We recommend that you use a few basic accessories and docking methods to secure your boat safely at its mooring. Among them are:
- Sturdy cleats
- Strong dock lines
- Dock lines the right diameter and length
- A good hitch tie
- Durable fenders or bumpers
First, make sure the cleats on your boat are made of strong metal and that they’re firmly attached to your deck. The best boat cleats are made from aluminum, stainless steel, or bronze, as opposed to plated ‘white-metal’ cleats. For small boats, plastic cleats are acceptable.
Cleats should be through-bolted with locknuts and washers to handle both the axial and vertical stress. Using a backing plate diffuses the load and can minimize the potential for stress cracks in the deck. Decks with laminated backing material or made of plywood-core can go without a backing plate.
The size of the cleats should be able to handle at least two lines that are the appropriate diameter for your boat. Cleats with four-bolt feet, a narrow-waist horn, and rounded form not only mount strongly, they help the line snug up and reduce any potential for chafing the lines. If you need advice on your cleats, Hall’s is ready to help.
Dock lines made of the right material and the correct diameter for the size of your boat are critical for keeping your boat safe in your absence. Dock lines must be sturdy enough to handle the stress without breaking; durable enough to withstand the heat and UV exposure from sunlight and constant exposure to water; and pliable enough to handle easily without kinking.
When choosing your dock lines, first consider the type of docking or rafting that you do most often. Do you primarily go out for day trips and then come back to your slip at the end of the day? Or do you take extended, overnight trips where you have to tie up to temporary mooring or tie off of other boats? There’ll be much more stress and demand on your lines if you do the latter.
You also may want to have two sets of dock lines: one set to keep at your dock site and another set to keep on board for use when you’re away from your home mooring. Of course, you’ll need safe, secure storage when you leave your home port so your dock lines can’t be stolen. Top quality dock lines are as good as gold in the boating world.
The two most popular materials for dock lines are nylon and polypropylene. Nylon lines are strong, they can ‘give’ and flex under the load to absorb energy and stress, and they’re fairly inexpensive. They’re also durable, resisting the long term effects of UV rays and water well. The two most common types of nylon dock lines are Laid and Braid construction.
Laid line is made with three or more twisted strands of nylon. It’s very strong and resists snagging and abrasion. However it can be difficult to coil due to kinking. Braided line is made from many small strands, so it’s very strong and very flexible, and resists chafing from cleats and pilings.
Polypropylene lines are commonly used for towing skiers, tubes, wakeboards, and dinghies. It floats so it’s perfect for water sports like these, as well as other marine activities. However, even though polypropylene is nearly as strong as nylon, it doesn’t resist the effect of the sun’s UV rays. It will disintegrate visibly after awhile, so you’ll have to replace it far more frequently than nylon.
Dock Line Diameter and Length
Your dock lines must be the correct diameter to handle the stress they’ll endure when your boat is tied to its mooring. As a general rule:
- Boats under 20’ should use 3/8“ dock line
- Boats 20’ - 30’ should use 1/2“ dock line
- Boats 30’ - 40’ should use 5/8“ dock line
- Boats over 40’ should use 3/4“ dock line
If your boat has significant freeboard or is heavier than usual, you might choose the next larger diameter than normal just to be safe. As a good rule of thumb, your dock lines should be equal to two-thirds the length of your boat, e.g., if your boat is 30’ long, your dock lines should be 20’ long.
For normal conditions a bow line and a stern line are sufficient, supplemented by at least two spring lines. If you’re going to be away from your boat for long periods, make the lines a little longer rather than snug to allow for changing tides and turbulent waters during storms.
Here at Hall’s, we carry dock lines of various materials, lengths, and diameters, and we can help you choose the right lines for your boat and your type of boating.
A Good Hitch
Having the right dock lines isn’t enough. You have to use them effectively. Tying your boat to a cleat or piling isn’t difficult, but an incorrect tie can expose your boat to damage. And nothing looks worse than a sloppy, haphazard tie! Learn to tie the standard Cleat Hitch, which is nothing more complicated than wrapping the line around the base of the cleat and then looping it around the cleat horns in a basic ‘figure 8’; and then inverting the last loop, tucking the tail length of the line underneath. This way, the pull of the boat actually tightens the hitch.
If you’re tying your boat to a piling, you’ll want to use a Clove Hitch, which employs the same principle as the Cleat Hitch. You create a loop and drop it over the piling, snugging it tight. Then create a second loop but this time, you invert the loop so that the tail of the line is underneath, then drop it over the piling and snug it down next to the first loop. Like the Cleat Hitch, the inverted loop ensures that the hitch tightens when the boat pulls against your line. This is a quick, easy tie to use if you’re docking for a short time, but for more permanent mooring, you’ll want to use a more secure tie, like a Double Half Hitch. Any one of our friendly, experienced staff at Hall’s will be happy to show you how.
Bumpers & Fenders
Bumpers and fenders both serve the same purpose, to protect your boat from damage by rubbing or bumping against a dock or against other boats when several boats are tied together
Bumpers are cushions or pads secured to the dock. Their location depends on the type of dock, how it’s used, and what type of boat you have. If you have a floating dock or if the pilings are underneath, you should mount edge bumpers on the dock to protect your boat’s hull. If your dock has exposed pilings, you’ll need to put bumpers on the pilings to go with some protective edge bumpers.
The style of bumpers can vary from specialty-molded, composite materials that look sleek and high-tech, to something as simple as old tires hanging off the pilings and sides of the dock - which is actually a very traditional nautical look.
There are two basic types of fenders: inflatable and non-inflatable. Inflatable fenders are made with a soft, vinyl shell with an inflatable bladder (or bag) inside. Usually they’re cylindrical or spherical, and come in a variety of colors, but the most popular is white. You can inflate them to be as hard or as soft as necessary using a hand pump, other hand or foot operated pumps, an air compressor, or a service station air pump depending on the make of your fenders. Initially, you should Inflate them according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Non-inflatable fenders are made of molded plastic or closed-cell foam. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are more versatile than inflatable cylindrical fenders. They’re popular with pontoon boats, as well as fishing and bass boats, and ski boats that all sit low in the water.
Whatever you do, don’t stint on your boat fenders and dock bumpers. You have a considerable investment in your boat and it can be severely damaged if your fenders or bumpers aren’t adequate! Also, remember to hang your fenders over the side when you start idling toward the dock before you get too near. And when you head out to open water, be sure to pull them up and stow them away. Otherwise, you’ll look like a boating ‘newbie’ when you’re cruising down the lake with your fenders blowing in the breeze.
If you have any questions, talk to us here at Hall’s. We carry a full line of bumpers and fenders and we’ll help you ensure that your boat is protected to the max.