How To Tie Up A Boat! Don’t Wake Up With it Underwater!


Have you ever saw someone with a sunken boat at their dock? If you have, you are probably wondering how you can avoid that happening to you! Knowing how to tie up your boat is crucial in making sure that doesn’t happen.

How To Tie Up A Boat? Boats need to be tied up to account for rising and lowering tides. Dock lines will need to be arranged to account for the distance the water will go up and down. As well as keep the boat from going under the dock. Unless you are tying up to a floating dock that will move with the water, in that case then, the boat can be tied uptight.

Here is everything that you need to know about tying up a boat at any kind of slip or dock that you will come to on the water!

Accounting For Tide Changes

When tying up your boat for longer periods, you should always account for tide changes. Otherwise, several mishaps can occur regardless of whether you have a large boat or a small one. The worst-case scenario is that the boat sinks!

There are many ways for this to happen. Whether it gets caught on the dock and then fills up with water and rolls over. Or whether the lines prevent the boat from going down and does the same thing.

Lighter cases being broken cleats. Damaged docks, and scratched, chipped, or busted up gel coat!

For Large Boats with Cleats Higher Than the Dock

If you have a large boat, chances are that your stern and bow cleats are situated at some height above the dock. If you tie up your boat snugly at high tide, there will be some slack created in the ropes at low tide.

This slack can lead to your boat smacking against the dock or other boats. It may even result in your boat getting stuck under the dock. In the worst-case scenario, this slack may allow your boat to move to such degrees that the line snaps or comes free. You definitely don’t want to arrive at the dock to see your boat across the water, or not to be seen at all!

If you tie up your boat at low tide, the increased water level at high tide can increase the tension in the line. This tension can be so great that the line just snaps and the boat can drift off with the current.

If somehow, the lines are strong enough not to snap, the water will rise to a point that it starts to enter the boat. The boat will keep filling up with water until the water level in the boat matches the water level of the sea. Meaning your boat sinks!

Which is something that no one wants to wake up to! Having the boat rollover is usually the case for bigger boats.

For Smaller Boats with Cleats Slightly Lower Than the Dock

If you own a smaller boat, chances are that your cleats are situated at dock level or slightly lower. When you tie the boat up snugly at high tide, it might end up hanging by the line at low tide. If your boat is heavy enough, the tension created in the line can snap it, leaving your boat adrift.

Small boats run the same risk as large boats when they are tied up and the tide rises and lowers. Snapping lines, water entering the boat, and capsizing are all accidents that can occur if you don’t account for rising tides.

What is most common with smaller boats though. Is that they will get stuck under the dock! As the tide goes down, because of lower gunwales, they can work themselves under the dock. Then when the tide comes up. It pins the boat under the dock.

Eventually rising to the point of damaging the boat and the dock. Even to the point of sinking the boat!

To avoid these things from happening to you, always account for tide changes. How this is done depends on a lot of things. Like which type of dock you are tying your boat up to. Read on to find out more about the different types of docks you may encounter.

Different Types of Docks

How you tie your boat depends a lot on the type of dock you are tying it up to. Floating docks and slips are the easiest as you can tie your boat to them snugly without worry. Fixed docks and slips warrant different ways to be tied to though.

The most common types of docks that you will see on the water. Are floating docks that move up and down with the tides. Then there are piers, fixed docks, side docks, and finger slips with either two or four pilings.

Pier Docks Fixed Docks or Side Docks

There are many misconceptions about tying your boat to a fixed dock. One that is especially popular is that you need to leave some slack in your lines to allow for tide changes. Technically, it is true that this can help in relieving tension in the line and prevent it from snapping.

But this does not mean that it is a good idea. Loose lines allow your watercraft to move freely and bang up against the dock or other boats parked nearby. This can damage your boat, the dock, and other boats. Most experienced boaters will tell you that you never want to have slack in your lines.

So what is the secret to tying up your lines securely without leaving slack?

The trick is to use long lines when tying up your boat. Elevation changes due to tides cause less tension when you use longer lines. The longer your line is, the less tension you get. It is simple geometry! 😉

The simple trick to avoid tying short lines is to use pilings or cleats that are further away on the dock. Don’t just use the nearest cleat. Go for cleats at a little more distance from your boat. If the cleats on the dock are so close to the boat that you can’t tie a long line. You’ll want to cross your lines.

Tie the bow cleat to the rear dock cleat and your stern cleat to the forward dock cleat.

It is always a good idea to tie a spring line to the dock to keep your boat nice and secure. A spring line is led diagonally from the dock cleats to the center cleat on your boat. You want to tie two spring lines. One from the forward dock cleat and one from the rear.

