Sailing Knots – Learn How To Tie Sailors Knots

If you’ve ever been a member of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, you’ve probably had some lessons on how to tie knots. If you wanted to be a successful scout, you had to get your head around tying knots. Well, the same thing counts in sailing. If you want to be a successful sailor, you have to learn how to tie sailing knots.

Basic sailing knots

First of all, it is important to stress that there are three general categories when it comes to types of sailing knots. The first category are, simply, knots – they are tied on the end of a line (line is a term for a sailing rope). The second category are hitches – types of knots that are used to tie a line to a cleat on a boat or on a dock. The last ones have the word bend in their name and refer to knots that are used to join two lines together (in sailing language, to bend something means to join).

Now, the most important question is – how to become a master in tying sailor knots? It sure does require a lot of practice, but with the right instructions (or instructor) nothing is impossible. There are lots of knots that are used in sailing, but we will mention eight most common ones, divided into the above-mentioned categories.

Knots

1. Bowline Knots

What is a bowline knot?

Well, it is the most useful and most popular knot in the world of sailing – it is easy to tie, but also to untie. It is, however, extremely firm and secure, but also prone to jamming and in some cases hard to untie.

What is the purpose of a bowline knot?

  • to form a loop (large or small) at the end of a line
  • tie any two lines together
  • tie jib sheets to the corner of a sail
  • it is used as a rescue rope

How to tie a bowline knot?

  • form a loop by simply crossing the two sides of the line
  • at this point, you should have two ends – a free and a standing one
  • as you’ve made the loop, bring the free end of the line through the rope (as some like to say – the rabbit comes out of the hole)
  • then, wrap it around the standing end and bring it back through the loop (the rabbit goes around the tree and then back into the hole)
  • tigten the knot by pulling both ends

2. Figure-8 Knot

What is a figure-8 knot?

Also known as stopper knot or Flemish knot, it is very popular not only in sailing, but also in rock climbing and caving. Unlike a bowline knot, even after it’s been jammed, it can be easily undone.

What is the purpose of a figure-8 knot?

  • it stops the line from running and sliding out of sight

How to tie a figure-8 knot?

  • form a loop by crossing the two sides of a line
  • at this point you should have two ends – a free and a standing one
  • bring the free end under the standing one
  • then, bring it over and into the loop, forming a number eight
  • tighten the two ends

3. Square Knot

What is a square knot?

It is also known as a reef knot. It is easy to tie, but when you join two lines together be aware because it easily slips and comes undone, so don’t use it where safety is critical.

What is the purpose of a square knot?

  • to tie two pieces of line together
  • in sail reefing, i.e. cinching down cords and wrapping together the excess sail so it doesn’t flap around

How to tie a square knot?

  • take two ropes – you have a left one and a right one
  • cross them to form a half knot
  • then, cross them the second time – right over left
  • then again, cross left over right and twist
  • pull both sides and make sure both parts of the line exit the knot together

Hitches

1. Cleat Hitch

Source: marinereservation.com

What is a cleat hitch?

Very useful for sailors, it is easily tied and untied and simple to learn.

What is the purpose of a cleat hitch?

  • to secure a line to a cleat
  • to tie a boat to a dock

How to tie a cleat hitch?

When tying a cleat hitch, it is important to start passing the line around the right horn of a cleat – there is a far one and a near one – you should start with the far one.

  • pass the line around the base of the cleat, around the far horn
  • then, pass the line around the near horn and bring it over the top of the cleat
  • wrap it around the cleat making a loop
  • then, on the other side, i.e. on the near horn, make an under loop and pull

2. Clove Hitch

Source: handymariner.com

What is a clove hitch?

Great for tying something up, but only temporarily. It is easy to tie, but also to untie. It is prone to slipping so it cannot be trusted for critical loads. Also, you can adjust it any time, i.e. you can raise or lower it without untying it.

What is the purpose of a clove hitch?

  • to secure a line to an object (in most cases to tie a fender to a lifeline)
  • it can be used as a temporary mooring knot
  • How to tie a clove hitch?

How to tie a clove hitch?

  • pass the free end around the pole making a loop
  • pass it again on the other side making another loop
  • pull the free end under the line and pull

3. Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

Source: hikersforlife.com

What does a round turn and two half hitches stand for?

This is a very useful knot; it is easy to tie and it isn’t prone to binding – which means that it is very reliable and useful.

What is the purpose of a round turn and two half hitches knot?

  • to secure a mooring post to a dock post or ring

How to tie a round turn and two half hitches knot?

This knot is composed of two parts: a round turn and two or more half hitches.

  • pass the end of a line around the post two times – this is a round turn
  • then, make the first loop, i.e. wrap the free end around the standing one – this is the first hitch – and pull
  • make the second loop – the second hitch – and pull tight (the tighter the better)

Bends

1. Sheet bend

Source: 101knots.com

What is a sheet bend?

Many sailors use this type of knot, it is secure, easy to untie and works great when tying together two lines of unequal diameter.

What is the purpose of a sheet bend?

  • to tie two lines together (that can differ in size, thickness, material exc.)

How to tie a sheet bend?

  • take two lines, thicker and thinner
  • form a loop (bight) in the thicker rope
  • bring the thinner line into the loop and pass it around and behind the thicker one
  • pass the free end of a thinner line under itself and pull tight

2. Anchor Bend

Source: englundmarine.com

What is an anchor bend?

Also known as the anchor hitch or the fisherman’s hitch, or bend. It is easy to tie, holds tight and it is stronger than a bowline knot.

What is the purpose of an anchor bend?

  • to connect an anchor line to an anchor
  • to join a line to a ring, pole exc.

How to tie an anchor bend?

It is very similar to a round turn and two half hitches knot, but in this case the first hitch is passed under the turn (not over).

  • wrap the line around the ring two times
  • wrap the free part around and behind the standing one
  • make a loop and pass the free end through it
  • pull it out tightly
  • again, wrap the free end around the standing part
  • hold and pull tight

Whether you decide to tie a knot, a bend or a hitch, these instructions will help you take one step forward in becoming a real sailor. Everyone can do it, so can you, you just have to practice and then you are ready to begin your sailing adventure. In fact, go ahead and start practicing today. Because… well, why knot?

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Julija Boronjek

About the Author: Julija Boronjek

Julija is a language and writing enthusiast working at SailingEurope. Loves stargazing and spending time at the seaside. Big dreamer and optimist.

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