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How to Tie a Cleat Hitch, Three Ways

Tying a line to a cleat should be easy and secure, but walk down any dock and you will be amazed at the creative ways lines are ‘secured’ to cleats.  We will show you the correct and the incorrect ways to secure a line to a horn cleat using a cleat hitch.  You might be surprised what you learn, even if you’re ‘salty.’

Half Wrap Cleat Hitch

This is most commonly seen as the standard cleat hitch in North America, but it is mistaken as being the best all-around cleat hitch which can get you and your boat into trouble.  This is a ‘lunch time’ or ‘fuel dock’ way to cleat a line.  It is not recommended when you will be out of sight of your boat, and not for overnight use.

The line is taken around the two ends of the base of the cleat, but not a third time which would create a complete encirclement of the base (then crossed over the top and hitched on the second cross over). It is an open wrap and can allow even a properly sized line to slip through this cleat hitch until the bitter end pulls out and the line comes off the cleat.  Smaller diameter line (relative to the size of the cleat) or slippery line are more prone to slipping off the cleat and should not use a half warp cleat hitch.  Adding more figure-8s is advocated for more holding by some, but this is not the correct solution.  Use the use a full wrap or multi wrap cleat hitch to add more line holding ability.

It is an open wrap and can allow even a properly sized line to slip through this cleat hitch until the bitter end pulls out and the line comes off the cleat.  Smaller diameter line (relative to the size of the cleat) or slippery line are more prone to slipping off the cleat and should not use a half warp cleat hitch.  Adding more figure-8s is advocated for more holding by some, but this is not the correct solution.  Use the use a full wrap or multi wrap cleat hitch to add more line holding ability.

If you have undersized cleats, you may be forced to use a half warp cleat hitch temporarily, as the cleat may not be big enough to accommodate a full warp cleat hitch.

cleat hitch 1

Full Wrap Cleat Hitch

This is more commonly seen as the standard cleat hitch in Europe.  It is the recommended cleat hitch for all docking, for both temporary and extended periods.  It takes a full wrap around the base of the cleat creating a closed loop before taking your first cross over the top of the cleat.  The line will be stacked on the one end of the cleat (not the other) with two wraps.  These lines under tension create more friction, thus better ‘locking’ the line to the cleat base.

cleat hitch 2

Multi Wrap Cleat Hitch

When a cleat is many times too big for the line diameter being used, you will want to consider using the multi warp cleat hitch.  Think of the base of the cleat as a winch drum.  The more wraps, the more friction, and thus the more holding power of the cleat hitch.  Once you have enough wraps on the cleat base, you will follow with a cross over, and another cross over with a hitch.

cleat hitch

Consider…

Cleat Size and Line Diameter

Selecting line diameters and cleat sizes are dependent on your boats length, displacement, and windage.  If your boat is average displacement and windage for its length, using the boat length alone is sufficient.  Horn cleats are sized to optimize specific line diameters.  Cleat length from tip to tip should be 1″ for every 1/16″ of line diameter, and dock lines should generally be 1/8″ of diameter for every 9 feet of boat length.

For example, if your boat is 36′ in length, it requires 1/2″ dock lines. Using 1/2″ dock lines means that your cleats need to be 8″ long to accommodate and single dock line.  In this example, a 6” cleat would be said to be undersized, and a 10” cleat oversized.  Note that these are general minimums.  As with all docking and mooring equipment, bigger is better.  Having cleats that are oversized allow multiple lines to be tied off on one cleat.  No one complains about having an oversized anchor or oversized fenders in stormy weather.

Dock and Rode Line Type

Stretch and strength is required in your dock and rode line to reduce shock loading your deck hardware and to give your boat a better, jolt free movement.  It is common for these lines to be an afterthought which can lead to damage and discomfort aboard.  It is also tempting, to save money, to use retired halyards, sheets or guys for dock lines, but DON’T.  They are strong enough for the task but are by design low stretch.  Use either three strands, double braided mooring line, or 8-plate mooring line.  These are by design for docking or anchoring, strong, and relatively stretchy.

There are varying opinions on what is the correct cleat hitch to use. “Chapman’s Piloting and Seamanship”, Brion Toss’ “The Complete Rigger’s Apprentice” and the United States Power Squadrons teach the Half Cleat Hitch, while the Royal Yacht Association, Hin’s “Knotting and Splicing”, Peter and J.J. Isler’s “Sailing for Dummies”, and Andrew Sloan Draper & Charles Welsh’s “Drapper’s Self Cuture” teach the Full Half Cleat. Ultimately your experience will lead you to chose the cleat hitch that is correct for your line type, diameter and slip; the cleat length; and the duration of your tie-up.

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2 Responses

  1. I very much disagree with your advocacy of a full wrap to start. Under load especially if the boat is pulling with a vertical component an override will occur. Getting it realeased is dangerous. That full wrap will also abraid much faster.

    There is good reason you will not find a cleat hitch shown this way in any reputable publication.

    • Hi Stephen. Thanks for your comment. There are varying opinions on what is the correct cleat hitch to use. “Chapman’s Piloting and Seamanship”, Brion Toss’ “The Complete Rigger’s Apprentice” and the United States Power Squadrons teach the Half Cleat Hitch, while the Royal Yacht Association, Hin’s “Knotting and Splicing”, Peter and J.J. Isler’s “Sailing for Dummies”, and Andrew Sloan Draper & Charles Welsh’s “Drapper’s Self Cuture” teach the Full Half Cleat. Ultimately your experience will lead you to chose the cleat hitch that is correct for your line type, diameter and slip; the cleat length; and the duration of your tie-up.

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