5 Basic Boating Knots for Beginners

Every boat owner needs to know how to perform some important tasks, like docking a boat, tying up a boat, and anchoring a boat. All of these endeavors and many other common boating procedures share one thing in common: they involve handling lines. And just about any time line-handling is involved, knot tying may be, too. Here are the five most commonly used boating knots.

5 Basic Boating Knots:

  1. Bowline
  2. Cleat Hitch
  3. Clove Hitch
  4. Half-Hitch (also call the Overhand Knot)
  5. Figure Eight

Bowline Knot

The bowline is used to create a loop in the end of a line, which can come in handy for any number of reasons ranging from securing a line to a piling, to attaching two lines together. The big advantage it has over other knots one might use to put a loop in the end of a line is that it’s very easy to un-do, even after the line’s been under a large amount 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

Whether you’re pulling into the fuel dock or cleating off an anchor line, you need to know the cleat hitch. The good news? It’s amazingly simple.

  • 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 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 bowrail. You can actually 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 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 bit and make it faster and easier with the same result.

  • 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 about the clove hitch: if the line isn’t under slight pressure all the time, or if it rotates on the rail or pole, it can come undone. So never use this knot for heavy-duty tasks like securing a boat to a dock. Some people even like to add a half hitch knot on top of a clove hitch, just to be safe.

Half Hitch (Overhand) Knot

Just about the simplest knot on the face of the planet, remember that half-hitches aren’t reliable all on their own. But they are a good way to secure then end of the line after tying a different knot, two half hitches together work just fine for securing a light-duty load, 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 it! You can tie a half hitch both in a line, and around a rail.

Figure Eight Knot

The figure eight knot is useful when you want to stop a line from passing through something, like a chock or a pulley (and is sometimes called a “stopper” knot for that reason). Be careful, though, because if both ends of the line are put under a lot of stress, you may have difficulty getting the figure eight back out of the line later on.

  • 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

Okay, a loop-to-loop is really more of a tactic than a knot. It’s used to join two lines with loops on their ends to one another, so as you know how to tie a bowline, you can always use the loop-to-loop to connect lines with one another. And, it’s uber-easy and fast. Just pass the tag end of a line through the loop of line number two, and then pass it through the loop in its other end. Then pull on the tag end until the two loops come together.

Read Next: How to Tie Up a Boat


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