Essential Sailing Knots Every Sailor Must Know

1. Bowline. (pronounced bo-lin) This is the granddaddy of them all–a workhorse that never slips or jams, and has been used since ancient times. Your ASA instructor will make sure you have this one down pat, because it’s critical in all sorts of ways on a boat, inlcuding attaching the halyards and sheets to the sails. With a little practice, this knot becomes very easy and quick to tie. The bowline creates a fixed loop at the end of a rope, making it useful for fastening a mooring line to a post or ring. It’s also the knot most commonly used for rescue ropes, as a trapped person can tie the loop around them and then be hoisted up with the rope. To tie a bowline, create a small loop in the rope, leaving enough rope in the working part for the desired size of the eventual loop. Pass the tail through the loop, under and over the standing end and then back through the loop to finish. 

2. Figure-8 Knot The Figure-8 knot is an essential stopper knot. Unlike the overhand loop, it won’t bind up no matter how much strain it comes under. That means it will always be easy to untie. It is used primarily to stop a line from running. Designed to prevent ropes from running out of retaining devices, the figure-eight knot will jam if put under strain, making it useful for both sailing and rock climbing. It is similar to the overhand knot, but less permanent and easier to undo. As you might expect, a figure-eight knot is created by bringing the tail of the rope over itself to form a loop, then under the standing part and through the loop in a figure-of-eight pattern. 

3. Square Knot (also known as Reef Knot) A quick and easy knot for temporarily joining two ropes together. It got the name of reef knot from the old days of tall ship sailing, when it was used to “reef” the sail. Back then the sailors would have to climb the rigging, go out on the yards, and actually reduce the sail by hand, and this was the knot they used. Not many of us still sail that way today, but this knot still has its uses! It’s easy and quick to tie when safety and stability are not critical, such as securing a sail cover. 

4. Clove Hitch This knot is right up there with the bowline in importance. The clove hitch is great for tying something up temporarily, and works best on something cylindrical, like a pole or stanchion. The great thing about it is that you can adjust it at any time, so if you made your line too long or too short, you can always fix it. However, the clove hitch can slip, so you have to be careful! 

5. Round Turn and Two Half-Hitches This is for those times when you need to tie something up and make sure it stays tied up! It takes a bit more time and effort than the clove hitch, but it will hold much better. It can secure a mooring line to the post or ring, or better yet, a hammock to a tree. 

6. Cleat Hitch There are cleats all over the deck of a sailboat, and all over the dock–there are cleats just about everywhere. They are what you tie your boat to when you dock, what you tie the dinghy to while you’re sailing, and sometimes what you stub your toe on when you’re moving around in the dark. If you ever want to get off the boat, you’ll need to be able to secure your docklines to a cleat. So when you take ASA 101, you’ll learn exactly how to do it 

7. A half hitch is an unsecure knot which is used in conjunction with other types of knots to create secure knots. A half hitch is created by simply bringing the rope over and under the standing part. 

8. Reef knot is used to bind a rope around an object by tying two ends of the rope together. It should be noted that it is not recommended for tying two different ropes together, even though it is often used in this way. If used with ropes of different thicknesses it may slip. To tie a reef knot, place the two ends of the rope parallel and cross them over, placing one rope over the other, then under, and then over again. Take the ends and cross them over-under-over again, then pull the ends tight.

9. The rolling hitch is used to fasten a rope to a rod, pole or another rope. It is used to pull along an object lengthwise, as opposed to right angles. This knot is often used to rig a stopper, to slacken a tight sail line or sheet so that a jammed winch can be cleared safely. A rolling hitch is formed by coiling the rope around the object or other rope, bringing it towards the direction of pull and between the object and the standing part. Create another successive coil in the direction of the pull, then bring the tail over the standing part in the opposite direction to the pull. Finish with a half hitch around the object/other rope in the same direction as the coils, then pull tight and apply load to the rope