Cleat Hitch

One of the most important knots to know as a boater is how to tie up to a mooring cleat! This knot is used every time you tie something to a cleat. It is a very simple, plain, and elegant knot that will securely hold a line indefinitely if tied properly.


This knot can be used to:

Secure dock lines
Secure jack lines
Tie up to a pier
Tie up to another boat
Secure a tow line
Secure a painter
Tie off a sheet
Secure a halyard

The list goes on and on!

There are a few ideal principles to keep in mind when tying a cleat hitch. If these principles are followed, the knot can be securely tied offering peace of mind and security.

The loaded line should enter the cleat in the same direction that the tail exists the cleat.
There should only be 3 lines passing on the top of the cleat per cleat hitch. 
For high loads, a wrap around the cleat will help reduce the force exerted on the knot.
When properly tied, it will form an X over the cleat with one leg composed of one line and the other leg composed of two lines.

To tie a cleat hitch, follow these steps:

Bring the line alongside the cleat

Wrap the line around the back of the cleat under the horn

Pass the line over the cleat

Wrap the line under the horn

Pass it over the cleat forming an X

Twist the line to form a turn and slide the turn over the cleat horn and tighten

Pull on the tail to tighten the knot all the way

This knot may seem easy to tie, and it is! But so are wrong variations of the knot. Common mistakes made are:

Tons of wraps
Never creating the turn to secure the line to the cleat
Not tightening the knot
Twisting the turn the wrong way


Tons of wraps simply bulk up the cleat so no one else can use it and makes it harder to untie the cleat when it's time to release the line.

Never creating the turn to secure the line is dangerous. It will look like a secure knot but will come loose over time. 

Not tightening the knot will allow the line to untie itself and slip off the cleat, failing its purpose of securing the line.

Twisting the turn the wrong way is a very common mistake. It may look secure, but it will come loose with a few pulls. If you tie it the wrong way, it would behoove you to untie the cleat and do it again the right way.

Sometimes, cleats are hardly tied with almost no tail!

These cleats have been tied this way for a very long time, some of them for years without inspection. Just because you tied your line properly when you docked your boat, doesn't mean that it is still tied properly. I have seen many boaters pull in and untie a cleat to tie their boat up and tie the existing dock line to a new cleat. Do you know if they tied your dock line properly?


When tied properly, multiple people can easily tie up to the same cleat and untie easily when it's time to cast off.

These cleats may look like a jumble, but in fact they are cleats where two lines are tied; one over the other. They are both tied correctly and all the lines are perfectly secured on the same cleat.

While it is important to know how to properly tie a cleat hitch, the examples of poorly tied cleat knots have held for many years without anyone touching them. If you are tying to a cleat in a hurry while docking and the knot comes out wrong, it will probably hold fine while you secure the rest of the lines in a hurry. Once the boat is safely tied to the pier, it is a good idea to evaluate the cleats and make sure your knots are correct before leaving the boat. A poor knot will hold for a while, but a good knot will hold for longer!