Let's face it, boat cleats aren't exactly the most exciting boating subject to discuss, but on the other hand, none of us wants to return to the marina after a cold one with friends, only to find our boat has gone missing. Besides, there's more to securing a boat than just boat cleats, like dock lines, and how to make sure you're not that sorry sailor gazing sadly into an empty slip. We'll help you sort it out.
The Eye of the Beholder
The boating world is filled with beauty. The beauty of a sleek sloop racing through pristine water. The beauty of what you could almost swear was hundreds of top coats on the newly refinished deck of a classic wooden boat. The beauty of a stately yacht as she proudly cruises out toward open water.
There's beauty in the little things, too, like the lovely teak deck furniture you see on many boats, and the teak serving trays and colorful tableware gracing the tables on decks during those warm summer days. Even some of the dock lines you see may be things of beauty--at least if they're new--due to their beautiful colors such as red, royal blue, navy, green, and rich burgundy.
And then there's...cleats. Yes. Cleats. Not exactly material for poets, painters, or photographers, and you'll likely find far more written in boating magazines and on websites about sacrificial anodes than you will about boat cleats.
Inelegant, unfashionable, and often downright ugly, the lowly boat dock cleat seems to take last place in the thoughts of most boaters. That is, until someone stubs or breaks a toe on one, as cleats apparently take great delight in placing themselves directly in our path when we're not looking.
But let's not forget the importance that this seemingly nuisance piece of hardware has on the dock and our boats. A boat dock cleat is subjected to a continuous barrage of varying loads. Without giving the cleat much thought, we rely heavily on its ability to keep our vessels tied to the dock, even during the worst conditions.
Boat Dock Cleats
When shopping for boat dock cleats, you'll find that the market is saturated with a profusion of styles (with the horn style being the most popular). So many in fact, that it might make you want to throw in the towel--er, anchor. But no worries, we'll keep it simple here.
The main things you need to know before purchasing boat dock cleats are:
- Bigger is better
- Cleats with moving parts are not as strong.
- Cast iron is the strongest cleat material.
- Stainless steel boat cleats are the next strongest.
- Cast iron, while stronger is more brittle, while steel has more tensile strength.
- Stainless steel is more expensive.
If you're buying cleats for your own dock, consider any and all size boats that might ever tie up there. If the cleats you end up with are larger than you need, no harm done. But if a friend or acquaintance pulls up one day in a newly purchased 45-footer and your cleats are designed to hold no more than a 28-footer, smile and wave goodbye.
If you live on a peaceful lake or slow, tranquil river, own a small boat and are sure no one with a large boat will ever tie up at your dock, then you can probably get away with stainless steel folding boat cleats (AKA flip up), or the pop up (AKA pull up) style. Or if your dock is large enough, there's no reason you couldn't mix it up with a few folding boat cleats or pop ups and a few of the larger, horn style.
Most of the flip up type are small versions of the horn style boat dock cleats, and the pop up sort of resembles an old-school car door handle when in the up position. While the flip up is not flush with the dock like the pop up, it might still be less menacing to toes than the large horn style dock cleats. But there are other popular materials and styles available from familiar, trusted names like Sea-Dog, Perko, and Whitecap.
Although it may come as a shock, nylon is also used in the making of boat dock cleats. Of course, these should never be used for anything but small boats or anywhere but very calm waters, but under these conditions, they can work just fine. Many boaters appreciate the low prices and colors that depart from the dull silver of galvanized aluminum and shiny silver of stainless steel.
Some of the other styles available are the arch, spring loaded, lifting ring, bollard, and S-cleats. And although this is not the purpose of this article, we would be remiss if we didn't at least mention boat dock bumpers. Just as no dock would be complete without plenty of cleats, the same goes for the kind of protection one can only get from tough cushioning on the edges and corners of the dock.
While anything but glamorous, there is a huge selection of deck cleats to be found that are better-looking than many of their cousins, the boat dock cleats. While deck cleats are available in plastic and different metals such as aluminum, brass, chrome platted zinc, and galvanized steel, stainless steel boat cleats are by far the most popular.
Deck cleats are not limited to tying up the vessel but are also used to for other purposes, especially on a sailboat that can sprout cleats like wild mushrooms. A few of the non-docking cleats found aboard a sailboat are the clam cleat, halyard cleat, and jam cleat (which is a type of clam cleat).
When it comes to controlling handheld sail lines, boat cleats are the ideal choice. They are easy to operate and can safely handle working loads up to 1000 pounds, depending on the size and material. Be sure and check the manufacturer's specifications.
The last type cleat we want to mention before moving on is the fender cleat. While their importance may not be as crucial as the boat dock cleats and deck cleats that prevent disaster by holding your boat fast to the dock, they are still essential if you wish to avoid damage to your property and that of others.
We have fender cleats from Sea-Dog, like the Rail Mount Loop Cleat Fender Holder that can be mounted to any railing (kind of self-explanatory, yes). Or try the Clamcleat Fender Cleat / Large Loop Cleat, which allows you to quickly attach fenders from guard rails, stanchions, or any suitable area.
Mooring Lines / Dock Lines
Boat cleats come preinstalled and unless you want to change them, they will determine the maximum rope width. A dock line that is too large means you will be unable to get the proper wrap required to hold effectively. The general rule of thumb is 1/8-inch in diameter for every two inches of cleat length.
Bow and stern lines should be one half to two thirds the length of your boat, and spring lines should be as long as the boat. Nylon is best, as it is incredibly strong, stretchy, nearly impervious to fading from the sun, and won't stiffen from salt water. Now, should you go with braided or three strand rope?
That's mainly a matter of personal preference, but here are a few facts that may help if you're undecided. Abrasion is the arch-enemy of all mooring and anchor lines. Braided line is more resistant to abrasion and is slightly stronger that three strand, but is a bit less stretchy and snags more easily on rough pilings.
Three strand dock line stretches more, won't snag, and is less expensive than braided line. For these reasons, many boaters use both types--three strand for traveling, when the boat will only temporarily moored (and may be subjected to rough pilings), and braided for when the boat is back in home port.
Which begs the question, what about chafe when the boat is moored at home, especially if not taken out for long periods of time? Even braided line will eventually chafe, and there are chafe guards available to help prevent this. Of course, chafe guards can be used when traveling and are by many people; and they have the added advantage of protecting and extending the life of the dock line.
No matter how careful you are, dock lines will eventually wear out. They should be regularly inspected for signs of abrasion, fraying, and general wear and tear. Like cleats, dock lines are constantly working and are required to perform unattended for long durations, and should therefore be replaced as often as needed to maintain their reliability.
Let's give both cleats and dock lines some love from now on. These unsung heroes allow us to have peace of mind whether hunkered down at home or enjoying that cold one near the marina, even if the boat is bucking a bit at the cleats in its slip.