Dock Lines 101
Published on May 15, 2022
Properly using dock lines on a boat is one of the first things new owners need to learn.
The first step to mooring mastery is knowing how to choose the right dock lines for your boat. For vessels up to 27 feet long, 3/8” line will be the best match. For boats up to 36 feet long, dock lines should be at least 1/2” in diameter and be at least 2/3 the length of the boat while spring lines (keep reading) should equal the length of the boat.
Know the basic varieties of lines
The two most common types of quality dock lines are double-braided and three-strand and most come with a loop at one end. Double-braided lines are available in a variety of colors for customization but can snag on rough pilings. Three-strand is usually white, less expensive and is resistant to snagging.
Home dock vs. transient
If you keep your boat in the water, it’s smart to invest in two sets of four dock lines: one for your home dock and one to take when cruising or going to places like local restaurants. The beauty of having a home set of lines is they can be cut to the correct length and left affixed to the dock at all times, which makes securing your boat to the dock easier. So, when you get back from a day on the water, all you have to do is take the looped end and pass it through the middle of the cleat in the direction away from the dock and slip it around the horns of your boat’s cleats and you’re done.
When transient docking, It’s better to affix the looped end of the line to the dock. That way in case you need to toss a line to someone on the dock, they can quickly make your boat fast by putting the loop over the cleat then the owner can tie off the correct amount of line to the boat. Spring lines are used to keep your boat from moving fore or aft.
Learning how to use dock lines requires mastering a few knots and the most important is the cleat hitch. The second most commonly used knot is the clove hitch, which is used to tie fenders to railings or tie a dock line to a piling.
What to do in different docking situations
Whenever possible, try to dock on floating docks, especially if you are boating in an area affected by tides. That way when you tie up, you can snug the lines tight, and the boat rises and falls with the dock. Another benefit of having tight lines is the boat can’t move fore or aft.
In tidal areas or in places where the water level is controlled by the Army Corp of Engineers, it’s more complicated when mooring a boat to a fixed-height dock. There are several factors to consider to avoid leaving your boat high and dry when the water level goes down or swamped if the water level goes up. If you are in a new area, observe how other boaters have tied up and copy them. To learn the fine points, go online and view tutorials that explain the do’s and don’ts in great detail.
Properly using boat dock lines gives owners the ability to confidently walk away from their boats, secure in the knowledge nothing bad will happen due to their mishandling of lines.