Boatersbook Blog

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Cleats Tied Right

Here’s how to correctly tie cleats and bollards. While all of us use cleats, very few use them properly, because they were never taught correctly. It’s simple and one of the things hardly anyone does right, including racers. The method I show here will allow you to quickly and easily let a line loose when it’s under tension and still keep it safely secured. It’s amazingly fast (I have to purposely tie a cleat slowly to show it on film - It’s just too fast to follow.) and easy. Learning to use bollards is important because they are on many docks. I like bollards more than cleats for docking because they’re faster, easier and give more even range of friction when jumping and snubbing.

Here’s the boat line handling skills you need to master before taking your boat out. Read the articles I’ve written for you and practice them at your slip. Please note that few boaters have mastered these skills: On almost all docks, almost all boats are tied up poorly to terribly. You’ll be glad you took the time to learn how to do these simple things in a professional, easy and safe manner.
(1) Tie a cleat to a dock
(2) Tie a cleat onboard
(3) Snub a line
(4) Jump a line
(5) Tie a boat to a dock

Cleats and their cousins, bollards, are used to both snub (slow) a line or hold it fast. Bollards are easier to use, particularly for snubbing but are larger. Cleats should be large enough for a loop of the correctly-sized line for the task to easily fit between the posts, onboard and large enough to easily fit underneath the horns, no matter what cleat it is. Dock cleats are not designed for the line to go through them, as that impedes the ability to release the line quickly. Jam cleats are of two designs: A ribbed valley and an almost normal looking cleat, with one horn having an extended base with a gap that narrows considerably, jamming the line between the horn and the base. The ribbed valley variety is quick-releasing but not suited for unattended use, as it does release on its own and is mainly used for racing sailboats.

Tying a dockline onboard:

Many boats have cleats that are too small for them. If you can not use the correctly sized line for your boat with your boat's cleats, replace them with properly sized cleats. It's frustrating that manufacturers save a few dollars, this way.

(1) Pass the spliced loop through the middle of your boat’s cleat, from the outside.

(2) Place the loop around the horns, one at a time.

(3) Pull it tight.


Cleating a dockline to a dock cleat:

(1) Approach the cleat at the side that gives an acute angle between the line and the cleat: That’s the far side.

(2) Run the line around the back, going under both horns to the front.

(3) Go over the top diagonally and under the opposite horn, coming out in front again

(4) Cross over the top again diagonally, making an X and hold the line in place with a thumb.

(5) Flip a loop of the line under (so that the end of the loop is underneath the side coming from the cleat).

(6) Place that around the horn.

(7) Pull snugly, so the top still has an X of rope. You have now locked the cleat and it is secure.

(8) If you are leaving the boat for en extended time, you can make a second locking loop on the other horn.

When you’re done, you should have a neat X on top. Starting with the acute angle not only transfers more friction initially to the cleat, giving you more control and keeping the line from initially popping off the first horn but also keeps the line more than perpendicularly off the cleat, preventing the line from rolling over and trapping itself, which can be a beast to pry loose.

Do not start with an obtuse angle because the line can pop off the cleat's horn as you're jumping the line, you are not starting with a 180° turn that gives the necessary initial friction and the line from the boat can trap the wraps, making it sometimes very difficult to undo, when leaving dock - Just when you need to quickly board your boat.  Here is what not to do:

This is what it looks like after tying the cleat, starting with the wrong side (Don't do this!):

You can see how the line to the boat traps the next cleat wrap by pulling up against it, here, when starting with the wrong side of the cleat:


There is no need to bury the cleat in loops of line – Quite the opposite, because they take so long to unwind.

When your boat is drifting in your slip as you're trying to leave, untying this mess is frustrating and can lead to problems as the boat pivots away with only one difficult to remove line holding. This means you're going to either have to jump for the boat or miss it. Neither are good choices, so prevent this problem in the first place.  Here is how to take care of the extra line: Coil it "Flemishing"

As with everything, keep it simple and utilitarian. Wise seamanship dictates work that is easily usable and looks neat because it’s easy to use and tell when something’s out of place or broken. The pile of line can also hide line that has frayed around the initial turn on the cleat and that can result in unexpected breakage and damage to the boat. A pile of line takes a minute or two to unwind, usually results in a tangle and in an emergency can cause critical delays and harm. When tied properly, a line can be released cleanly in a few seconds.

Tying a cleat (not a dockline) onboard:
Never lock a cleat by flipping the line over in a locking loop, when onboard. This is because lines onboard must be easily secured and released from cleats with one hand, as the other holds onto the boat, for safety. Here’s how to do it:
(1) Use the cleat’s horn that forms an acute angle with the line. Pass the rope under it, around the back of the cleat and under the other horn. If it’s a jam cleat that has been installed correctly, this is the jam horn.
(2) If it’s a jam cleat, after going under the jam horn, cross the center, under the first horn, in the opposite direction. Wrap the line around the base of the cleat, yanking it tight, twice. The second time, you’ll wedge the line in place. That’s it!
(3) If it’s a normal cleat, after going under the second horn, cross the center, under the first horn and cross the center again. Wrap the line around the base of the cleat, yanking it tight, twice. The second time, you’ll wedge the line in place. That’s it!
This is how to tie a cleat onboard, in pictures: