The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

10 Ways to Make Your Boat Easier to Bring Alongside a Dock

So far in this Online Book we have covered some theory and then the practical steps to get alongside easily, together with how to rig an aft-running spring really-right. Now let’s go back a bit and look at how we need to prepare our boats in other ways to make coming alongside easy.

One again, I’m going to do this as a series of tips.

Login to continue reading (scroll down)

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Excellent suggestions.
A couple of years back I wrote an “Homage to Cleats” article ( for Steve D’Antonio’s e’zine where I speak to the dangers to of loops on dock lines as well as other docking issues. I particularly address what a glorious and versatile invention a cleat is and how loops completely undermine their inherent usefulness. I have never seen the issue addressed elsewhere, although I suspect it must have been.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Hi Dick,

Great piece. I was taught how to tie off to a cleat in two different ways:
1) On a tall ship, operated by navy crew: A few turns around base (depending on expected loads), two figure of eights around the horns, and then a final turn around the base to hold it together (come to think about it, this was for a ship, so it may have been on bollards rather than cleats… it was a long time ago). No half-hitches are used in this method. The navy guys told us not to use the locking half-hitch as they can jam under load.

2) On racing sailboats: The cleat hitch technique that you described in your linked article.

I’ve been concerned that method 2 could jam up under load, so I generally use a hybrid of the two methods on my boat: I use a couple of turns around the base of the cleat (from method 1), and then complete the tie-off with the parallel figure-8/locking half-hitch (from method 2) over the top.

Have you ever had a problem with the method that you linked to jamming up?



Dick Stevenson

Hi Bryce,
Thanks for your thoughts and the kind comment.
There are many ways to belay to cleats and many of them are quite secure. I look for the combination of great security with ease/quickness of execution and ease/quickness of release. What was pictured and described has served me well and, I believe, is the method most often portrayed and described for recreational sailors in the books/videos etc, with minor variations.
I have never had a jam in the described belay. Occasionally, rarely, I have to prod the belay loose, much as one does with a clove hitch that has gotten pulled tight. If I expect large forces I sometimes take one extra loop of the figure eight before the locking hitch. On my cleats, this belay also leaves room for another line to be belayed, although I try not to pile them up, but this is not always possible.
The Navy crew’s method is tried and true, but longer to execute and rarely leaves room on the cleat for an extra line. I also suspect that when you have lots of disparate crew working the ship, it might be better to never have the securing 1/2 hitch as, done wrong, it can certainly jam. They may also be seeing loads far in excess of what we see if they bring their learning and practices from their big ships. I can imagine that large hauser used as docklines being belayed in just that fashion.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Eric Klem

Hi Dick, John and Bryce,

I have had lines that can’t be released before so I have had to learn some things about cleating hitches the hard way. The only problems that I have had have been on much larger vessels with much higher loads and primarily with 3-strand which can lock against itself pretty hard. With the method described below, I have never had a problem so I continue to use this on our boat although it is overkill.

My preference is to always lead to the cleat at an acute angle, do half a straight turn, then several figure 8’s then potentially a locking turn. The acute angle is critical for making sure you can release as an obtuse angle can allow the first turn to pin other turns. My understanding of the origin of the straight half turn was to keep belaying pins from rotating in the pin rail which it does very well. It is also important to avoid doing a full straight turn or multiples of it as this can allow the straight turn to be pinned by the first turn if the lead is up at all. For figure 8’s, I rarely use less than 2 full unless there is something like a winch first that takes most of the load. On boats that slush masts, you sometimes have to do up to 4 complete figure 8’s to prevent slipping of the greasy lines. Like John, I don’t lock off sheets but lock everything else as I really don’t want something like a halyard coming undone.



Hi Dick, John & Eric,

Thanks for your thoughts on this. The most salient point for me was the potential for a lock-up when using a round turn at the start of the cleat hitch if there is any vertical pull. I hadn’t thought of this, so from now on I think I’ll skip the extra round-turns around the base of the cleat and add an extra figure of eight on top if I’m expecting a blow.

Best regards,



Hi Dick,
excellent article, thank you for sharing!

Richard Dykiel

As an avid looper-around-the-cleat I certainly learned something… Thanks guys. Now I have to go buy longer lines….

Eric Klem

Hi John,

A good list. I am little surprised to hear how problematic you think fenderboards are but I admit they take a bit of getting used to. Many of the boats that I have worked on almost always went against pilings so we had to learn some tricks. The most important thing was that you never actually contacted the dock until you were powering against a spring and that you set up the spring control to be right near the fenderboard that will bear first so that the person there can surge the spring to get you aligned right.

I agree on avoiding permanent loops in docklines. I have often temporarily put a bowline in when coming alongside so I can throw it to someone on the dock but it gets substituted once we are tied up.

I have to admit that I prefer dual lever controls but I also feel more comfortable with others when they are using single lever for the reasons you state so I am a bit hypocritical. There are 2 reasons I know of to like dual lever. The first is for boats like lobster boats that spend a lot of time running a hydraulic circuit in neutral. A dual lever control allows you to quickly shift to neutral and rev up the engine without futzing with a neutral interlock. The other reason is that dual controls are mechanically simpler, I have had more than one experience where a single lever jammed at an inopportune time (I am not a fan of the Morse designed side mount controls). All that said, there are many varieties of dual lever controls and the implementation on most sailboats is tricky to use but the ones made for powerboats are very easy to use blind as the controls are together.



Hi John,
not using cleat loops as you suggested requires decently sized cleats if you’re going to have the spring (or any other) line on slip. On the average charter boat the cleats are merely a kind of toy where one might tie up one end of the line, but not the other end thats coming back…
IMHO the biggest cleat that just matches the available space is the best if you’re rigging your own boat.

Matt Marsh

You think yacht cleats are bad? Try runabout and sportboat cleats. Every single boat show, I see 22-footers with three 6-inch cleats: one centred on the bow, and one at each stern gunwale. It just doesn’t work.

As for cleat loops (like John’s “do not do this” photo): This technique works quite well for little boats, under one tonne or so, where you never adjust or release the line from the boat side. It’s definitely not appropriate for larger vessels.


I like to have all lines with spliced loops in one end, and no loop in the other end. Fasten the loop on the cleat, line through a ring or similar on the dock, then back on board and make a cleat hitch.
-All lines easily adjustable onboard
-Can leave dock without crew going on the dock.
-No rope clutter on the dock.

-Lines have to be twice the length.
-Difficult to use mooring snubbers.
-On some bollards lines may slip of using this teqniche, then another aproach have to be used.

Here in Norway this is a very common way to do it with small recreational boats. What are your comments to this aporiach?

Dick Stevenson

Hi Egil,
Yes, this is quite common, but there is another drawback which John referred to: chafe. And when chafe happens, it is in the middle of the line and ruins the line for further use. There is much less chance of chafe if the dockline is dead-ended on the (often rough and rusty) ring, especially if 2 round turns are used. A lead around the ring and back to the boat is far more likely to produce chafe as it works than a line dead-ended. In the rare occurrence of chafe happening to a line dead-ended on the ring, then you just cut off a foot or so and still have a workable dockline.
It is rare, but I have seen it happened a couple of times: the line gets jammed just as it is being drawn back to the boat (usually someone pulling hard enough so the line flips into a nook or something). With the line properly cleated off, it is simple to just to cast off the line and come back for it: not so easy with a loop around the cleat (but very entertaining to those in attendance).
My best, Dick Stevenson


Thanks to both of you for good answers.

Marc Dacey

This is very common around here, just as loops are common elsewhere. We have heavy dock lines with chains, thimbles, moused shackles, snubbers, etc. for our home dock. We have entirely separate lines for when we dock elsewhere. They are lighter (5/8th inch/15mm) but more numerous as we tend to want fore and aft springs and doubled stern and bow lines when heavy weather threatens. The only time I will customarily use a loop is when warping off against current or wind. I concur about the single lever, but that is simply the sort I’ve become used to. I had separate shifters on my old boat. This discussion has me looking critically at my own boat. I note that while I do not have a deck bollard or cleat in the John’s “right spot” for an aft spring against which one can motor at dead slow, I do have the next best thing, a scupper in the bulwark giving a very good angle for this line from the amidship bollard.

Bill Balme

Have to say, I’m with Egil. I like the spliced loop – which takes up minimal space on the boat cleat, then run the line to the shorefast and back to the cleat allowing easy adjustment.
The argument of chafe seems to be a little unfair – unless you plan to cleat solidly on the landside cleat – (correct me if I’m wrong, but chafe will happen on any moving lines). If cleating solidly to the land, then you can no longer leave the dock while still aboard – not a good situation.
I’ve not been sailing my whole life, but I’ve never yet had a thought to cut my dock lines – even before I learned to cleat all lines back to the boat.
Maybe I’m missing something in your argument…?


Dick Stevenson

Hi Bill,
For clarity, there are 2 issues being discussed, both involving loops: spliced loops at the end of a dockline and the securing of the boat to a dock whereby a loop from the boat goes around a shorefast (but not secured on shore, merely run around the shorefast) and then returns to the boat.
Yes, I do cleat solidly to the dockside cleat. I dead end my docklines on the dock leaving a little line for dock-end adjustment and the bulk of the unused line on board. I like easy adjustment from either dock or boat and tightening is easier from the dock where there are not fairleads, lifelines etc and sweating the line is more accessible. So, yes, there is far less chance of chafe as the line is not moving and if chafe does occur, it is at line end.
As for the loop to shore and back, there are occasional conditions where I wish to be on the boat when leaving, and then I will run lines to do so just before departure, but most of the time I prefer to cast off from the dock. This allows me to bounce the boat off the fenders to get angles of departure better and then climb aboard. It should be noted that I have a quite low freeboard boat easy to climb aboard most anywhere along its length. Many of the modern boats are much more difficult to board and I would then choose to be aboard on departure. Even so, unless a quiet one night stay, I would likely dead end lines on the dock and re-rig for departure.
For me, a loop spliced in the dockline it is all about safety and control. A cleat, used to belay a line in the manner it was designed for, is just bulletproof safe and gives great line control. A spliced loop allows no line control and is/can be a safety hazard. (In a fire drill of some sort, the temptation to pry off a loop and get fingers in harm’s way will be great.) Certainly, for years and decades, securing loops back to the boat will work, but when it is just as easy to (and almost as compact) to use the marvelous invention of a cleat, that is the route I would espouse.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

James Evans

Excellent point on the jammed line, John. I’ve had it happen but was able to haul back and sort it out – but I can imagine situations where I would have wished I’d taken your advice.

Stedem Wood

Couple thoughts.

The easily inflated fenders are very pricey and have some interesting trade-offs. They’re quite a bit lighter than the large Polyform or similar fenders. That’s an advantage when rigging them because the bigger versions of traditional round fenders are heavier than some crew can handle. The light ones have an issue, though. They are so light they are easily blown sideways out from between the boat and onto the dock when the wind blows lengthwise down the boat and dock.

When hung horizontally, the long, cylindrical inflatable fenders can substitute as fender boards in some situations. You can rig them with sleaves that squeeze them in the middle and may help them work against pilings in many situations. The same company also sell inflatable flat fenders that work better as fender boards in some situations.

The inflatables can’t replace a board, though. You’ll never be happy with your expensive inflatable fenders up against a really nasty, shell-crusted or creosote piling.

Often I use the big, light fenders for docking but reconfigure if I’m going to leave the boat.

It’s often a good idea to rig fenders on the “other” side of the boat, especially if you’re backing into a tight slip with other boats nearby. Even if it’s just for peace-of-mind, the big light ones work well in this situation, too.

