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Common and Useful Knots for Mariners


Knots come in all kinds of forms to fit different functions. Here are just a few to get you started.

If you are pursuing a maritime career knowing these knots might be the deciding factor between two candidates. If you want to know more then check out Ashley's Book of Knots with almost 4,000 knots, splices, and other rope work.

Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is one of the fastest knots to tie if you are securing to a post, bollard, piling, or other similar object. If it is a short bollard for example the tying process is very fast.

Take a counter clockwise turn around the bollard from the far side towards yourself and back the direction it came. Take the shorter working end and make an underhand loop in the bight, or middle of the line. An underhand loop is made by taking the line and crossing two parts, the lower part of the intersection should be closest to the end of the line.

Make the loop slightly larger than the bollard so it can be easily slipped over the top. Pull out the slack and make another underhand loop and place it over the bollard. Pull both ends to remove slack.

This complex process can be done in less than two seconds with practice.

The clove hitch is a knot that binds and gets tighter as more force is applied. For tidal conditions or other times when a line needs to slip to stay loose you should use one of the loop knots or a spliced eye.

The clove hitch is thought to get its name from the appearance of two loops side by side forming a split, or cloven, loop.


This is a commonly used knot on vessels everywhere. Navies of the world love this knot and every sailor should be able to tie one. One story goes that sailors were taught to tie this knot one handed so they could self rescue if a line was thrown to them in the water. It is possible if you practice; one hint, gravity is your friend.

To tie the bowline we follow a simple story. Holding the line with the working end in your right hand place the other hand about double the distance of the desired finished diameter of the loop.

At that distance from the end make a very small underhand loop just big enough for the line to pass through twice. This is your hole...wait, the story is coming.

In the opposite hand you are holding the working end of the line, we will call this the rabbit.

Now, what the rabbit does is pops out of his hole so take the working end and poke it through the underhand loop you made from the bottom.

The next thing that crazy rabbit does is run around the tree so pass the working end around the bight near the underhand loop.

After all that the rabbit jumps back down his hole so the working end now enters the underhand loop from the top.

Work the knot tight by pulling the loop and working end. You now have a loop that will be easy to untie after holding heavy loads.

The Bowline is like many other knots that get their name from the original use. This is an excellent knot to tie to a ring and small boats in the age of sail had a stout ring attached to the bow for towing behind the main vessel. This was the knot used and bow line knot became bowline.

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