Preview: 7 Basic Boating Knots for Sailing — Taut Line Hitch, Cleat Knot, Sheet Bend, Bowline, Square Knot, Clove Hitch & Two Half Hitches

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Geoff Kerr shows us the seven basic boating knots that sailors use for voyages around the globe.  These knots are part of our video on Basic Boat Handling for Beach Cruising, but we thought they warranted their own video as well.

Boating Knots Covered Include:

Taut Line Hitch 0:25

Cleating Off 1:21

Sheet Bend 2:05

Bowline 3:02

Square Knot 3:32

Clove Hitch 3:55

Two Half Hitches 4:17


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16 Responses So Far to “7 Basic Boating Knots for Sailing — Taut Line Hitch, Cleat Knot, Sheet Bend, Bowline, Square Knot, Clove Hitch & Two Half Hitches

  • Avatar

    Logan Weiler III says:

    Thank you for putting the cookies on the bottom shelf so all the kids can reach. :-)

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    Nick DeMarco says:

    I have been using a loop to finish many of my knots when conditions warrant. For example, finishing a bowline with a loop provides the security of a bowline with the convenience of the loop to undo it especially when you want a quick easy undo. One application is for tying winter boat covers which occasionally need adjustment in the middle of the winter. Nick

    • David Tew

      David Tew says:

      I got to use a Carrick Bend this weekend! I was motoring around in Benjamin River harbor early on the morning of the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. It was dead calm and overcast so the land wouldn’t be heating up and drawing the sea breeze in for a while. The Regatta start looked likely to be delayed, but Doug Hylan in his beautiful green Knarr (?) was oh so slowly edging toward the narrow channel out of the harbor. I offered them a tow anyway (I suppose Ellery was with him?) and they took my stern line which I’d hurriedly extended by a second length of line with a Carrick Bend. :D

  • Tom Bryan

    Tom Bryan says:

    The detail of the taut-line hitch revealed that I had been making up tent guy lines the wrong way. That second loop snugging above and behind the first is key. Thanks.

    • Avatar

      Crispin Miller says:

      I had wondered about that detail, because the way I’d always tied it (probably ever since studying the Boy Scout handbook) had not had that detail — the second turn just wrapped parallel alongside the first, spiraling on down toward the thing the rope had been passed around (e.g., tent stake). So I looked up the knot in Clifford Ashley (The Ashley Book of Knots). It turns out Ashley says if you’re tying it around a rigid rod or rail (to secure a line that’s under tension exerted lengthwise along the rail), do it the Boy Scout way — but if you’re tying it around a line, as shown here, do it the way shown here.
      You can learn something every day if you’re not careful…

  • Avatar

    David Clark says:

    Would ask Geoff to review his clove hitch in the video

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      Captain Nemo says:

      Indeed, David – good eye! I caught that as well.

      Also, I agree with Mr. Hawkins about the “full turn around the base of the cleat” – at least as it was demonstrated in the video. I would actually call what was shown, “one and a half turns around the base”. I tell my students “as long as the line touches both bases of the cleat, you’re good. Round the far base, then round the near base, then make the cross-over to begin the figure-8. One 8 is enough, then add the half-hitch.” The key is to begin the wraps so that the standing part angles out and away from the cleat rather than lying right up next to it.

    • Avatar

      Crispin Miller says:

      Yes, I don’t think that’s the standard version either. When tying it by passing the end around a rail and tucking it, I don’t know how much difference it makes, but if you’re tying it “in the bight” (i.e., without access to the end), by casting half hitches over the top of a post (which in this demo would be the end of the oar to the viewer’s left), then the orthodox version can be done but the version shown can’t be — if you tie it as shown and then slide it off the end of the rail, the tuck at the end turns out to have created an overhand knot.

  • Avatar

    Neil Moomey says:

    Nice! Thanks. I always need a refresher every year. I’m not expert but here in Kodiak the sheet bend is also used for mending fishing nets but they use a special tool. One of the most popular knots by fisherman for tying two lines together such as anchors, long lines and pots is the carrick bend. It’s popular because it won’t work itself loose in a storm and can be untied after a high load. Sometimes fisherman tape the tags to the main with electrical tape. If the knot fails they can lose a lot of money in gear so a good knot is important. Another tip is always leave 6 inches of tag.

    • Avatar

      Crispin Miller says:

      I can attest that even with cheap 3/8″ braided polypropylene holding a banner strung above a street on a windy day — slippery stuff and yanked all day — my carrick bend didn’t budge.

      These days, if I have time to get it right, I use an Ashley bend instead, because I imagine that the way that its tags exit through the core of the knot offers a cushion to the loaded lines entering the knot, and may help avoid breaking them if an extreme load occurs — but an Ashley bend does take some practice.

  • Avatar

    Patrick Walker says:

    This was a fun video to watch, and I knew five of the six knots displayed. It reminded me that I would like to see a video or two on needlework starting with whipping a line. Also, maybe how to make a monkey’s fist and use it to pass a line from one vessel to another (my aim is terrible). Lots of fun stuff to do with all of these long stringy things we tie all over our boats. – pjw

  • Avatar

    Havilah Hawkins says:

    Nice piece on the knots, the how-to-tie was really clear, but maybe there is a chance to explain why these knots should not be used under certain conditions.

    A bowline should never be used if there is a chance that you might have to untie the knot with a strain on it. It is impossible.

    A clove hitch is the same way, but if you leave it alone and let work for a while, the knot will untie itself.

    The alternative to both scenarios is a round turn with two half hitches so you can hold a strain as you untie the knot.

    I never take a full turn around the base of a cleat. If the lead is wrong, you can get into a jamming situation, not likely, but I have seen it happen. I have never had a problem with going around and over instead of taking a turn first.

    The square knot is good, but I always tie a reef knot instead. The reef knot is the same as a square knot but you leave in of the ends as a loop, like half a bow knot, this allows the knot to be untied with a strain on it.

    My experience on big vessels has taught me that the ability to untie a knot under pressure is really important. Knowing the right knot for the situation can save the unnecessary use of a rope wrench (knife). It is a good to get into the habit of thinking about untying something with a strain on it. It could save you a lot of grief.

    • Avatar

      Michael Reardon says:

      Good points on both knots. I have always taught a full turn on base of knot as well though. I usually explain many reasons for this, but two I’ve seen. Working on big commercial diesels if you need to let loose under load or pay out in heavy weather, you have a chance with full turn around base of cleat or bollard. With just a dip under horn, forget about it. This is where daylight under cleat horn or pin of bollard has no chance of jamming line. Also, working around docks here in New England, I have often seen sandcast galvanized style cleats bust off an ear when load is all on one horn with S-turn and not around base. Or it levers lag bolts out of wood and you learn the hard way cleat wasn’t ever backed properly. Saw one of those cleats bust an ear in noreaster and ruin a very expensive Awlgrip job last fall. Still see guys with many more seamiles than myself do it though. Guess it’s which way you like to butter your toast!

    • Avatar

      Crispin Miller says:

      About the risk of a clove hitch working loose, Clifford Ashley says yes, he’s seen it worked loose by a cow tied to a stake with it, exerting tension from time to time in different directions. Says the remedy in such cases is the “cow hitch,” same hitch except that the second half hitch is wrapped in the opposite direction. How they compare against an unmoving load I don’t know, but I was taught that a clove hitch was not terribly secure and to use two half hitches around the standing part instead. Taking a round turn first is even better, and also means that if you have a load on the line when you untie it, then after taking off the half hitches you still have the line belayed around the rail, which lets you ease the load gradually instead of having the line torn out of your hands.


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