Stedem Wood
M/V Atlantis

Rick Salsman

Hi John:
Great list John. One more item, on our list, that has served us well, especially in the Med. We rig fenders and dock lines on both sides before approaching an unknown dock. It is helpful when it’s blowing and especially if there is not a lot of “crew” or room to back off and “change your mind” about sides.
Keep up the great work.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
Over here in Northern Europe and in the Med, we use 8 fenders (40 foot boat), 4 of the light inflatable kind and 2 big and 2 medium of the largely indestructible heavy type. The light inflatable are all “oversize” (why not, they are light) and 2 are of the long variety which have served well for fenderboard application upon occasion (we have a wood fenderboard which sees service once every couple of years, usually essential at those times for making us secure). We want to dress both sides of the boat most occasions and use the light inflatables for the boat to boat side. Even when side tied, rafting is quite common and we usually leave our fenders out with that possibility in mind.
The light fenders can and do blow and slip through the lifelines to rest on deck. If necessary, I tie dive weights of the bagged leaded shot variety to the bottom of the fender to keep it in place.
The light inflatables are used so often that they live on deck tucked nicely between dorade guards and tied down. They are too big to store inflated while the heavy fenders find room in a locker.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

“Largely indestructible”…I managed to pierce a Polyform of the “teardrop” type last season when a gust caused the boat to squat a bit as we were pulling away from a dock. The Polyform hooked on a dock bollard’s horn and “pop”!

I’m still figuring out if I can somehow patch the expensive thing.

Neil Ramsey

The Fendertex dealer suggested adding some water to the inflatable fender to weigh it down. Works well.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Neil and all,
It has been rare (once every couple of years) that I have felt the need to weigh down fenders, but there have been times when the lightweight inflatable fenders needed taming and also my heavy weight almost bullet-proof fenders on rarer occasions (where adding water is not possible).
I have never liked the idea of putting water in a fender, but I am sure it works just fine, albeit with more work (putting in and emptying). I have always tied on my dive weights to the bottom of the fender. This is easier when the dive weights are lead filled bags but, when pushed, I have used a couple of plastic covered solid weights and when the weight will be hanging into the water, the old fashioned strap lead weights do fine.  
Varying the length of the weight from the fender by the length of line can help adapt to particular challenges.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


At the risk of oversimplifying for the many readers who already know what they are doing, here is the procedure I teach new crew:

For vessels of moderate size up to ones like MC:

1- In almost all circumstances put your own (trained) crew off and let them do all line handling. Ignore any offers to help by dock workers or onlookers.
2- Crew stands on the cap rail outboard of the lifelines at the widest part of the boat*, holding the coiled aft spring line in one hand and (usually) holding onto the shrouds with the other. *I guess if you have an Open 40 that would be at the stern!
3- The forward spring is rigged over the lifelines and placed on deck at the widest part of the boat.
4- Crew steps off onto the dock ONLY after the fenders touch the dock.
5- Crew immediately takes the aft spring to the nearest cleat in the vicinity of the stern of the boat. If there is a wood rail, bollard, or ring the principle is the same but the method of attachment differs.
6- Crew takes a half turn on the cleat horn furthest away from the boat. This turn begins from the water side of the cleat.
7- If that provides enough friction to control the boat they stand at alert. If not they continue their wrap around the near-side cleat horn.
8- If the dock line length is approximately correct, Crew secures the line by taking a “lock turn” around the far side cleat, then brings the line over the top of the cleat to form a half hitch on the near side horn with the line exiting toward the water followed by another half hitch mate around the far side cleat to form a figure 8 with the line exiting on the land side.

Far easier to do than describe without an illustration! And done backwards as often as correctly!

9- Crew moves to the forward spring line and cleats it off. The boat is now secured completely with no need for building a huge bird’s nest of wraps. And it is easily untied to adjust the length of the lines.
10- Bow and stern lines can now be handed ashore by the helmsman and secured.
11- If the boat needs to be moved it can be done with a winch on board, or by sweating the lines from the dock by partly un-cleating them and stepping on the taunt line until it slackens, pulling in the slack, and repeating using body weight instead of your back to create the force necessary. (you’d be surprised how large a vessel my 240# can move. LOL)

Ronnie Ricca

John and friends,
What size docking lines do you use? We’re 47′ at probably 34klbs cruising weight and we have a combination of 5/8 and 3/4 lines. We need to make more, longer lines as the 50′ ones just aren’t enough right now. Just trying to figure out if I should go with 5/8 or 3/4″ lines, especially for springs.

