Sailing Knots

In the world of sailing and knot tying, there is literally a knot for every occasion.

In reality, if you can tie a bowline, round turn & two half hitches, the clove hitch, reef knot, figure eight stopper knot and the sheet bend you should be well prepared to handle most situations.

You should be able to tie a bowline, clove hitch and a round turn & two half hitches in under 20 seconds (per knot). A figure eight stopper knot, the reef knot and the sheet bend should be tied under 15 seconds (per knot).

It is a good idea to tie each knot the same way every time. In an emergent situation you may need to secure a line immediately and you will not have time to think about how you are going to tie the knot – you need to be able to tie a knot in ‘automatic’ mode.

Practice tying knots to different objects at different angles, overhead, underneath, behind, vertical, horizontal etc. Even practice tying knots with your eyes closed in case you need to secure a line in the dark – you should be able to recognize and tie a knot by feel alone.

Figure Eight Stopper Knot

The figure eight stopper knot is tied at an end of a line and the knot stops the line from slipping through a fitting like a padeye or block. You should always have a figure eight stopper knot at the end of your sheets and halyards plus at the end of any other lines that you may have trouble retrieving should they run out.

Bowline Knot


The bowline knot is one of the most used knots in sailing. The bowline knot creates a loop at the end of a rope which is strong yet easy to untie. The loop created by the bowline can be cleated to a boat or dock or the loop can be thrown over or tied around a docking post.

There is a little story that goes along with the bowline knot to help you learn how to tie it: Make a hole using the rope – the rabbit (tail end of the rope) comes up out of it’s hole – runs around the tree (long end of the rope) – and then runs back down into its hole.


Round Turn & Two Half Hitches

The round turn & two half hitches is another very useful and often used knot. The round turn two half hitches is a great knot to secure a boat to a dock ring, post or tying fenders onto stanchions.

When tying a round turn two half hitches knot, make sure you wrap your half hitches in the same direction.


Clove Hitch


The clove hitch is a fast temporary knot for tying a line off to a spar (post). The clove hitch requires constant tension on the line in order to secure the knot. The rocking motion on a bow line secured to a dock post soon causes a clove hitch to untie. Use the clove hitch in limited circumstances.

A technique is to add a half hitch after the clove hitch has been tied for additional security.


Reef Knot or Square Knot


The reef knot or square knot is a strong and reliable knot, easy to tie but it can be difficult to untie. It is an excellent knot for tying two ends of the same line together – as you would do when reefing a sail. It can also be used to tie together two lines of equal or near equal thickness.


Sheet Bend


The sheet bend knot is used to tie two lines of equal or unequal thickness together. The sheet bend knot can be tied anywhere into another line and therefore it can be used to lengthen or shorten the overall length of a line. Always make your bend (U shaped loop) in the thicker of the two lines.


Double Sheet Bend


The double sheet bend knot shares all the features of a Sheet Bend except that it is a more secure knot. Accordingly, it is the preferred knot of the two.


Rolling Hitch


The Rolling Hitch is a useful knot where you want to tie a line onto a railing. It is often used to tie a flag or burgee onto a stay. There are two ways of tying a Rolling Hitch, the method shown above is the method taught by the American Sailing Assoc. and the Canadian Yachting Assoc. The Royal Yachting Assoc. uses a slightly different method – both are effective.
It is important to know that the knot is designed to slide in the direction of the single wrap (round turn) and to hold in the direction the double wrap (two round turns). You always want to make sure the working end of the line pulls to the side of the double wraps.
The effective holding ability of a Rolling Hitch depends largely on the surface it is being tied onto – smooth surfaces are less effective than rough surfaces. Rolling Hitches are more challenging to tie for the novice sailor but easy to untie.

Buntline Hitch


The Buntline Hitch falls under the heading of a constrictor knot – the knot consistently tightens as tension is applied. The Buntline Hitch is a secure knot but it can be very difficult to untie. A Buntline Hitch would be a useful knot to tie onto an anchor or anything else where you do not intend on untying the knot.


Fisherman’s Knot


The Fisherman’s Knot is very similar to the round turn two half hitches. It is a secure knot and typically used by fisherman to tie a line onto a hook. The Fisherman’s Knot is more secure than the Round Turn Two Half Hitches but it is also more difficult to untie.