Mooring Advice


Wandering around the moorings I see a variety of different methods used by members to attach their pride and joy to the pontoon so let’s have a look at some of the local practices.  I’m not going to say there is any single right or wrong way and I’m a firm believer in the view that if you tie your boat to the side and it’s still there and undamaged when you return then what you did achieved its purpose.  

That’s fine on one level but could someone else use the cleat and if there were to be a strong stream running would the tension prevent it being undone.

In an ideal world, there are a few features which are considered best practice.

  • One rope is for one job. 
  • Springs should be taught
  • We should be able to undo ropes even under load
  • Consider other people’s availability to use the same cleat.

We have to deviate from these sometimes as there may not be a cleat where we want it or the lead of the rope may chafe. Every mooring is different so it’s important to know the pro’s and cons of each so that you can make an informed decision.

The Knit One and Pearl One Method

On the plus side it’s not likely to come undone.  I remember being told many years ago that if you can’t do knots, do lots! Not sure of the wisdom of that advice. Nowadays the advice is not to finish a cleat with a locking turn and captains of large, tall ships would clap you in irons for a week and stop your rum for doing so.  The reason is easily explained as severe pressure on the line in strong wind and tide can cause the fastening to tighten and become locked.  For quiet river use that’s rarely a problem but I don’t like to see this as it is antisocial.  It means that no one else can use the cleat if they need to and if they do, you won’t be able to get your line off.

Single Turn and Back Aboard Method

This has the advantages that both ends are secured on the boat and one of the benefits of that is that drunken revellers can’t untie your boat. The rope isn’t fast on the cleat and can easily be lifted off if slack.  On the plus side, it is easy to cast off when the time comes. The fastening is poor and unreliable, and I wouldn’t advocate this method to leave a boat or at any time when conditions are other than tranquil.

Round turn and Back Aboard Method

Widely used on the river and for day to day use, it works quite well.  It means that both ends of the rope are on the boat and when leaving it is easy to convert to a slip line with a single turn.  It does also have the disadvantage that the cleat can’t easily be used for multiple lines, so if you or an adjoining boat wanted a rope to the cleat that may cause problems.

Loop a single Tang Method

I struggle to think of something positive here.  The fixing to the cleat is about as insecure as you can get, it can’t be released from on the boat and if the rope is taught it can’t be undone.  If others try to use the cleat the lines are likely to lock this line in place.  Some people who keep spliced loops in their ropes use this because the loop isn’t big enough to go over both tangs of the cleat.  I say to them, “Learn to tie a bowline then you can have whatever size loop you require. Cut off the loop and whip the end

Loop and under both Tangs

Easy to use and reasonably secure.   The end is kept aboard and protected from those drunken revellers.   It can’t be undone under load and can prove difficult if others want to use the cleat or even if you want to attach another line such as a spring to the cleat.  Why not use a standard bowline over the whole cleat?

Loop and under both Tangs and Taken Back

This will work fine on the non-tidal river, keeps the ends of the rope aboard and is quite secure.  There can be difficulties if it is necessary to release when under pressure or when cleats are shared. There are also issues if the line needs to be adjusted at any time as it won’t slip around the cleat.

Standard Bowline Method

This is favoured by long distance sailors and commercial users.  Provided it is not tied on slack it is likely to be secure and will allow many others to use the same cleat whilst still releasing their lines in any order. I have shown the cleat with 2 lines here and you will see that each can be removed without affecting the other.  This can also apply even if there are 6 or 7 lines which is a great benefit when boats are rafted  It can’t be undone whilst under tension so make sure that the end on the boat is cleated correctly so that it can be released from there.

Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

This is similar to the bowline method with a couple of subtle differences.   One great advantage is that it can be undone under load and the presence of a round turn prevents chaffing 

There is scope for others to use the cleat as lines can be affixed to either cleat stem and also to the top bar as well so up to 3 lines can easily be accommodated.  More than that and it does become difficult and in all probability cleat space will be taken up with three.  

The Star Prize

I nominate this as mess of the week.  I’m looking but struggling to find one line (including the power cable) which can easily be released.  With any tension on any of the blue lines, the whole thing would likely be locked in place.

On the positive side, the dark blue line is keeping the others secure and as long as they don’t want to go anywhere, the world will be a happy place. 

In summary, know the pros and cons of whatever method you are using but I have to say it’s always nice to see a boat tied up in a seamanlike manner.

As for my favourite, well, when mooring for the night I like to use a round turn on one of the tangs of a cleat and have all the rope aboard.  If however, lots of others may use the cleat then I think the standard bowline around the whole cleat or bollard is favoured.


Still on the mooring theme but mainly applicable to those who are bankside during the winter or any time when the level may rise and fall, the use of fender boards is a massive advantage.  As seen in the photo. An old piece of timber or scaffold board something around 3 or 4 feet long can be hung from the side of the boat with a fender inside at each end and outside of a pile with a riser.  As the water rises, the board provides a buffer between the hull and the post. Small movements forward or backwards are no problem, and when the level falls, there is no danger of the hull being on the concrete bank.  Simple, cheap but very effective.

Phil Onslow,
Chief Instructor,
Thames Motor Yacht Club