Learn the Ropes: Knots for Boaters

Ropes and lines are an important part of any boat, especially sailboats. They have a multitude of uses and there can never be too many of them on board. Take a moment to learn or refresh your memory on the ins and outs of the following knots.


A length of line is of little use unless it is fastened to something, usually at both ends. One or both ends may be belayed (i.e., fastened) to a cleat or a bollard, but often the fastening is made by means of a knot.


Knots should be easily tied, secure when tied and easily undone when wet and under strain. A boat that has been secured at high tide on a sunny day may have to be untied in a thunderstorm as the tide falls.


Every boater should know the positive and negative features of several different knots, when they should be used and how to tie them without looking.


Boaters should also know how to belay—i.e., secure—a line to a cleat. The following images show the correct way to belay to a cleat, and how to tie six knots. Other knots and their uses are included in the CPS Seamanship course.
Belaying to a cleat
The first turn around the base of the cleat must be completed or the line will jam under strain and be difficult to undo, especially when it is wet. If it is belayed by a series of round turns without the figure-eights it will not hold. A good rule to remember is: One round turn, two figure-eights and a half hitch to lock it. The end is then led inboard.
Figure-eight knot
This is a very useful knot to use as a stopper knot to prevent a line, such as a jib sheet, from running back through a block. It does not jam and can be easily undone when wet.
Round turn and two half hitches
This is a good knot for making a line fast to a bollard or pile. It will continue to hold well, even if the line slackens. The purpose of the round turn is to reduce chafe and to take the strain off the half hitches, so that they will be easy to untie.
Reef knot
This is an excellent knot for joining two ends of a line that goes around something, such as a bundle, or the bunched canvas of a reefed sail. It should not be used as a bend joining two separate lines, especially those of different diameter, for the knot will then twist and slip.
Double sheet bend
This knot is used for tying together lines of equal or different diameters. It is more secure than the single sheet bend which can slip unless the strain is kept on it. When connecting lines for towing the free ends should be secured with twine or locked with a half hitch.
This is a most useful knot that forms a loop at the end of a line. It will not slip, does not pinch or kink the line, does not jam, and can be easily untied even when it has been under great stress.
Clove hitch
This knot is used where a rapid adjustment may be needed and is therefore very useful for securing fenders to a ring or a rail. It has the great disadvantage that it will slip if the load is taken off, especially when tied with nylon line. This can be overcome by taking a half hitch in the free end, which locks it in place. This knot is sometimes used for tying a boat to a piling, but it cannot be trusted to remain secure unless it is locked with two half hitches.

7 thoughts on “Learn the Ropes: Knots for Boaters

  1. Pingback: Learn the Ropes | viningsmarine

  2. Reblogged this on viningsmarine and commented:
    Experienced boaters know if a boat is left loose, it can rock back and forth in the water, resulting in scratches or damage. Check out 7 different knots and hitches to secure safety to your boat this season!

  3. Pingback: Learn the Ropes | viningsmarine

  4. Pingback: (Re)Learning the Ropes | viningsmarine

  5. Pingback: (Re)Learning the Ropes | viningsmarine

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