Boat Knots Every Captain Should Know

By November 3, 2020May 29th, 2021Captain's Tips

A well tied boat knot is a thing of beauty. And, for every captain and crew member, tying the right knot for the task is not only key for safety and security, but also something to be proud of. Tying up to the dock? Then a cleat hitch knot will serve you well. Securing fenders? Then you’ll want to dust off your clove hitch knot.

One would think that tying a knot is simple. Right? Wrong! The fact is, there are hundreds of specialized knots. There are knots for everything from making your boat fast to pilings, to storing a rope in a ship-shape way so it’s at the ready when needed. That’s why beginner boaters, and old salts alike, can sometimes get overwhelmed when it comes to choosing and executing knots

Boat Knot Basics

While many boating knots have one dedicated function, others are versatile and can be used in many different situations. For this reason, you really only have to master a few basic knots to get started. The crew at Snag-A-Slip will share with you the four essential knots all boat owners and crew members should know:

  1. Bowline
  2. Cleat Hitch
  3. Clove Hitch
  4. Half-Hitch (also known as the Overhand Knot)

If you can master these, you should be fine in most situations. Then, you can add a few new knots to your wheelhouse each year. Before long, you’ll know enough knots to handle any on-the-water situation.

Photo by João Hackbart on Unsplash | Boat Knots | Snag-A-Slip

How To

We’ve put together easy step-by-step instructions, below, for four indispensable knots. However, we know nothing beats actually seeing the knots being tied. Especially when you’re just learning. For that reason, we suggest you visit ANIMATED KNOTS for videos that show you how to create over thirty boating knots.

Bowline Knot

You, no doubt, will need to secure a line to a piling, or attach two lines together. For that reason, the bowline will come in handy. This knot is a winner because you can use it to put a loop in the end of a line. Plus, this knot is very easy to un-do, even after the line’s been under a lot of tension for a good bit of time.

  1. Make a small loop in the line a couple feet from the end, then pass the end of the line up through the loop you just made.
  2. Wrap the end around the main line above the loop, turn the end back down, and thread it back down through the loop.
  3. Tug hard on the end and on the main line above the loop you’ve just created, to tighten the knot.

Cleat Hitch Knot

For many boaters, the cleat hitch is the first boating knot to be mastered. Because, whether you’re pulling up to the fuel dock, or cleating off an anchor line, this knot does the job. What’s even better? It’s really quite simple. You can also use this versatile knot to tie boats and PWC to docks and bulkheads. It’s quick, easy to tie, and doesn’t slip.

  1. Wrap the line around one side of the base of a cleat, under the ends on either side or the “horns”.
  2. Pull the line across the top of the cleat, then loop it under the horn on the other side.
  3. Reverse directions, and go across the top of the cleat going the other way.
  4. To finish, reverse direction again as though you were going to wrap under the opposite horn again. But instead of passing the line under it, form a small loop and flip it upside-down. Put the loop you just made over the horn and pull hard so the line cinches down on itself. You can then repeat the process, on the second horn of the cleat.

Clove Hitch Knot

 The clove hitch is the perfect choice for securing a line to a piling or a rail. Most boaters use this knot for tasks like securing fenders so they hang down from a bow rail and hanging coils of line for tidy stowage.

One thing to keep in mind about the clove hitch is that if the line isn’t under continuous pressure, or if it rotates on the rail or pole, it can come undone. For this reason, never use this knot for heavy-duty tasks like securing your boat to the dock. For added security, you can add a half hitch knot (below) on top of a clove hitch.

  1. Wrap the line one time around the piling.
  2. Start wrapping around the pole or rail a second time, with the line crossing over top of the first wrap. Finish the second wrap, but before pulling it tight, pass the tag end back underneath. Then tug, to secure.

Half Hitch (Overhand) Knot 

The half hitch is probably the simplest knot you’ll ever learn, and it can be tied in a fraction of a second. But, know that the half hitch isn’t reliable on its own. What this knot does best is secure the end of a line after tying another knot. However, two half hitches together will work fine for securing a light-duty load.

  1. Pass the tag end of the line across the main line, pull it through the loop you just made, and tug.

Yep! It’s that simple. This quick knot can be tied in a line, or around a rail.

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash | Boat Knots | Snag-A-Slip

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Jo Montgomery

Author Jo Montgomery

Jo is a lifelong boat lover and writer. She learned the ropes of boating on her family’s 36’ Carver at the Jersey (joy-see) shore. With over 30 years of writing under her belt, she delights in seeking out, and sharing, the things most important to fellow boating enthusiasts. Jo now lives in Connecticut, near the water she adores, with her husband, two children and large, hairy dog. She is over the moon to be part of the Snag-A-Slip crew!

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