When you go through the drive thru at the local fast food place and order a dozen burgers off the value menu and the bag is waiting for you before you can even get your wallet out, you might say it was “made fast.” But in the boating world, the nautical term for securing your boat to the dock is ensuring the boat is “made fast” to the structure. Since this is a boating publication, we’ll focus on the latter.
Securing your pontoon or deck boat in a slip takes docking lines—or mooring lines—to successfully secure it to the dock. Remember, if you’re looking to use the correct nautical terminology, you’re not tying up to the dock, instead one is ensuring the vessel is “made fast” to the dock. But whatever you want to call it, knowing how it’s correctly done is the most important factor for any boater when it comes to properly securing your vessel.
Keeping it simple, we’ll approach this as if the body of water has no wind, waves or fluctuations in water depth. Getting started you’ll need four long dock lines with a permanent eye spliced on one end. You’ll also need at least two fenders to absorb the force of contact between the boat and the dock to prevent your craft from touching the pier.
The Game Plan
A veteran crew should help you out by placing these fenders over the sides as you first approach the dock. A good captain takes control, so don’t be afraid to ask the newbie that might be on your boat to lend you a hand when docking if no one jumps up or offers to assist.
Often you’ll see boats tied up with only two lines—one at the bow and the other at the stern—with each line running at about a 90-degree angle from the boat to the dock. These two lines will secure the boat, but they won’t keep the boat from drifting slightly frontwards or backwards (ahem, I mean fore and aft). This can potentially allow your boat to bump into other boats, especially at a crowded pier.
The correct method of making your vessel fast to the dock or slip is actually quick and easy. It usually involves four mooring lines: a bow line and stern line to secure the ends of your boat to the dock; and two spring lines to limit the fore and aft movement of your vessel.
The bow and stern lines’ locations are self-explanatory; the bow line is at the front and the stern line is at the back of the boat. Spring lines hold the boat amidships (the middle), by running one spring line from a dock cleat situated near the center of the vessel to the bow, and then another spring line to the dock cleat from the stern.
If you happen to find yourself at a dock that lacks a center cleat, but your pontoon or deck boat has a center cleat, it is possible to rig spring lines from the amidships cleat aft to where the stern line is tied to the dock, and forward to the bow line dock cleat.
If you find yourself in a slip, instead of parallel-parked at a dock, you can rig two lines from the bow to the port and starboard pilings, and crisscross the stern lines (port line to starboard piling, starboard line to port piling).
Tying up only takes a few minutes, but don’t forget to strategically position the fenders to stave off any close encounters.
If the thought of tying a knot that will ensure your boat is still there when you return, yet not be so complicated that it takes 30 minutes to untie scares you, you’re not alone. Many skippers fear the wrath of not tying the correct knot for the right situation. But in reality, you only need to know two dock line fasting techniques to tie up your boat and both rate 10 on the Easy Scale.
Most dock lines/mooring lines have any eye (loop) incorporated on one end; this is the end you’ll tie to your boat. Pay attention, because there are three steps to the procedure: first push the eye of the docking line through the center opening in the base of the cleat. Next push the eye of the dock line through the opening in the base of the cleat. Then loop the line’s eye over both horns (the ends) of the cleat and pull the docking line snug.
Tying the line to the as standard dock cleat is also a three-step process. With the mooring line in one hand: first wrap the line around the base of the cleat. Next pull the line over the top and around the opposite horns of the cleat to create a figure eight with the line. Then make two additional figure eights (if possible) and finally secure by tucking the line under the last wrap to form a half hitch.
Securing your boat to the dock isn’t nearly as intimidating as actually docking the boat or finding a place for it at the pier. Use high-quality dock lines and fenders—making sure the fenders are large enough for your boat—and just practice. Be sure to be patient with yourself and crew and soon tying up will be as easy as tying your shoes.