Dock Cleats – 7 Essential Styles of Docking Cleats

Of all the useful tools and fittings on your boat, the dock cleat may be the least appreciated. They are also some of the most important.

Similar to boat anchors, docking cleats have one job. They secure your vessel and prevent it from drifting away when you’re not looking.

Of course, as an avid mariner, you have most likely seen many cleats. You may even have collided with one or two… they can be hard on unprotected toes.

What you may not know is that there are many different kinds of docking cleats (some kinder on feet than others).

Different Styles of Dock Cleats

Dock cleats come in many styles. They tend to be made from stainless steel, nylon, or galvanized metal/aluminum.

Nylon is the least expensive option. Nylon options are durable and reliable but tend to look less attractive than metal ones.

Galvanized metal/aluminum options are attractive and slightly more durable than nylon options.

Finally, stainless steel is the most durable and expensive material. Nonetheless, they also offer a superior finish.

It is also possible that you will see wooden cleats, but these are less common now. The style of cleat you choose can affect the materials available to you, however, so keep that in mind.

Standard Dock Cleats

Standard Dock Cleats

Reliable and versatile, standard cleats are found everywhere. In fact, many docks will have them over any other style. This can change depending on where you are, of course. Nonetheless, standard-style is more common because it is cost-effective, efficient, and versatile.

Pop-Up Dock Cleats

Pop-Up Cleats

Unlike standard options, pop-up dock cleats are pushed down when not in use. This means that you’re less likely to get snagged on them.

This is just one reason why they are becoming more popular.

You pay for this reliability and convenience when installing them, however. Pop-up options are expensive ($20 – $80 per cleat on average), and they are hard to install.

First, you need to cut a weird-shaped hole to fit them in, and secondly, they must be secured from below. Furthermore, these are for tying off your boat to the dock and should not be placed on the dock.

Flip-Up Dock Cleats

Flip-Up Cleats

Flip-up docking cleats lack the lengthy and difficult installation process of pop-ups. They still stay out of your way when not in use, however, which is nice.

They are a little cheaper, though not much, and don’t require you to cut an odd-shaped hole. They do still have to be secured from below, however.

Nonetheless, this is a great, simple design that can be placed on docks or boats.

Zig-Zag Cleats

Zig-Zag Cleats

Sometimes called the lazy mans option, the zig-zag style makes tying off easy. The zig-zag shaped dock cleats make securing a boat to the dock truly easy.

However, there is a downside.

First and foremost, they are less secure than other types. They should not be used for securing a vessel overnight.

Secondly, they are better suited to small boats like kayaks and canoes. However, they are affordable and come in both nylon and metal making them accessible to all.

Solar Dock Cleats

Solar Cleats

The most expensive cleats on the market right now are solar dock cleats. Solars are just a little high-tech.

While they resemble standard cleats, they come with built-in lighting. This can create a save, well-lit passage along docks at night. They are a must-have for those who frequent the water and docks at night.

Besides lights, solar cleats have little else to justify the inflated price tag, however. If you sail at night often, or you own a marina, they can add flair to the docks while acting as safety measures. If you don’t, then any other option would serve you better.

Clam Dock Cleats

Clam Cleats

Clam dock cleats are best for small boats and temporary tie-offs. They are not suited to large boats or overnight mooring. Nonetheless, they are affordable and easy to use.

Plus, they will ensure the security of small vessels during short stays.

ZipDock Boat Mooring System

ZipDock Boat Mooring System

If you are a type of person who does not like to tie their boat a traditional way or is not good at doing it, this is the right solution for you.

ZipDock boat mooring system is so simple that anyone can do it. All you have to do it attach it to the pier and pull the line to tighten it.

Be aware that ZipDock is not made to be a permanent solution to your problem though, it’s rather temporary. It is perfect for quick trips to the next town but anything longer than a couple of days will require real dock cleats.

Choosing the Right Cleat for You

Determining the right option for you depends on a number of factors.

First, think about whether you will be using the cleat for short or long-term docking. If you need long-term docking, clam and zig-zag styles are immediately out of the question.

This is also the case if you have a large boat; these styles are non-compatible in these cases.

Secondly, think about when you intend to use your boat. If you’re unlikely to be out at night there’s no need for solars.

When it comes to pop-ups, flip-ups, and standard style dock cleats it’s really about taste.

If you often run into or trip over standard versions, consider pull or flip-up cleats, they may be the right choice for you.

Just remember that pop-ups are incompatible with direct application to the dock. As such, they should only be installed onto a boat. Choose the option which suits your budget and needs most.

Placement and Use

The size and placement of docking cleats depend on the size of your boat. Your dock cleats should be 1″ for every 1/16″ of line diameter. Your line diameter should be 1/8″ for every 9 feet of vessel.

For example, if your boat is 40 feet long your lines should be 1/2″ and your dock cleats should be 8″ in size. This, of course, is a minimum requirement; bigger is better.

You should place them at regular intervals along the sides of your boat. A minimum of 3 per side is required, but more is better.

It can take a lifetime to master the many nautical knots used by mariners. However, those new to sailing should first master the simple cleat hitch. This will allow you to secure your boat quickly and efficiently.

You start this simple knot by wrapping the line around the furthest horn. You should then wrap it around the closer one before crossing over the top. Once you have done this wrap the line under the right horn and cross over again.

Once you tighten this the line should come away from the clean on the opposite side from where you started. Be sure to tidy away any loose length to avoid a tripping hazard.


Dock cleats come in many styles and materials. Some are only suited to small boats or temporary moorings. Others serve niche purposes such as night-time docking. However, it is important that you make the right choice for you, and that you learn to secure your boat properly.

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