Cargo delivery from one compartment to the next relies on the fusion of vesicles with different cellular organelles in a process that requires the concerted action of tethering factors. Although all tethers act to bridge vesicle membranes to mediate fusion, they form very diverse groups as they differ in composition, and in their overall architecture and size, as well as their protein interactome. However, their conserved function relies on a common design. Recent data on class C Vps complexes indicates that tethers play a significant role in membrane fusion beyond vesicle capturing. Furthermore, these studies provide additional mechanistic insights into membrane fusion events and reveal that tethers should be considered as key players of the fusion machinery. Moreover, the discovery of the novel tether FERARI complex has changed our understanding of cargo transport in the endosomal system as it has been shown to mediate ‘kiss-and-run’ vesicle–target membrane interactions. In this Cell Science at a Glance and the accompanying poster, we compare the structure of the coiled-coil and the multisubunit CATCHR and class C Vps tether families on the basis of their functional analogy. We discuss the mechanism of membrane fusion, and summarize how tethers capture vesicles, mediate membrane fusion at different cellular compartments and regulate cargo traffic.