Thursday, January 18, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

September 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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My girlfriend and I spent hours repairing, sanding, painting, washing, compounding, waxing, buffing, rubbing, and polishing our boat to start the season. Our extended labor of love yielded a boat that was so good-looking it even garnered a compliment from the boatyard mechanic.

I put the boat into the slip. Using the “tighter must be better” approach, I snugly lashed it to the dock by running lines to every available cleat on both the boat and dock. I dropped a couple of fenders over the side and left for a week out of town, thinking all would be fine.

Upon my return, I thought I parked by the wrong slip. That couldn’t be my boat! The vessel had scuffs and scratches on the hull, the boot stripe was fraying, and — adding insult to injury — the fenders were lying on the inboard side of the gunwales.

Yes, it was my boat. And yes, I had screwed up big-time. So I did research and learned that the proper way to keep away from docks and pilings is to ensure that dock lines provide opposing tension. The major points on the boat to cleat off are the bow, the stern, and the breast or side cleat located roughly at the midpoint of the gunwale. That breast cleat is where you tie a tension-maintaining spring line.

There are many different configurations used by knowledgeable boaters. I think I found a simple and reliable method that may help you, too, using nylon rope. Ask a buddy to help you set up, and start at the stern. Almost all boats have two “eyes” located on the outboard side of the transom. Using a stainless or brass snap ring attached to a length of dock line, attach one ring to each clip, cross the lines creating an X, and lay them on the dock by the dock cleats.

For a spring line, wrap a line once around the breast cleat. Run it forward on the finger dock to the front cleat and wrap it around once. Take the other part of the line to the back cleat on the finger dock and wrap it around once.

Tie off a line to the bow cleat and lay by the forward cleat on the dock. Tie another line to the bow cleat, run it to the piling opposite the dock, and wrap it once.

Push the boat forward until the engine or lower unit is about a foot away from the dock — the loosely wrapped spring line will slide through the dock cleats as you push. Tie the lines off on the cleats, drop your fenders over the side between the spring line and the hull, cleat off the stern part of the spring line on the dock, and then cleat off the forward line. Adjust the tension off the spring line as necessary to make the stern lines fairly taut (this requires practice). Finally, cleat off the bowline to the front cleat on the dock and the other bowline to the piling. Be kind to your slip mates and cleat off your lines neatly.

st_boatingtimes[1]This may sound confusing, but once you lay out the lines, you’ll see how the spring and stern lines keep a nice tension on the forward and aft movement of the hull. The opposing bowlines keep tension on the side-to-side movement at the bow while the spring also limits side-to-side movement at the stern.

Here’s another tip learned the hard way: Whenever you purchase new lines, lay them out for a dry run before you cut them. Once cut, whip the ends to prevent unravelling.

If you have any questions, search online for “dock line configuration.” If you don’t know what you’re doing, it will cost you time and money stocking up on polishing compound, boat wax, and headache reliever.

By Paul Knieste




is an R.N. in psychiatry and a professional photographer. He is an avid boater and fisherman in the waters of East Rockaway Inlet and Montauk Point, and loves cooking. Contact him at

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