The spliced eyes were an eye opener for me, good thing too as I was going to make longer lines with eyes. After this lesson I now how more free time!

Also, we use a fender board regularly because most of the docks we approach are rough pilings so it’s easier now since we don’t have large fenders to go horizontally. Though your point have much merit. Just need to get some large fenders for the ends.


Dick Stevenson

Hi Ronnie,
At 40 feet we are not much lighter than you.
We use 5/8 inch 3 strand good quality nylon lines. For us, a larger diameter just gets too hard to handle quickly and effectively. Our cruising grounds of the last decade have included many marina visits and we have been very happy with this size line and its longevity.
I am a believer in redundancy over size. For example, we are near the entrance to the marina here in Scotland and swell comes in. I have my usual 5/8 inch lines set a bit loose (but still set to keep the boat safe) with some 7/16 inch lines (also 3 strand nylon) set over the larger diameter docklines and a bit tighter. These smaller bow and stern docklines are now doing all the work of holding the boat in place in the beam wind and swell. They are quite stretchy, so they contribute to a better boat motion to live on and if they happen to chafe (a rare occurrence, but some piers etc and tides make it hard to get away from chafe), they are considered almost sacrificial and my designated docklines see little or no action or wear.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

Unsurprisingly, I agree with Dick here. Our dock lines have snubbers at bow and stern and are 3/4″ three-strand, but our springs are a mix of 5/8″ and 1/2″. We double up these lines when faced with gusts abeam.

Customarily, we have chafe gear at the fairleads. This year, I’ll be refreshing it with former firehose.

Our “away” dock lines are all 5/8″. Our boat is steel, with the windage of a high stern and a pilothouse, and weighs about 15.5 tonnes at the moment. I would say two 100 foot coils of 5/8″ would not be amiss, because sometimes you need twice the LOA to make fast if the dock’s bollards or rings are mismatched to your deck. More length=more stretch.

Ronnie Ricca

Dick, Marc, and John,
Thanks for the advice regarding line size. I will say that we only have a few 3/4″ and they are our longest ones at the moment. I will make up some long lengths of 100′, 75′, and 60′ lines our of braid if I have it and three strand. I do prefer braid as I also find it gets stiff over time, a good dunk in the water makes them soft again.

When we leave for work offshore we have at least 7 lines spidered keeping Redemption tight at her floating slip. It will be nice to have the longer lines for more springs across our slip. We’re gone for a month at a time with no neighbors so making sure she’s going to be there when we get home is important to us, no different than everyone else here.

That said, do y’all have a system of identification for certain lines? Colored whipping, dipped tips, tags sewn on to differentiate a spring from a breast or stern from bow line?


Marc Dacey

Not yet, but I favour dipped tips. I also like sewing in a contrasting thread right at the midpoint of the given (long) line; it gives a sometimes handy reference.

Drew Frye

Every boat and sailing area creates a unique perspective. Everything you said was correct, but much of it dead wrong for me and my very different (catamaran) boat.

Fenders. I coming alongside pilings, often as not I skip the fenders at first. I have massive rub rails at the widest point and a relatively light boat (4.5 tons). If I place fenders there is a 100% chance they will be in the wrong place at the moment of landing, and a 60% chance they will snag on a piling and cause trouble. I will put them in later. I dock very gently. I will use them for floating docks, which are the only ones that are snag-free and where the level is fixed.

Fender boards. Nearly always. There is a tide and hang-ups are rare–the builders seem to consider that around here.

Concrete bulkheads. Always fun, because there is tide and nothing to rest a fender board on, and they are often commercial and VERY rough, like docking against a chain saw. Often the boat rides well above the bulkhead at high tide, so keeping fenders in place is tough (they tend to ride over the bulkhead). I’ve learned to thread Big B fenders, two on a rope, and hang them vertically. They ride up and down easily, are heavy enough to stay vertical, and can be braced horizontally as needed. You might try it.

