Sailing is calling to you, and while it may not be second nature just yet, every scrap of information you gather along the way will get you one step closer to being a true master.
One of those skills that you absolutely have to get down pat is tying knots, particularly nautical-specific knots that come in handy for multiple purposes.
This interactive guide will show you every knot that you need to a know, and a few that come in handy in niche situations as well.
If you weren’t in the boy scouts or you just haven’t tied many knots apart from your shoelaces, don’t worry: there’s also a guide on how to get good at tying knots until you can do it with a blindfold (literally).
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the sailing knots, we got you covered:
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All 17 Knots
A bowline is the most common and perhaps most versatile knot you’ll ever use.
To create one, start by making a loop on the longest end of your line.
Now pass the opposite end of the line through that loop that you’ve created, keeping the shape of the loop in mind while you go. If it looks wonky, adjust it properly to keep the shape.
Pull the longest end of the line to tighten up the bowline. Bowlines can be tied with one hand, making them extremely versatile and useful for tying things down in a hurry out on your sailboat.
2. Round Turn and Two Half Hitch
The two half hitch is used to secure lines directly to poles, which can be used in a variety of circumstances.
To create one, start by wrapping the end of the rope around the pole. It’s difficult to freehand the knot with a circumference in mind, so this step is vital.
Loop the end of the rope through the crossover you’ve created, and then do that a second time slightly further down the line.
You tighten this by pulling on the short end while holding the long end taut in your other hand.
3. Cleat Hitch
When it’s time to tie down on the hitch, the cleat hitch knot is your go-to.
Run the line along the side of the hitch, then loop the bottom end around the hitch, forming a circle tight against the two bolts.
Pull the rope to the right, and pull it underneath the bottom end of the hitch, so the rope is tied across the bolt holes and exiting through the left side.
Pull it up the right side of the hitch and loop it around the top, as if you were making an eight shape.
Lastly, pull the rope down on the opposite side that the line began on, and hold it nice and tight.
4. Rolling Hitch
A rolling hitch is very simple, and usually ties around a D-ring located in multiple spots on your boat.
Pull the rope through the ring, and wrap it around a second time while leaving a little bit of room, making a half hitch.
On that second pass, you’re going to pull the remaining bit of rope through that narrow space between the secured line and the ring.
Pull this through so that you have about a ½” of the end visible, and pull on the longer end of the line to tighten everything up.
5. Sheet Bend
Also known as a weaver’s knot, the sheet bend lets you tie two pieces of rope or line together in a tight connection to extend the amount of line you have.
This is commonly used to mend or extend fishing lines while out and about. Form a loop by bending about 2” of rope to make a rounded joint, and hold the 2” of slack against the main line.
On your second rope/line, feed it through the loop you’ve created while still holding the first rope firmly.
Now pull that line around the section that you’re holding tight, and loop it back under the entry line.
Pull the rope tight on both ends and see if it sticks. This one can take a while to get down pat.
6. Square Knot
The square knot is versatile, as you can use it to connect broken lines together and for multiple other applications outside of the boat.
It’s going to feel fairly similar to tying your shoes. W
rap one end of your line over the other end of your line, then underneath one another, then pulling them in the opposite direction.
The difference between this and a granny knot, which is what you use for your shoes, is that you want these lines to be right up against one another and not crossing.
7. Figure Eight
Once you tie this knot, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ve learned it.
It takes a while to get it perfect, but not long to practice. In about a two foot stretch of rope, make an eight shape with one end, with the rope crossing underneath and then over it.
Now use that free end to basically retrace the eight, and leave the end of it near the longer piece of line.
Pull tight on that end piece while retaining the shape of the loop, and you’ll have a figure eight knot.
8. Trucker’s Hitch
Similar to the figure eight line, but with a twist.
You’re going to start by making a beginning figure eight line, but instead of measuring out the rope beforehand, you’re going to run the line through the bottom of the eight loop, and then feed it through there until you can wrap the end around the pole/object you’re trying to tie down to.
After that’s done, tighten the rope to the best of your ability, leaving about 3” of rope behind. You’re going to tie two half hitch knots on the remaining slack, and pull it tight.
9. Clove Hitch
One of the easiest and most fun knots to tie has to be the clove hitch.
Like many other hitch knots, this can be used to tie off other knots in certain situations.
A clove hitch requires you to take a piece of rope and wrap it around the pole that you’re trying to secure something to, and then wrap it around a second time at a forty-five degree angle.
You’re going to pull the free section of the rope underneath that forty-five degree stretch, and pull it through while tightening the long end.
10. Stopper Knot
Stopper knots get a bit complicated, but with enough practice you can use these for a ton of problem-solving applications on the sailboat.
Form a loop that’s about 4” in diameter at the end of your line, and tie it off.
The loop should retain its shape entirely. Now run the remaining end of your short line through the loop you’ve created, and pull it tight.
The result should look like a pretzel, or stopper, that’s going to constrict/tie tightly around whatever you need it to.
11. Anchor Hitch
As you might imagine, this is used to tie down your anchor, and is designed to be a permanent knot that you’ll never have to undo or redo.
Tie it like a rolling hitch, where there are two loops around the handle of the anchor, and then pull the line through the space between those two loops.
You’re going to need a bit more slack than a rolling hitch.
Pull it upward, and tie it in a half hitch around the line directly above the previous rolling hitch.
Pull the line taut with the longer end, and secure it with an anchor bolt to keep it in place.
