Tips for Choosing the Best Dock Lines for Your Boat

Every boater needs dock lines, and choosing the best ones for your boat is vital.

Some boaters like to go to waterfront restaurants for a dock and dine, others rent a transient slip for a weekend getaway aboard, and still others choose in-water boat storage in a slip. In all of these very different cases, boaters share a common need for dock lines. Since dock lines are the only thing keeping your boat from drifting away and out to sea, we think it’s fair to say that choosing the best dock lines for your boat is a rather important decision.

Types of Dock Lines

In most cases nylon is the best material for docklines. It stretches and gives under a load, which is important when a boat starts rocking or abnormal tides eliminate slack from the lines. It’s very UV resistant, and it’s strong for its diameter. Dacron is strong but it doesn’t stretch, and polypropylene is subject to UV and chafe damage. So, sticking with nylon dock lines is an easy decision.

You’ll generally see nylon docklines in one of two forms: three-strand, and braided. Three-strand is less expensive, but it can get stiff over time and may become difficult to get onto and off of cleats. Braided nylon dock lines cost a bit more but they’re supple and smooth, so they’re generally easier to handle. Plus, they’re available in a wide variety of colors.

If you’re willing to pay a bit more you can get dock lines with loops already spliced into the end. It’s generally worth the price, because having that loop makes it much easier to secure a line around a piling or onto most cleats. If you’re trying to tie up your boat in a strong breeze or current, those loops can speed the process and make it a lot less stressful.

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What Size Dock Lines Do I Need?

Fortunately, picking out the proper size docklines is simple. As a general rule of thumb 3/8” diameter docklines are appropriate for boats up to 25 feet. From 25 to 35 feet, 1/2" docklines are the right pick. For 35- to 45-foot boats opt for 5/8” line. Larger boats will need 3/4" thick lines, and yachts may need even thicker dock lines.

As a general rule it’s good to always have lines about the length of your boat aboard for transient docking, or for tying up temporarily for a meal or short stay. Lines that are too long may be inconvenient but lines that are too short can make docking an impossibility, so erring on the longer side is always a good move. And remember, many waterfront venues do not have extra lines on hand so if you want to enjoy those sorts of experiences you need to keep those dock lines aboard.

If you’re mooring a boat in a wet slip, lines usually need to be about 2/3 the length of the boat. This can vary, however, depending on the size of your boat, the size of the slip, and the placement of the pilings. Note that permanent dock lines used for mooring may also need chafe protection. Again, wet slip situations can vary quite a bit so each has to be treated on a case-by-case basis.

How Many Dock Lines Do I Need?

Keeping four dock lines handy is sufficient for most boaters. Four may also do the trick in some wet slips, though as we just mentioned, different wet slips can vary quite a bit. In some cases you’ll want spring lines in addition to bow and stern lines.

No matter what type of boater you are or what type of boating activities you enjoy, keeping docklines on hand is a must. Make sure you choose the best dock lines for your needs, and your days on the water will be that much more enjoyable.

Read Next: Step-by-Step Guide to Docking Your Boat