Five knots you can't leave home without!

Knot tying - a vital skill on a boat
.. .
Since time immemorial, sailors looking to crew were asked two simple questions: 'Can you tie a bowline, and where’s your knife?' Today perhaps we’re a bit more exacting, but some things never change. A few basic sailing knots are essential for every trip, whether it’s just a jaunt around the lake or an ocean passage. If you don't know these knots, print them out and practise them!

1. Bowline:
(Pronounced Bow as in what teams with an arrow, not Bow as in a dog barking)

Knots - bowlineR7
.. .

This is the granddaddy of them all–a workhorse that never slips or jams, and has been used since ancient times. Your ASA instructor will make sure you have this one down pat, because it’s critical in all sorts of ways on a boat, inlcuding attaching the halyards and sheets to the sails. With a little practice, this knot becomes very easy and quick to tie.

2. Figure-8 Knot:

Figure 8 knot
.. .

The Figure-8 knot is an essential stopper knot. Unlike the overhand loop, it won’t bind up no matter how much strain it comes under. That means it will always be easy to untie. It is used primarily to stop a line from running.

3. Reef Knot: (also known as Square Knot)

Knots - reefR7
.. .

A quick and easy knot for temporarily joining two ropes together. It got the name of reef knot from the old days of tall ship sailing, when it was used to 'reef' the sail. Back then the sailors would have to climb the rigging, go out on the yards, and actually reduce the sail by hand, and this was the knot they used. Not many of us still sail that way today, but this knot still has its uses! It’s easy and quick to tie when safety and stability are not critical, such as securing a sail cover.

4. Clove Hitch:

Knots clovehalfhitchesR9
.. .

This knot is right up there with the bowline in importance. The clove hitch is great for tying something up temporarily, and works best on something cylindrical, like a pole or stanchion. The great thing about it is that you can adjust it at any time, so if you made your line too long or too short, you can always fix it. However, the clove hitch can slip, so you have to be careful!

5. Cleat Hitch:

Knots cleatdeckR11
.. .

There are cleats all over the deck of a sailboat, and all over the dock–there are cleats just about everywhere. They are what you tie your boat to when you dock, what you tie the dinghy to while you’re sailing, and sometimes what you stub your toe on when you’re moving around in the dark. If you ever want to get off the boat, you’ll need to be able to secure your docklines to a cleat.


While all sailing countries in the world use these five basic knots, Sail-World thanks the www.asa.com!ASA for these instructions, and www.animatedknots.com!Animated_Knots for the diagrams. This is just a small glimpse of what students learn when getting their ASA Basic Keelboat certification, and just a small fraction of the sailing knots that there are to learn from Animated Knots. Mastering these, though, is a huge step forward in being a competent, confident sailor.

Now, where’s your knife?