I used to be a real tyrant about what an appropriate cleat hitch looks like, but eventually I became tolerant of what I deemed less-than-perfect cleat hitches because I found plenty of marinas, docks, wharves, and splintered piers where the cleats available weren’t in great shape anyway. As I get older and a little out of shape myself, I’m just more understanding. 

How Not To Tie A Cleat Hitch

But let’s talk about what I think of as perfect for your boat and your lines. I’m supposed to be a captain, after all.

Let’s start with how you pull your dock lines.

It seems intuitive to me–always take a bend or turn around whatever fixed structure you plan to make fast to. If you’re on your boat with a line wrapped around a piling and you’re planning to take that line back to a cleat onboad, you should still hook that line under your own cleat as you pull.


It’s a safety issue, and frankly my shoulders really can’t handle that kind of hauling any more. Plus it’s super embarrassing when you get pulled off your own boat at the dock. My ego can’t handle that sh*t. Did I mention I have a video about this?

 What about the cleat hitch itself?

Ok, if the line is the right size for the boat and the cleat, then the perfect hitch is as follows:

  • starting from the farthest horn away from whatever you’re tying to,
  • wrap the line once all the way around the bottom,
  • then cross it over the top and
  • hook it under that same far horn,
  • bring the line straight towards the other horn
  • give it a flip and drop that lock over that horn so that it looks like two lines running parallel (in opposing directions of effort) and one line locking over top.

(Did you actually read all of that? Here’s an illustration, it’ll make more sense.)

When you’re done it looks like this:

And to really hammer the point home, I made a video!!

So why am I ok with something less than perfect?

Because the beauty of knots is that they will hold, and do their job when you over tie them, and some cleats are set up different and your lines might not be the right size to tie to them in the classic manner.


A very thin line on a big cleat or vise-versa is not going to act right, so tie something else. 

I won’t judge you; I’m nice-ish, but there’s a whole internet of fancy boaters who will, so you should come hang out with me on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, @captainboomies.

Good luck out there!

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Captain Boomies
Professionally salty for over two decades, Captain Boomies has a few cannons lose in the ol' crow's nest, but she's got a course set to entertain you with whatever floating thing she wants.



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