Finger Slips: Two or Four Pilings & A Side or Parallel Dock

Finger slips provide a more secure fit for your boat lines. A four piling dock allows you to easily attach up to ten lines to keep your boat in place in the slip. A good technique is to cross your stern lines and tie them to the rear pilings.

Since finger slips may not have a lot of pilings, this would also help in keeping your lines longer. The bowlines, however, can be tied straight to their corresponding pilings. It might be a good idea to cross these too, but it is not an absolute requirement.

Additionally, you have the option of tying either one or two spring lines to each of your center cleats. One from the rear piling and one from the forward piling. So if you tie both springs (from the rear and forward pilings) on both the port and starboard side of your boat.

You can have a maximum of four spring lines tied to your boat.

This is usually overkill

in our opinion though, and something more suitable for docking in a storm or especially rough waters. If you ever feel the need to tie four spring lines.

Just make sure the tension is about the same in each. You don’t want the boat to be tilting to any one side.

In the case that you encounter a slip with only two pilings. Run long lines from the port piling to the bow and one to the stern. You won’t have the ability to have spring lines in these slips.

But what you also want to do is to cross lines from the dock behind the boat. To the two stern cleats.

This will help keep the boat docked securely. Which is especially useful as you can’t tie a spring line in this case.

Floating Docks or Floating Slips

If you are looking to go ashore and find a floating dock or slip, you are in luck. Floating docks and slips are usually connected to land with hinged ramps. These allow the docks (or slips) to rise and fall with tides or changing water levels.

Tying up your boat to a floating dock is easy as pie. Short lines will work, as well as longer ones. You can even cross your lines or keep them straight, according to your preferences.

Basically, you can tie up any way you like, provided that the line is snug and secure. Floating docks rise and fall the same amount as your boat, so they are at the same height relative to each other. With floating docks, you never need to account for tide changes.

Just make sure you have a line to the bow and the stern at the least. Usually, you’ll want one to the midship cleat as well, totaling three lines on the boat.

Dock Lines & Tying To Cleats

Of course, all this information is useless if you do not know how to properly tie your lines. If your line’s too loose, no matter how you tie it, your boat will drift away. Experienced sailors may skip this section, but those of you new to seafaring should read on.

You might have heard of the phrase “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot”. While this might be true for some applications. We know it’s not the best advice when it comes to boating. Tying a lot most often does nothing to improve the grip of the line.

After the first couple of ties, most are redundant. Tying a lot also makes it an unnecessary hassle to untie when you need to take your boat out. If you plan to be a regular seafarer, it is worth the time to learn how to properly tie a line to a cleat.

If you have an eye splice at the end of your line, it is extremely easy to tie it to a cleat.

Just run your line through the middle of the cleat and loop it around the cleat to tie it. Presto! You have a secure line.

If you have a flat end at the end of your line, tying it is a bit of a process. But it is not a very complex one. There are a lot of ways to tie such a line properly, but they all revolve around the same idea with a little variation. Our favored way is:

You should loop the line around the base of the cleat (commonly referred to as making a circle) just one time. After that, loop it around the top of the cleat diagonally, bring it under the cleat. Then across to the other side and loop around the top again. (making a figure 8 around the cleat horns).

Then, form a loop and slip it over the cleat horn, and pin the free end under the remaining wrap. There! Done! With a little bit of practice, you’ll be tying lines as effortlessly as an old sea dog!

We have a video on how to dock a boat, and we also perform this cleat tying method at the end of the video. Check it out!

Rafting Up!

Now that you know how to properly tie your boats to a dock, it is time to tie them together! Call all your mariner friends out to the coast and enjoy a raft-up. As an added bonus, you can offer to tie the boats together and impress your friends with your newfound tying skills! (Just joking 😉

Rafting up is simple. Throw an anchor out the front and get it set. Then take another anchor from the back and set it to keep the boat from swaying.

Put some fenders out the side of the boat and then tie another boat tight up to the side of your boat!

Here’s another article we wrote about Painting and Taking Care Of Your Boat Fenders!

Check Us Out!

Now that you know how to tie up your boat. Here are some more helpful articles that will teach you even more about your boat!

How To Get More Hours Out Of Your Boat’s Engine With Less Break Downs!

How Much Does It Cost To Own And Operate A Boat?

We’d also like to invite you to check out our Youtube Channel where we teach you all kinds of boating tips, tricks, and service how-tos! Subscribe to the channel and follow us on Instagram!

Aaron Hilligoss

Aaron has been working in the Marine Industry for over a decade and holds certifications for Yamaha and Mercury Marine. It is not uncommon for him to own and be working on at least three different boats at any given point in time!

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