12. Constrictor Knot
Constrictors have an obvious use, and look somewhat like a pretzel before you tie them off.
This basic one is fairly simple, and is the easiest to perform in the constrictor category.
Start by tying one loop around whatever it is you’re trying to fasten down (pole, rod, etc.), and then use the short end of the line to create a loop right beneath each, each of which will be at about a forty-five degree angle.
Now take the short end of the line, pull it in between the X cross of the two loops, and pull it through to your desired length. Pull on both ends to tighten it, and you’re done.
13. Taut Line Hitch
Taut line hitches are often used in camping to secure tent stakes and lines, but they have their place in sailing.
Pull the rope around a tree or stationary object, and grab the short end of your slack.
Take the line and loosely wrap it around the interior section of the loop closest to the mast/pole you are tying down to, and pull it through.
Perform a second loop in the same direction on the exterior side of the main loop, swoop it under, and pull it through on the top.
This creates an extremely tight, tense bond between the rope and the mast.
14. Water Knot
This knot is best done with nylon straps, like you would find on a waterproof backpack or dry bag.
To start, make a loose knot on one end of the strap, and then take the other strap and pass it through opposite of what you’ve just done.
Pull it tight, and it’s done—and it’s going to be difficult to take it apart, which is good for a tight bond.
15. Prusik Knot
One of the easiest things you’ll do all day is tie a prusik knot (it can barely be called a knot because you don’t even need to use an end).
To start, take the rope and fold it in the center of your slack, creating equal lengths on both side.
Hold onto the ends, because you won’t need them during tying. Take the bend end of your rope, and place it about 8” past where you need to tie it around.
Start wrapping it around, and leave about 3” of space (typically the width of your four fingers against each other) so that the rope has a bit of slack.
Pull it around again, then once more, and finally, pull the end piece of the rope through it once to create an overhand, and pull tight.
You’ll notice the coils of rope tightened around the pole, leaving three strands on each side, and a strong bit of rope in your hands.
16. Timber Hitch
Wrap a loose loop around a pole or mast, and then pull the short end of the rope through that loop, and just wrap it around the inside of that loop.
Do this about four times and pull it through, and you’ll have a tight hold once you pull on the longer piece of slack.
This is typically used to fell a tree, but can be an alternative way to tie down your boat or dinghy to a port pole.
17. Blood Knot
As another way to tie two lines together, the blood knot looks complicated, but doesn’t take much time to master at all.
Run two lines towards each other, and let them overlap. Tie the overlapped bit of rope to the opposite line by wrapping it around the line four times, working downward.
Do this on both sides. Use the remaining slack on both sides to meet in the middle, and tie them together to create a sturdy grip. This works well on fishing lines.
Tips for Tying Better Knots
Practice makes perfect, every single time.
If you’re just getting the hang of sailing, you’ve just found your new in-between activity.
When you have those five minutes of time to wait before getting back to work, or you find yourself wasting time by watching television, use these tips to strengthen your knot-tying game.
1. Tie a Knot While Watching TV
You’d be amazed at what you can achieve by watching television while doing any other task. Television activates one of four main stages in the brain, called the alpha stage.
During the alpha stage, we learn and retain information at an alarming rate, which makes this the perfect time to compulsively tie and untie that one knot you’ve been struggling with over and over again.
2. Post-Lunch Hand Workout
Got five minutes after lunch before you return to work?
Sure you do.
You can bring along a ¼” thick bit of rope in a short 6” shred, and keep practicing knots over and over again before getting back to your desk.
3. Cut Rope
Seriously, that’s all you have to do here.
Cutting rope improperly creates frayed ends that unravel the fabric, and ruin the rope entirely.
Practice with a cheap coil of rope, and cut them in perfectly straight lines again and again. Use the shreds to repeat our second tip.
4. Test the Tightness
If you’re not making tight knots, then you’d might as well not be making knots at all.
Keep trying again and again until you can make knots with near-flawless tightness so they can serve you the best possible function while out on the water.
5. Practice With Bad Rope
Is the rope thin and relatively crummy?
If you can tie rope with a horrible line that’s splintery and frail, and make it work, then you’ll be able to tie a knot with proper line that you’ll be using while sailing.
If you can work with the worst, imagine what you can do with the best.
Why Are Certain Knots Better Than Others?
It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
Each knot has its own purpose because different tasks distribute stress and tension in different ways.
If you were trying to fasten your boat to a dock, you wouldn’t just tie it like you would your shoelaces.
You know that a shoelace knot is going to come undone, and you might come back to find your boat a mile out at sea. Nobody wants that.
Some handle tension better, and some handle unanticipated movements better.
When the waves jostle the boat and force the rope to sway in different directions, certain knots have multiple points of defense against unraveling and vibration.
The tightness of the knot matters for this, but some are designed that they won’t come undone under any circumstances, like an anchor knot.
It also matters what you’re tying the rope to in the first place.
You wouldn’t put a hitch knot on something isn’t a hitch: it’s relying on the shape of the hitch to provide stability and resistance against the rope or line moving, but that wouldn’t work on a mast.
You would be able to use a blood knot to tie together fishing line since it would exhibit equal tension on both sides, but you wouldn’t want that to hoist heavy objects.
Master this list of knots, and know them backwards, forwards and back under again, and nothing’s going to get in your way out on the open ocean.
You’re about to be a Jack-of-all-trades problem solver.
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