how to tie a pontoon boat to a dock

How to Tie a Pontoon Boat to a Dock: Securing Methods

With the sun setting and leaving an orange tinge against the dusky skies, it's time to head back home and dock your boat. But simply parking it in a slip isn't going to be enough. You're going to have to tie that pontoon to the dock if you want to keep it from drifting away. And that entails knowing exactly how to tie a pontoon boat to a dock.

It takes a lot more than just simply tossing a line and making a few random ties to keep your pontoon boat secure. On the contrary, the process of securing a pontoon boat to a dock entails some skill and know-how, which you should find through this handy guide.

Step by Step Guide on Tying a Pontoon Boat

The process of tying a pontoon boat to a dock isn't something that you can figure out at a glance. And so it's totally understandable for a first timer to need some help. If you're not quite sure how to tie your pontoon boat to the dock, here's how to do it.

1. Check Your Cleats and Fenders or Bumpers

The first step of securing your pontoon boat to a dock would be to check your cleats and fenders (also called bumpers.) The cleats are essentially T-shaped hardware pieces that are bolted or otherwise attached to the side of your pontoon boat. This serves as the point for you to tether your dock lines to your pontoon boat.

The fenders on the other hand are bumpers. They protect your pontoon boat from hitting the dock directly, thus preventing dings and scuffing on the side of your pontoon boat. That's why they're called bumpers. They should dangle off of the side of your pontoon boat which will be in contact with the dock. See to it that the fenders or bumpers are deployed before you approach.

2. Make Sure There are Cleats or Pilings on the Deck

The next step would be to check the dock you're planning to tie your pontoon boat to. Does it have pilings for you to tether to? These look like thick stumps or logs that fix to the dock and jut out from its edge. They're there for securing pontoon boats (and virtually any other boats) to. Sometimes, there will only be pilings to tether to. But other times, you'll find cleats fixed to the pilings.

In other cases still, you can find cleats attached directly to the dock with no pilings in sight. Whatever the case, these fixtures should be what you need to be able to secure your pontoon boat to the dock.

3. Approach the Dock

With your pontoon bumpers deployed, your cleats at the ready, and pilings and cleats available on the dock, it's time for the third step - and that is to make your approach. To do this, you're going to want to go as slowly as possible. Angle your pontoon boat so that it faces the dock at 45°.

Once you close in the gap so that there's only 10 feet separating you from the edge of the dock, shift into neutral. The momentum should keep you moving. As you continue to inch closer, control your steering wheel to decrease the angle so your boat gradually positions parallel to the dock.

Remember though that it might continue to drift even as you reach the perfect parallel position in the pontoon boat dock slip. So a good way to stop your pontoon boat would be to momentarily shift to reverse to counteract the forward momentum. This should position you along the edge of the dock. Then you can turn off your engine.

4. Step Onto the Dock

Right before you do step your feet on the dock though, make sure that your aft and forward ropes are already tied to the cleats you have on board. To do this, you could use a cleat hitch. This method guarantees a sturdy, reliable tie that won't easily come loose with movement.

With the free end of the aft and forward ropes in hand, you can step onto the deck. If there's someone else available on your boat, you can tell them to tie the line to the dock while you stay at the wheel to keep the boat from moving around too much. You could switch roles depending on what you feel most comfortable with.

5. Tie the Forward and Aft Lines

The next step would be to tether the ropes to the dock cleats. Again, a cleat hitch should be your best bet to keep from undoing the rope if your boat drifts, moves, and tugs at the rope. If you're not quite sure how to tie one, here's a rough idea of how to do it:

  • Take the rope and wrap it around the base of the dock cleat
  • Take it back to the near horn of the cleat (that is, the horn on the left side) and pull it up and over
  • Thread it back down under the far horn (the right horn) so that there's a single diagonal line over the top of the cleat
  • From under the far horn, take the rope back up and over the cleat as if making a figure-8
  • Finally, make another loop over the near horn of the cleat with the free end of the rope tucked under the loop to keep it secure

You can also check videos online for a more detailed explanation of how to tie dock lines with this specific style. The video below should provide clear, complete instructions to help you accurately accomplish the method.

Tie the forward line first to keep the front of the boat still, and then the aft. See to it that the bow line is tied at a 45° angle from the boat to the dock. In some cases, you might need to tie a third line called a middle line from the center of the side of your boat. This may be necessary in rough weather conditions.

What If There are No Cleats Attached for Docking?

Not all boat docks are created equal. So in some cases, you won't find a cleat but just pilings on the edge of the dock to tie your boat's dock lines to. Don't fret -- you can still safely secure your pontoon boat to the dock even without cleats fixed to the pilings or the wood itself.

The best way to do this would be with a hitch knot looped around the cleat. There are a wide variety of these knots, but the pile might be one of the easiest without sacrificing security. Here's a short step by step on how to do it:

  • Create a bight with your rope
  • Wrap it around the mooring pile
  • Pull the bight up from under the rope
  • Loop the bight over the top of the pile
  • Pull the free end so that it tightens and so that the standing end retains the load

Here's a quick video that gives an even more detailed explanation of how to do this specific method for tethering pontoon boats:

Remember there's more than one way to tie a hitch for pontoon boats. In fact, there are loads of different kind of hitch knots intended to secure a pontoon boat (or any kind of boat for that matter) to a dock. Study your options so you can find a tying method that feels most reliable for your preference.

Tips for Tethering a Pontoon Boat to a Dock

  1. Bumpers are important to protect your pontoon boat even in temperate weather. Always have your bumpers deployed to prevent damage to your pontoon boat as it drifts in its position and knocks into the dock or other boats.
  2. Always have another person assist you if it's your first time or if you're not too confident in your skill just yet.
  3. If you're up against strong wind and waves, you might not be able to approach at minimum speed. Adjust and control your speed depending on the conditions around you to bring your boat parallel to the dock.
  4. Be aware of the kick when you change gears or going in reverse during docking. This can add to your momentum and make your boat go faster, pushing you out of the ideal position.
  5. If you're not used to the kick just yet, shift into neutral before you reach the 10 feet distance position relative to the dock edge.
  6. Add a third middle line if you're docking in bad weather, strong wind, and changing tides.
  7. Double up on ropes if the weather isn't cooperating. This should minimize the chances of a tripped line.
  8. Don't experiment with DIY knot styles. You want something that will keep your boat secure while you're away.
  9. If you're tethering to a fixed dock, your lines might snap when waters change your pontoon boat's position. Make sure you give your line some slack in case of changing tides. You can keep the ropes tight if you're tying to a floating dock.
  10. Practice makes perfect. See to it that you spend some time to learn so you can get the hang of the whole process.

Safe and Sound

It's important to know how to tie a pontoon boat to a dock if you're hoping to keep your pontoon boat properly secured after a long day of boating. And although the process might not be too obvious at a glance if it's your first time, you can easily get the hang of it with a little practice. Keep these tips and strategies in mind the next time you're done with a day of boating to guarantee your pontoon boat's safety at the end of each excursion.

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