Handy Knots, Every Boater Should Know

March 12th, 2022 by team

by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)

As winter fades and we get ready for commissioning season, there are still a few more wintry days and nights when we can work on our boats. The off season is a good time to play with lines and learn new knots, and in the northeast you’ve got a few more weeks and probably another good winter storm left to pick up some more!

If you don’t have a few short lengths of well trimmed line in different sizes lying around the house, get some. Sitting in front of the fire or watching TV is a great time to just play with the lines and repeat your new knots. That’s the only way to get good at them and know how to tie them quickly. You don’t want to be sitting there trying to hold a knot book open with one hand and tie a new knot with another when you need something quick!

Sheet Bend

The sheet bend is a hand knot for attaching two lines of different sizes for a short amount of time. It’s not a good permanent solution like a splice, nor is it ideal for high load applications. It’s going to be limited by the strength of the smallest line, of course, and it’s not a complex knot that adds strength. But if you need a few more feet of line to bind something up and you have only a few small bits, it will do the trick.

It’s important to do this knot properly. The larger line should have the bight in it, and the smaller line should loop through the bight and wrap the knot. If you do it the other way, it will not hold well.

This knot is nearly identical to the bowline in how it is structured. If you cut the loop in a bowline the remaining know looks just like a sheet bend. And like a bowline, it will come apart easily even after you have loaded it up.


Half Hitch

The Half Hitch itself isn’t terribly useful as a standalone knot since one half hitch doesn’t hold well. But TWO half hitches together hold well, and it’s a very handy knot to add on to other knot combinations to secure them. Close examination of knot structures shows you half hitches are used to finish many knots.

Get comfortable throwing in a quick half hitch or two to lock down things when you tie them up and your tie downs will be a lot more secure.


Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

A quick loop and a pair of half hitches is one of the easiest ways to secure a line around a pole, piling, stanchion or other bar. This is exactly what it sounds like – a loop around the bar, and a pair of half hitches to lock it down.

The most common use for this is hanging fenders from your rails, but it works for anything where you’re tying a line around a rod. To practice this in your living room, you’ll need something like a chair leg, broom handle, or cooperative family member to practice tying it on.


Trucker’s Hitch

This is the handiest knot for tying things down, because it gives you additional purchase and leverage to slam those tie-down lines really tight. We used this knot, or a variation of it, to tie our hard dinghy on the bow for thousands of miles of ocean passages. Without the purchase, it is difficult to tie something down so it absolutely doesn’t move under the lines.

It looks like a horribly complicated knot, but it’s not nearly as bad as it looks. You start with a loop in the line’s bight, then you put the bitter end around/through the thing you’re tying down to – a D-ring on the deck, a grab handle, or any other hard tie-down point.

The bitter end comes back up through the loop, then you can pull down hard against the loop to tighten your load down. Without releasing the tension, you add a couple of half hitches to the knot to secure it.

If you don’t want to put the half hitches on the main loop, you can still use the loop to get purchase and tie off the lines elsewhere to keep the purchase load on, but it won’t be a single knot. But putting them on the knot keeps it all together.


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