Loops. Away, never, but at my home dock, I’ve been doing just what you disparage for 30 years. Positioning a cat perfectly in a tidal slip requires cris-cross bow and stern lines and 4 spring lines. Only with loops can I repeatably get them all correct. As for threading them through, I had one lift off when I skipped that step. I’ve been told it can’t happen… but it did. All it takes is the perfect angle and the right tide. First the loop rests on one horn, then the lines rub, working it back, and the next tide it is off. Yes, the threading does make things more difficult in a blow, but I disagree that it is a finger hazard; your fingers don’t go in there, and you simply have to get slack first, typically by snapping the line (on a cat there is a good angle–it is running across the broad bow or stern). It has never taken more than 10 seconds on the most difficult loop. It is also a light boat, although there is serious windage on the beam. The marina is well protected.

Hanging fenders from stanchions. Funny, I would put a big ban symbol on that. I’ve seen stanchions torn off after a fender got caught under a dock. In my case, the toe rail is well suited for tying off (tubing), and because my rub rail is down a ways, there is room.

Floating docks. Not a part of my reality. Scarce here.

Just different strokes that work in a different place, for a different boat.

Drew Frye

I tried to be careful to explain that I have a light, wide boat, which changes the rules a bit. I absolutely agree with your statements for your boat, and you wouldn’t find me using loops on a heavier boat. And the whipping idea is smart.

No, I do not agree that there is a risk to the fingers, not the way I handle the lines. My fingers never go inside the loop. I simply pinch the rope on the sides. If that is not enough, I do not have enough slack. On the other hand, if you reach inside the loop, that could be bad. I don’t do that. Remember that the boat weighs probably 4 times less and that the geometry is different; I can easily reach the line to snap-up enough slack. It’s different. With a monohull, you can’t really reach the outboard portion of the bowlines.

The springs are cleated in the traditional fashion.

I’ve always told new boat owners that one of the smartest things they can do is stay on the boat and learn how she moves with the tide and wind changes. It’s not an easy thing to describe.

Drew Frye

Excellent points.

I’ve worked with three men over the years that had only 9 fingers. One lost a finger on a ladder; his wedding band caught on a rung as he hurried down. Another lost it when the machine he was working on was re-started by an un-knowing co-worker (lock-out the power to the windlass when making adjustments or clearing a jam!). The last got his ring between two 12 volt leads near the battery–the ring welded in place and the finger was burned off. Gruesome, but those are the plain facts. I snagged my ring a few times, and as a result, don’t wear it anymore; my wife saw the bruises and understands.

Any line that can be highly loaded deserves great respect; docklines, rodes, snubbers, sheets, and halyards.

Marc Dacey

Drew, I never wear rings aboard for the reasons you cite and often wonder at those who do. My wife frequently takes hers off and I think I should have her read this. I guess this is why gold ear studs, (tiny) earring hoops and tattoos are more popular amongst sailors.


Good advice about the loops – I’ve always used the loop-on-cleat to the dock and then free end back to cleat method, but will consider otherwise now. . .

As for the lock hitch – I only allow their use on my boat after several figure 8’s are already on the cleat. I had the experience of watching a big sportfish boat in the panama canal loose it’s forward lines by inattentive deckhands and start to be swept back by the freighter’s propwash in front. The skipper on that boat was IMO really, really good and powered up fast enough to hold his position straight by powering strongly against the two stern lines, but. . . because the deckhands there had locked them down, probably with hitches, they were never coming off without a knife.

Chuck B

This was timely, thank you! Just days after reading this

1. I had difficulty leaving because there was an eye loop around a ship’s cleat. Whoops, lesson learned!

2. I discovered a reason to keep the eyes: My home slip has rings on the dock rather than cleats. For “permanent” dock lines the eye is useful to cow hitch / girth hitch on the ring. The bitter end goes to the boat.



Hey John,

we’re sailing mostly in Germany, Denmark and the Nederlands and here, almost all boats put the loop on the cleat and run the line on slip back to the cleat. I don’t understand the objection of not being able to adjust lines from deck – when we put our lines on slip back to the cleat, we can adjust line length though (alsongsides as well pile mooring).

So, is putting the lines on slip back aboard a German/Dutch/Danish thing? 😉

I see all the dangers you and Dick are mentioning, but can’t follow the issue with line adjustment from deck.


