5 Basic Boating Knots for Beginners

Docking a boat, tying up a boat, and anchoring a boat are all key skills for any boat owner to have. All of these activities, as well as many other basic boating practices, have one thing in common: they all entail managing lines. And if you’re dealing with a tight deadline, knot tying can be involved as well. Here are the top five basic boating knots.

  • Bowline
  • Cleat Hitch
  • Clove Hitch
  • Half-Hitch (also call the Overhand Knot)
  • Figure Eight

Bowline Knot

bowline-knotThe bowline is used to make a loop at the end of a line, which can be useful for a variety of reasons ranging from fastening a line to a piling to connecting two lines. The primary advantage that it has over the other knots for putting a loop at the end of a line is that it is very easy to undo, even if it has been under a lot of tension.

Step 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.

Step 2: Wrap the end around the main line above the loop, turn the end back down, and thread it back down through the loop.

Step 3: Tug hard on the end and on the main line above the loop you’ve created, to snug the knot down.

Cleat Hitch Knot

cleat-hitch-knotClove hitch knots come in handy when you want to secure a line to a rail. Many boaters use them for tasks like hanging coils of line for neat stowage or securing fenders, so they hang down from a bow rail. You can tie the clove hitch in one of two different ways, depending on if you’re tying it around a rail, or if it’s a pole or post with an open end. First, let’s look at the rail method.

Step 1: Wrap the line around one side of the base of a cleat, under the “horns” (the ends on either side).

Step 2: Pull the line across the top of the cleat, then loop it under the horn on the other side.

Step 3: Reverse directions and go across the top of the cleat going the other way.

Step 4: To finish the cleat hitch, 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; the pull hard so the line cinches down on itself. Then repeat the same process, on the second horn of the cleat.

Clove Hitch Knot

clove-hitch-knotYou must know the cleat hitch while pulling into a fueling dock or cleating off an anchor line. The good news is… It’s incredibly simple.

Step 1: Wrap the line one time around the rail or pole.

Step 2: Begin wrapping around the 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 the clove hitch in place.

If you’re tying a clove hitch to a pole with an accessible end, you can cheat a little and get the same effect faster and simpler.

Step 1: Make a loop and pass it over the end of the pole.

Step 2: Make a second loop and flip it over so the tag end faces the first loop, then pull it tight.

One word of caution concerning the clove hitch: it can come undone if the line is not constantly under slight tension, or if it twists on the rail or pole. As a result, never use this knot for heavy-duty duties such as tying a vessel to a pier. To be safe, some individuals like to add a half hitch knot on top of a clove hitch.

Half Hitch (Overhand) Knot

half-hitch-knotHalf-hitches are perhaps the easiest knot on the globe, but keep in mind that they aren’t always reliable. However, they are a good technique to secure the end of the line after tying another knot, two half hitches together work well for attaching a light-duty weight, and they can be tied in a fraction of a second.

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

That’s all! A half hitch can be tied both in a line and around a rail.

Figure Eight Knot

figure-eight-knotThe figure eight knot is excellent for preventing a line from passing through something, such as a chock or a pulley (and is frequently referred to as a “stopper” knot for this purpose). But be careful, because if both ends of the line are stressed, it may be difficult to extract the figure eight back out of the line later.

Step 1: Make a loop in the line.

Step 2: Wrap the tag end over the main line and pass it back through the loop.

Step 3: Pull both ends to cinch it tight or push the knot to adjust its position and then cinch it tight.

Bonus Knot: Loop-to-Loop

loop-to-loop-knotA loop-to-loop is more of a strategy than a knot. It is used to link two lines with loops on their ends, thus if you know how to tie a bowline, you can always use the loop-to-loop to connect lines. And it’s incredibly simple and quick. Simply feed the tag end of a line through the loop of line number two, and then through the loop at the other end of the line. Then, pulling on the tag end, bring the two loops together.

Step 1: Make a loop in the line.

Step 2: Wrap the tag end over the main line and pass it back through the loop.

Step 3: Pull both ends to cinch it tight or push the knot to adjust its position and then cinch it tight.

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