Dock cleats. The underrated heroes that save many a boat from going adrift.
Dock cleats, and even boat cleats, offer one specific utilitarian use: To secure a boat to a dock to keep it from floating away.
As a boater who has seen your fair share of docks, you’ve probably seen many dock cleats. Heck, you may have even broken a toe on one.
But did you know there are various styles and materials of cleats to choose from? Including ones that don’t spring up and catch you off-guard?
That’s why I’m here to help you decide which dock cleats are best for your particular dock situation.
A Quick Overview of Dock Cleat Materials
Using standard style dock cleats, here’s a list of common material options you’ll find available:
Stainless Steel — The most expensive, but most reliable. Stainless steel dock cleats (check price on Amazon) won’t rust and are nearly impossible to break.
Nylon — If you’re on a limited budget and don’t wanna spend the money on the metal, nylon dock cleats (check price on Amazon) are a reliable, inexpensive option. It may not look as shiny and polished, but if looks are not important—this is a great option!
Galvanized Metal / Aluminum — You also have galvanized metal (check price on Amazon) and aluminum. The fit and finish are not on par with the stainless steel, but they’re less money and still reliable.
Different Styles of Dock Cleats
Standard Style Dock Cleat
Check out the many materials available for this one in the previous section.
The reliable standard cleat is the style you’ll find more than any other. Many docks have the standard style of dock cleat, and from my experience, it’s the main style found at boat docks.
Granted, where you live they may use something different, but this style is most affordable and just plain works. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Pull-Up Dock Cleats
The style has become popular. It’s clean, strong and best of all—you don’t get snagged on it!
I’ve ruined a pair of pants and a new wetsuit on the standard style cleats, whereas it’s difficult to do on a pull-style.
Why? They’re down when not needed. They’re like a reliable friend who’s there when you need them. Not like standard dock cleats, which are reliable but will “bite” without warning.
This style of dock cleat has two disadvantages:
First, they’re quite expensive and range anywhere from $21 to $80 per cleat.
Second, their installation process is not as straight-forward. After you cut the weirdly-shaped hole, you have to reach from below and install nuts on the bolts to secure it. It proves to be more reliable and secure, but the initial install is a beast.
Also, keep in mind these “dock cleats” are more for placing on your boat to tie off on the dock, not directly attached to the dock.
Flip-Up Dock Cleats
A distant cousin of the pull-up dock cleat, the flip-up cleat lacks the same disadvantages. Instead, it offers the benefit of staying out of the way when not needed.
They’re more affordable and don’t require the awkward hole cut into your boat. You still have to reach up from below to attach nuts to bolts, but it’s a solid, great design.
In addition to docks, they’re popular on bass boats due to their design.
Solar Dock Cleats
Here’s a new dock cleat you might not yet have considered. Solar dock cleats come in the standard style, but also offer a built-in light to guide you along dock passageways.
If you’re often at the dock past evenings, these cleats are worth the premium price tag. If you’re not around at night, however, these are like fancy paperweights.
They fill a niche market, but they’re simplistic and work well. If you’re a marina owner, these would add some pizzazz to your marina at night and allow boaters a safe path.
Zig Zag Dock Cleats
The Zig Zag cleat—or as I like to call them, the lazy man cleat—doesn’t require a knot. To tie up to this dock cleat, boaters simply weave their line in the no-brainer, zig-zag-shaped mold.
Tying up overnight, however, should be avoided. These dock cleats are for temporary stops only. Why? Because the boat’s line can slowly loosen out if left unattended for long periods of time.
In addition to docks, they’re also a great “quick stop” for smaller boats (like kayaks). They also often come in both nylon or metal, so take your pick!
Clam Dock Cleats
Clam cleats, much like zig zag cleats, are just for temporary tie offs and not meant for overnight stays at your buddy’s lake house. Only meant for small boats just stopping by for a quick jaunt.
You pull the rope through and the pressure builds up and traps the rope. Basically, the rope can’t go through it one way, but is pulled out the other way.
How to Tie Down to Dock Cleats
It’s important to know how to properly tie down your boat and the various knots to use. Otherwise, you could be in a world of hurt to untangle yourself when it comes time to leave.
If you don’t know your knots, use this handy guide and take time to learn and practice! Practice makes perfect and you’ll find it gets easier.
If you don’t wanna bother to learn your knots, then stick with the zig zag cleat or clam cleat. Just remember that they’re not as secure and should only be used temporarily. Not for mooring overnight!
But at the least, please learn the most basic of basic knots: The Cleat Hitch
The purpose of the cleat hitch is speed. Speed is of the essence and thankfully it is a very easy knot to master. Just remember to wrap around once, and do a figure eight. This knot applies to all the aforementioned cleats. (with the exception of the zig zag and clam cleats.)
I’m a big klutz. No joke, I could trip on flat ground without a moments notice. With that in mind, my personal favorite is the pull-up cleat.
Pull-up dock cleats stay out of the way until I need them, which allows my klutziness to avoid homing in on one like a heat-seeking missile. In addition, pull-up cleats look slick and classy on any dock. They’re also rock solid and reliable, which is always crucial.
My least favorite has to be the standard style dock cleat. Once again, my klutziness is unbearable when it comes to these. If you don’t have my curse, then by all means—use what works best for you.
You can’t deny the usefulness and importance dock cleats serve the boating world.
What would you do without these simple devices? You would float away, that’s what. So don’t sail away, stick to your guns and be firm! After you’ve chosen the best dock cleats for you, make sure to pair them with decent marine rope.
Remember your hitch knot and you’ll never lose a boat to the wind. (In the harbor that is.)