On average, each ship will have six cleats: two in the bow, two in the middle, and two in the stern. So, if your vessel lacks them, you may get them online from e-commerce sites, then attach them.
  • It is critical to guarantee the length of the dock lines to allow for slack, in case the tide changes up and down, to keep your ship steady.
  • Always make sure the stern, bow, spring lines, and fenders are securely engaged while tying up the boat.
  • Check your dock lines regularly and replace them, approximately once every two years, if they show indications of deterioration from external sources, such as weather, sunlight, or collisions.
  • Scrub the rope manually to remove impurities or salt crystals from the wire. This ensures friction and cleanliness for your hands.


Whether you own a boat or not, the skill of tying boats to docks is well worth learning. The fundamental knotting methods I’ve shown you above will come in handy on lengthy travels, camping vacations, or even just around your home.

I’ve shared with you useful tips and tricks on how to tie a boat to a dock in the hopes of teaching you a thing or two about docking your boat easily yet properly. Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Send me an email if you want to explore any other subjects as well.

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