Dock Lines – What Do You Do With Them When You Leave the Dock?


Dock Lines are another “must have” for your boat. A Dock Line is not just a rope you use to tie up your boat. It must be made of the right size rope and material for your boat size, and prepared at both ends for use as a docking line. Dock Lines serve a double purpose; firstly, to secure your boat to the dock, and secondly to tie the boat correctly.

Depending on your docking procedure, you may throw, reach, loop or hook your lines, or have your First Mate jump with them when you come into the slip or alongside the pier or gas dock. Boaters using the techniques in Doug Dawson’s Docking Lessons, have a much more simplified docking procedure without the need for yelling, swearing, jumping, boat hooks, bionics, dock helpers or embarrassment. Handling dock lines isn’t a problem.

Whatever your docking procedure is, you are familiar with handling your dock lines when docking, then tying appropriately for your length of stay and local conditions. But, what do you do with the lines once you leave the dock for an afternoon on the water or a longer cruise?

We thank Donna for sending us this question and we have several suggestions.

She has given us permission to use her email:

Hi Doug


We have sold our 20’ Sea Ray and recently purchased a Commander 30. 

We feel a little lost in this new boating world but your articles and books are a definite asset.


What do you do with the docking lines when the vessel is underway?  Should you remove them and store them with the fenders or leave them still attached to the cleats and hung neatly on the railings.  If the latter is allowed, can you leave 4 lines (one attached in each corner) ready for docking on either side?

Thank you for posting a great website. It’s so easy to navigate (no pun intended) and there is a lot of free information.

Donna and Chris, BC

Leave Your Lines Behind


Probably the easiest thing to do with lines for boaters who boat from their home marina on short day trips and always come back to their slip, is to leave your dock lines behind.

Then, when you come back to your slip, just pick up the lines and drop the eyes over the boat cleats. This simplifies docking and undocking.

The picture at the left is us cruising at sunset with no lines or fenders waiting for the fireworks display to start.

This is a method we always recommend so that the lines don’t have to be reconfigured every time and after decades of boating this is the one we use most often ourselves:

  • Attach the dock line eye through each dock cleat.
  • Position the boat exactly where you want it for easy boarding and stepping off.
  • Tie down all the lines to the dock cleats with Figure Eight Cleat Hitches.
  • Hook the excess line over the cleat, hanging down the vertical surface of the dock with loops well above the water. This doesn’t look as neat and nautical as a Flemish Flake, but it keeps the line and the dock from deteriorating from moisture which is the drawback of a Flemish Flake.
  • On departure for the infamous Gilligan’s Island “Three Hour Tour” lift all the eyes off the boat cleats and place the lines neatly on the edge of the dock. All your hard work on positioning is pre-set for immediate re-attachment upon your return.
  • Leave your dock lines behind for a worry free cruise and an effortless return, knowing that docking will be simple. All Doug Dawson’s Docking Lessons explain in step-by-step detail, how simple it is to bring the boat into your slip with one line, pick up your pre-set lines on the dock reducing docking and tying to a few stress free seconds.

We recommend taking one or two extra docking lines with you to extend your reach if you need to on your return or for a fuel or pumpout stop. You should always have spare lines on the boat for docking while cruising, rafting and emergencies. Note: Rafting is included in each of the Advanced Docking e—Lessons.

On extended trips where we end up in a different marina every night, we take all lines and stow them (and fenders) so that there is nothing on the deck or rails or left behind on the dock. When we approach each new marina, we decide what side we are docking on and only get out and set up the lines and fenders we need for that docking.

Take Lines and Leave on Cleats

dock lines

This works for calm weather trips. When using a loop style knot on the bow rails, make large enough coils in the dock line so that the gravity of the larger coil ensures that this style of knot doesn’t come undone. Even if your “undone bow line” isn’t long enough to get fouled in your prop, (which could rip off your bow rail) several miles of trailing in the water will unravel it. If you do spot it coming undone in a heavy sea, some brave soul has to volunteer to go out and secure it. This is not a safe thing to do.

To hang your dock lines on a bow rail, coil your bow line into a large coil. Lay half of the coil over the rail. Reach through the near half coil and grab the other half coil and pull it through the near half coil. Pull tight to secure it to the rail.

In the picture at the right, Doug is pulling away from the dock with his bow line looped through the bow cable on the 45′ Doral.

One of the problems with looping your bow lies over the bow rails is that it could be difficult to retrieve them from the dock. On a beamy boat, the curve of the bow puts your looped line out of reach from the dock. If the height differential from the dock to the bow rail is greater than your arm’s length, it also is out of reach from the dock. As a result, a third person is necessary to pass the line from the bow to the dock.

It is better to leave your bow lines in place and run them down the side deck outside the stanchions and secure tightly to the spring line cleat or whichever stanchion post the line reaches to.

This will not only secure the line safer but also position it in the right spot for retrieval from the dock without having to have a third person go to the bow and unloop it.

A boat with a cockpit directly below the cleat allows you to leave the stern lines attached—just coil and drop into the cockpit. In most cases on a boat that has a full width sun lounge, there is no cleat or stanchion base in the cockpit to run the stern line forward to secure it. Some performance boats have safety handles inside the cockpit that could be used to tie off the stern line. If you don’t have a way to tie it off, then remove it and stow it; otherwise, it will end up in the prop and, if Murphy’s Law has anything to do with it, it will be at the most inopportune time.

Remove and Stow


It’s best to remove all lines and stow them (like fenders) so you have a guarantee that your lines aren’t going to jump overboard.

Stow them in a locker or wherever you have room inside the boat. Hank each line (coil) separately before stowing in a locker to prevent them coming out like a rats nest.

A tip to easily identify bow lines from stern lines (usually different lengths) is to position the top of the bow line coil at the forward end of the locker and top of the stern line coil at the aft end of the locker. Look for many more tips in “Making Ropes Into Lines” e-Lesson.


Whether you leave or take or stow your dock lines, will depend on length of trip, weather, security at your marina etc. Try a few variations and do what is safest and simplifies docking and cruising for you.

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