Another great day of pontoon boating has ended. Now, you want to make sure your boat is securely parked so the next time you go to look for it, it’s exactly where you found it. So, how do you tie a pontoon boat to a dock?
To tie a pontoon boat to a dock, you want to start by making sure your bumpers and cleats are in the right position. Then shift your boat against the dock at 45 degrees, moving parallel. Finally, park and tie your boat to the dock cleats with rope or line.
Want more specifics? You’re in luck. In this article, we’ll go step-by-step so you know exactly what to do. Whether this is your first time parking your boat or your 10th, you’ll come away from this article having learned something new.
How to Tie a Pontoon Boat to a Dock
1. Bumper and Cleat Positioning
First thing’s first, let’s explain what bumpers and cleats are if you’re not familiar with these two terms.
Bumpers sometimes go by the name fenders. They may be made of soft foam or even inflatable plastic. Some bumpers are long and lean while others are rounder and fatter. The purpose of a bumper is to reduce shock absorption when your pontoon boat bumps into other boats or the dock itself.
Depending on the size of your pontoon boat, you’ll need a different sized bumper. If your boat is 10 to 20 feet long, a small bumper is fine. If it’s 10 to 35 feet, then get a medium bumper. Finally, if you have a boat that’s between 35 and 72 feet long, then you’d need a large bumper.
Then there’s cleats. These are used for attaching your line when you dock your boat, so they’re very important. You can get stainless steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, nylon, or wooden cleats depending on your budget or preferences.
Some boats may have cleats attached, and with others, you’d have to do it yourself. When installing cleats, here’s how it goes: for your pontoon’s length in nine-foot increments, the dock lines must have a diameter of 1/8 inches. Per the line diameter of 1/16 inches, the length of the cleat should be an inch.
Okay, with all that out of the way, before you park, you want to make sure you have your cleats set up. You also want to have your bumpers onboard.
Your bumpers must hang as you tie your pontoon boat to the dock. They should dangle over one end of the boat only, the one that will be nearest to the dock.
2. Inspecting Your Dock
Before you park your pontoon, you should take a look at the dock. You may find cleats or pilings here. If you’ve ever seen stubby pieces of timber that protrude from the dock, these are known as pilings. Some have rope wrapped around them, but not all.
Pilings will be a huge help to you the first few times you park your boat as a beginner. If the dock you wanted to stop at doesn’t have pilings, we’d recommend moving on somewhere else if possible.
3. Backing up Near the Dock
Okay, with the pilings identified, it’s time to begin the parking process. You want to move your pontoon boat’s bow towards the dock first. Then, begin angling the boat at 45 degrees, focusing on your slip sides as you do so.
It might take you several times to get this right, especially if you’re inexperienced with parking your pontoon. Make sure you go slowly to cut back on your rate of mistakes.
4. Parallel Turning
Once you start nearing the dock edge, it’s time to change your approach. About 10 feet from the edge, you want to set your boat to neutral.
The boat will move on its own, approaching the edge of the dock without you having to do much of anything. Your pontoon is cruising from the momentum you achieved in the previous steps.
Don’t take a completely lax approach, though. You want your hands on the steering wheel, directing your pontoon so your boat is now parallel from the edge of the dock. Then let the boat do its thing. It should pretty much guide itself where it should be, which is right alongside the dock.
You can help the process by turning the engine from neutral to reverse. This cuts down on your forward momentum to get you a perfect parking spot.
5. Securing Your Pontoon Boat to the Dock
Okay, so you’ve gotten your boat into position, which is great! You’re not done yet. Since you’re in the water, your boat will undoubtedly move. To keep it beside the dock, you’ll need to secure it there with forward and aft rope lines.
You’ll have to be out of your boat to do this. We recommend you get out carefully. Don’t rush it, as pushing too hard on your way out of the pontoon can shift it away from its spot.
Do you have several other people onboard? It’s better to let one of them out instead so you can keep control of the boat if it ends up shifting just a little.
Your forward dock line should be at an angle of at least 45 degrees. Here’s where your cleat will come in handy, as you’ll tie the rope to it.
There’s a specific means of tying the line so it’s secure. You don’t need to be a rope-tying master, but practice makes perfect. You might want to try out a few knots on cleats before doing it for real.
Here are the steps you should follow:
- Begin by taking your dock line or rope and going around the cleat’s base a single time towards the middle.
- Repeat the process, but this time go towards the cleat’s left side.
- Repeat for yet a third time until you have a single layer of line circling the cleat, this time on the right.
- Go back to the left for a second time.
- You should have some leftover line at this point. You want to create a loop and then tug it so it’s as secure as possible.
That’s it! It’s not as tough as it seems, and eventually, you’ll be able to do it without thinking about it.
Repeat this all again on the aft side and your boat should stay in place. There’s nothing wrong with going back and adding yet a third dock line if inclement weather is on the way. The line should connect out from your pontoon’s center.
What about Wind?
In the above steps we provided for tying your pontoon boat to a dock, we’ve assumed you’re working in temperate weather. There might be a slight breeze from the sea, but it’s not overly windy. There’s no rain coming, either.
That said, sometimes you will find yourself parking because a surprise storm is lingering on the horizon. The winds may be stronger than what you’re used to. Is this going to change how you park your pontoon? Definitely.
When the winds are a-blowin’, you need to stay calm and confident. You want to work with the wind rather than fight against it. The best way to do this is to turn towards the breeze. While the rest of the steps to parking your boat will still apply, you will now have an added challenge. You could find the perfect spot to stop your boat, but the wind keeps pushing you away from it.
You’ll also have to work more quickly. Once you do get your boat into position, you need to be out of the pontoon and tying your line right away. You also want to secure your line three times over, as mentioned in the last section. This will keep your boat line from ripping.
Sometimes the currents are a little choppier than expected. The same mindset applies when you tie your pontoon boat to a dock. You’ll waste time and valuable energy trying to combat the current. Instead, angle your boat towards it and let it guide you in the right spot near the dock. Secure your boat more than you usually would so the waters don’t take it away.
No green pontoon boater wants to be caught in inclement weather, but it happens. By keeping your wits about you, you can still park your boat and tie it to a dock.
At some point in the life of every pontoon boat owner, they’ll have to learn how to tie their vessel to a dock. This really isn’t as challenging as it seems, but it does take some common knowledge of boating parts. For instance, you should familiarize yourself with bumpers, cleats, and piles if you don’t already know what these are.
Again, practice makes perfect. With time, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to tie your boat to a dock. If you’re ever out in bad weather, you’ll be confident enough in your skills and experience to park your pontoon without incident. Good luck!