Chuck B

A couple days ago I was on a vessel where, just *temporarily* in preparation for departure, we had doubled the lines – around the dock cleats and back to the boat – so that we could cast off with everyone aboard. While the boat was starting to get underway, one of the lines fouled around the dock cleat – a disadvantage that Dick mentioned. Is there a better option for departing with everyone aboard?



Hi Chuck,
thats what we usually also do 😉 but its not failproof, as you had encountered…

One thing that would come to my mind would be a fore- or aftspring at the midship cleat where it is easiest to board. One crewmember at the dock loosens the mid-cleat line and keeps it fixed just by standing with a foot on it (one loop and step on the crossing section of the loop). Then (then!) fore- and aftermoorings are removed and all other crew members step aboard, while the helmsman would keep the boat in parallel to the dock, using the mid-cleat spring and only a bit of power. When redy the last dockman removes the mid-cleat spring and steps aboard.

Might be doable in benign conditions or when wind is onshore. Would be a bad idey when you have considerable wind offshore, you might miss your last crewmember 😉

Dick Stevenson

Hi Toby,
This is a good question and I will try to answer from my point of view.
I have been in European waters now for greater than 10 years and concur with your observation about how pervasive this method of using mooring lines is (looped around a dock shorefast -cleat, ring, bollard etc.- and brought back to the boat). And it not limited to the countries you mentioned and I suspect it is common in the US as well, but it has been awhile since I was there. Please do not get me wrong, in everyday conditions most can use this method effectively and safely most of the time, however, I am always thinking of how things might unfold in a fire drill of some sort or if things went a bit pear shaped. What would give you the best likelihood of an outcome where neither boat nor persons sustained damage.
My objections, not necessarily in order of importance:
Most times this method is used it is with a spliced loop in one end. I feel a fixed loop to be dangerous and un-necessary in a dock/mooring line for the reasons in the AAC stream and my article sited there.
I try to do all boat related tasks with the worst (or at least a bad) scenario in mind. From that perspective, I have seen boats in mild conditions leaving a pontoon and getting their line jammed in a corner, or they try to flip it off the cleat and it gets into a knot. The boat stops abruptly and people get thrown around and the boat slides into other boats. Rare, for sure, but it happens.
When things get boisterous, the line around the cleat is very likely to chafe as it is loose and susceptible to being bounced around. If it chafes, the chafe is in the middle of the line and makes the line unusable. If the line is on the cleat as it is designed to be used, chafe is far less likely and if there is chafe, it is at the end of the line and you only lose a few feet.
With a loop around the shorefast, one is unable to adjust length from shore which is sometimes the safest place to do it from. A bouncing boat with a mooring line through a hawsepipe or fairlead/chock is very hard to take in line (on many/most boats) and can be lethal to fingers/hands.
If one wants to slip the line when leaving a pontoon, it is easy to set up just before departure.
I think I might have more caveats in my article, but the above are just what come to mind quickly.
Come back with questions/confusions/comments.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Hi DIck,

sailing around in the Med I have to confess I usually have my moorings also in a loop run through a dockside ring or across a dockside poller (is that the correct english term?). And I have to admit this is mainly out of convenience so I don’t have to change for leaving the dock.

Of course you are right that chafe will occur just in the middle of the line, that’s something I inspect regularly but if it occurs it will give you two lines which then might be too short for further mooring.

Having a fixed loop (either spliced, or by a bowline) around the cleat is inherent dangerous also in my eyes as when you’re leaving and the mooring line you want to pull through the dockside ring jams there you don’t have any option to quickly throw the other end away to come free. I have seen that already a couple of times – gives big cinema for the bystanders.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Ernest,
Agree with your description of one of the multiple ways a fixed loop is not a good idea in a mooring line. That is one I have not seen, but must, I am sure, have been entertaining cinema.
I agree that passing a line around a shorefast (maybe the word you are looking for is bollard) and back to the boat is a convenience. Like so many decisions on a boat, the one that is most convenient is often fine for everyday life, but gives fewer options if the everyday gets the “once in a while” realm.
To me, it is all about safety, first for crew and then for the boat. I try to come up with procedures that make it less likely that I (or my wife) get hurt or the boat gets damaged when things happen that are unexpected or un-planned-for.
My best, Dick


