How to Dock & Tie Up Your Boat

It's fun to go for a ride in your boat, but you have to stop sometime. Many boaters dread that part whether they are just starting out or have years of experience. Understandably, you want to be able to tie up and dock your boat both quickly and safely. So, how do you do so legally and securely? This handy guide will show you how to dock a boat and tie it up the right way.

Where Is It Legal to Tie Up Your Boat?

The most important question to ask is “Where is it legal to tie up your boat?” After all, nobody wants legal issues whether they’re making a pit stop, going fishing, or staying a while longer.

Fortunately, there are a number of locations where you can do so. Besides marinas, harbors, bridges, and (with permission) other boats. Mooring buoys can also be an option. Lighted buoys, safe water markers, and non-lateral markers are not only illegal to tie your boat to but have different colors. Instead, you’ll want to look for a white buoy with a blue horizontal band. Avoid stern-tying your boat to a mooring buoy; it’s stressful on the boat and dangerous for you.

How to Tie a Boat to a Dock

Learning how to tie a boat to a dock will not only ensure safety but also save your boat from weather damage. The most important mooring gear is docking lines. Their differences depend on where on the boat they are used:

  • Bow and stern lines keep the bow of your boat from moving side to side or your boat itself from drifting away.
  • Spring lines keep your boat from moving forward or aft.
  • Breast lines keep your boat from moving away or make it easier for you to pull the boat when boarding it.
  • Docking lines are tied-on cleats, which are metal horns or T-shaped pieces installed on your boat.

The method you use to tie your boat depends on your boat’s size as well as where you’re tying it up. Bow and stern lines are used together to secure your boat. If you’re tying up your boat alongside a dock, you’ll need one bowline and one stern line. Secure the lines outward for either the stern-in or bow-in method if your boat fits well within the dock.

If your boat is longer than the finger of the dock, however, you’ll need to arrange the lines inward. Use two stern or two bowlines (depending on which end of your boat is facing the dock) to avoid hitting other boats. You can even cross the lines for extra staying power.

An alternate method uses two spring lines, one at the bow and one at the stern. You can either tie them separately—either in opposite directions or crossed—or tie both to the middle part of the floating finger. Sometimes, there is no bow cleat available for you to use along with the stern cleat to tie up your boat to the middle of the dock. You can instead use the amidships cleat and tie the lines in opposite directions.

Tying up your boat in a slip or berth involves a different method. For that, you’ll need two bowlines, two stern lines, and two spring lines. The two spring lines will be used for running through the amidships cleats and either the stern cleats, bow cleats, or pilings near the stern or bow.

How to Dock a Boat

It is ideal to learn how to dock a boat the old-fashioned way, without special equipment. However, some boat owners use a maneuvering thruster to make docking easier, especially against heavy wind and tide. They are also useful for stern-to docking into a slip or berth since many boats don’t steer well in reverse. Most popular are bow thrusters, although some boats have both stern and bow thrusters. Bow thrusters allow the captain to turn the boat without having to move forward.

To dock your boat alongside, slowly approach the spot at a 30- to 45-degree angle. Approach at a shallower angle if there is heavy wind or tide. You can maintain a slow speed by switching between forward and reverse gears on a single-engine boat while you can switch between engines on a twin-engine one. When you’re half a boat length away from the dock, turn the wheel away from it and very briefly put the engine (or if a twin-engine, the one farthest from the dock) into gear. Once your boat is lining up parallel to the dock, put the engine in reverse to stop it and then put it into neutral. Finally, turn it off and tie the boat to the dock.

How to Anchor a Boat

Knowing how to anchor a boat properly will not only keep it safe from damage but also from drifting away or becoming stuck. You’ll first need to know where you can legally and safely do so. The spot should not be rocky, grassy, muddy, exposed to the elements, in a crowded area, or in the middle of a channel. You should have reflectors or an anchor light for when it’s dark. Point your boat in the direction of the wind, fasten your pennant, and throw your anchor overboard. After it lands, hook the line to your boat and double-check the hold for security.

The anchor you choose for your boat depends on the boat and how you want to anchor it:

  • Mushroom anchors are the most popular, offering strength and various weights to choose from.
  • Pyramid anchors are more concentrated and ideal for long-term mooring.
  • Helix anchors are hardest to install but the most eco-friendly and strongest.

Anchoring your boat requires several other pieces of essential equipment:

  • Heavyweight mooring chain: Weighs 15 times the depth of the water and attaches to the anchor
  • Lightweight mooring chain: Attaches to the heavyweight chain with a length measuring about the same as the depth of the water
  • Mooring ropes
  • Mooring shackles: Metal pieces of various weights for short- or long-term mooring, used to connect ropes and chains to other equipment
  • Mooring buoys: Optional, but add safety and make it easier for you to find and bring up your chain
  • Mooring pennants: Nylon ropes that connect your boat hitch to the buoy

Boaters of any experience level can benefit from reviewing the steps on how to dock and tie up their boats. What is otherwise a slow, stressful, and even dangerous process will become much smoother and easier. If you need hardware for tying up or docking your boat, stop by your local AutoZone shop. Our staff is happy to help and find what you need.

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