Bollard, thanks for helping polishing up my too-polish English 😉

Dick Stevenson

Hi Ernest,
You are more than welcome.
I am continually in awe of you (and others on this site) writing in their second language (or third or fourth) with such clarity on these not so easily written about subjects. I know I struggle for writing clarity and it is my first language.
My best, Dick

Paul Padyk

I’m new to all of this and enjoy very much the education from so much experience. I appreciate the attention to risk. In emergency medical services we try to mitigate as much as possible against low frequency high risk events by consistently practicing safe methods. Seems like consistently avoiding looping cleats and other fixed structures is one of those practices because risky technique performed long enough will eventually expose a bad outcome. I also learned from Dick’s article on cleat hitching. But for all of the relative newbies on this site, I’d like to suggest a well done video of hitching a cleat from the Maryland School of Sailing where I’ve begun my sailing adventure, found at in the YouTube section.


Morning John, from the West Coast.
Recently I have been considering replacing the cleats on my CAL 35 Cruiser 1974, 16000lbs of fiberglass sailboat.

Two reasons.
***One I am uncomfortable with the lack of good backing plates, and
***Two the limits to line size on the cleats – 1/2”. When I have to leave the boat for any length of time I want to be sure the line size can keep the boat secure regardless of weather.

Reviewing the site for ideas. with the word cleat, I could not find ideas regarding the pluses or minus’s of different styled cleats (Herreshoff, Low Silhouette, Open base etc).

My sailing in the Pacific NW between Seattle WA and Ketchikan AK, mostly coastal inside passage, but with some ocean passages along the West coast of Vancouver Island. Not unlike the local waters you sail when you are not exploring the Northern Regions.

I’ve been looking at the Herreshoff designed cleat in 316 stainless. Like the openness of the base. Would appreciate your insight as to design and functionality for a Coastal Cruiser.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
We have a fibreglass production yacht with reasonably large deck cleats (could be a size bigger but we manage well). But they are set on teak cap rails. The issue for us was they were bedded on to aluminium packers, which reacted over the years with their stainless bolts, resulting in the packers expanding with oxide deposits and cracking, splitting the teak and weakening the footing. We had to take each one off, replace the aluminium with new, larger CNC cut stainless bedding plates. Then to do a proper job, like you, we added new, larger backing plates.
When I look at your deck (Cal 35 photos), I see your cleats will be deck mounted straight on the fibreglass? One thought is some (most) Herreshoff cleats have relatively small feet designed for a traditional style yacht and look. I would worry that once you have tightened them down and taken any significant load, you could crack the gel coat by flexing or impacting the deck immediately around the feet. I think you may need to mount them on a larger deck pad (teak?) to at least match the backing plate under, and then you may be better served with a design better suited for direct fibreglass mounting with larger feet?
br, Rob

Huw Morgan

Agreed. I have to say I was trained on power boats briefly as most of my time is under sail; separate controls for throttle and gearbox are a huge plus on a powerful motor boat in big waves. I won’t bore all your sailing experts but in a nutshell you need max movement on the throttle to help trim the boat over each big wave. This does not apply to any heavy displacement craft or under powered boat, for all those I would stay with a single lever. Even with the best training I’m still happier under sail…..

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Maybe part of the reason that I don’t hate twin levers that much is that I have worked on several boats with hydraulics off a PTO on the main engine which is another good use case. You end up doing a lot of shifting to neutral and revving up and pulling in and out a neutral button would get super old. A classic example of this (although one I have no personal experience with) is a lobster boat. You will see them come up to a buoy, shift to neutral, put the line on the hauler then rev the engine back up while out of gear to drive the hauler faster then rev back down, drop it in gear and blast off to the next pot. Additionally they sometimes need to bump in and out of gear while hauling to hold their angle to the waves or current so lots of reving up and down and shifting. Excluding some of the new setups with ridiculously sized hydraulics which don’t need to rev up, I bet some of these guys rev up in neutral in the 300-1000 times a day range.