8 Essential Knots Every Boater Should Know

Tying Marine Knots Is A Key Part Of Boating 

If you’ve spent any time out on the open water, you’ll already know just how crucial knowing how to tie a secure knot can be. While marine technology has improved leaps and bounds over the decades, knots remain a vital, basic tool for keeping equipment safe and secure onboard — a poorly-tied knot can be the difference between life and death. Knowing how to tie a number of knots is an essential skill for seafarers, sailors and yachters and one which has changed relatively little since ancient times.

The term ‘knot’ was derived from the manner in which ancient mariners measured the speed of their ships. Knots were tied at regular intervals in a piece of rope (with one knot every 14.3 meters). The rope was then cast out behind the ship as it sailed, allowing the sailors to calculate the vessel speed by counting how many knots had been cast over a certain time period. Whether you’re going on a gentle cruise or a lengthy expedition, here are some essential knots you’ll need to know.

1. Bowline Knot

Often referred to as “the king of knots”, the bowline is perhaps the most versatile knot for sailing purposes. It has the distinct advantage of being tightly fastened when under load, but slipping loose easily when unloaded. To tie a bowline knot, form a loop, bring the free end of the loop to pass through the loop, then wrap the rope around the standing line and back down the loop before tightening.


A bowline is the most versatile knot that a boater can learn. Image credit: Boat Trader 

2. Square (Reef) Knot

If you have two ropes that need joined, the reef knot will do just the trick. But be warned — you’ll want to use this knot only for non-critical items, as it isn’t the strongest knot. Simply place the two rope ends parallel to each other, cross the ropes by placing one rope over the other, then under, then over again, until the two are intertwined. Pull to tighten.


Square knot joins two ropes together. For example, if you are taking a quick break to refuel there may be a wait at the marina so may want to secure your boat onto something so you don’t drift off with the engine off. Image credit: Boat Trader.

3. Cleat Hitch

The cleat hitch is a quick and easy knot, perfect for docking your boat. This knot is deceptively strong, so anyone who tries to steal your boat is in for a nasty surprise. To make a cleat hitch, loop the rope around your vessel’s cleat, wrap the rope around the cleat and under the horn. Pass your rope under the cleat then over the horn, then pass it over the cleat, forming an ‘x’. Twist the line to form a turn, slide the turn over the cleat horn, and tighten.


You will need to learn how to tie a cleat hitch to dock your boat. A cleat hitch is the most commonly used knot in boating. Image credit: Boat Trader

4. Clove Hitch

The clove hitch will come in handy if you want to secure a line to a rail. Many sailors use it to keep coils of line neatly stowed away on the deck of their boat. To make a clove hitch, wrap the line around the rail or pole, then begin wrapping it around a second time, forming a figure of eight shape. Then pass the rope under the cross of the figure of eight to finish the knot.


Clove hitches are used when you want to attach a line to a pole.  Image credit: Boat Trader.

5. Rolling Hitch

Used to attach a rope to a rod or pole, the rolling hitch is your go-to knot if you want to avoid slippage. To make a rolling hitch, coil your rope around the pole (towards the direction of the pull), then make another coil in the opposite direction. Coil your rope for a third time, but this time, wrap it above the standing line so you don’t cross over the coil. Wrap the free end under the first coil, and pull tight.


Rolling hitch is your go-to knot if you want to avoid slippage. Image credit: Boat Trader.

6. Figure Of Eight Knot

Also known as the flemish knot, the figure eight is used to join two ropes together, in a much more secure manner than the reef knot. It’s also frequently used to prevent a rope or a cord pulling through an eyelet, known as a ‘stopper knot.’ To tie the figure eight knot, pass the tail of your rope over itself to form a loop, pass the end of the rope through the loop, and pull both sides to tighten. The finished knot should resemble a figure eight.


The figure of eight knot is used to join two ropes together very securely. Image credit: Boat Trader.

7. Single Sheet Bend Knot

If you’re in a tight spot and you’re struggling to tie together two ropes of different sizes, the single sheet bend is the knot for you. Just pass the end of the thin rope through the thick rope, wrap it around and tuck it under itself, then hold the end of the thick rope and pull to tighten.


Trying to get ends to different rope sizes to meet? This simple knot will quickly entangle two lines. Image credit: Boat Trader.

8. Two Half Hitches

This knot is used to attach a rope to a fixed object, like a pole or a ring. It’s known for its security — as the old adage goes, “two half hitches saved a Queen’s ship.” To make two half hitches, wrap the rope around the support, pass the end through the loop, wrap the rope around the standing line and tighten to complete.


Two half hitches attaches a rope to a fixed object, like a pole. Image credit: Boat Trader.

Written by: Emma Coady

Emma Coady is a freelance writer and marine journalist who creates content for many household names in the boating industry, including YachtWorld, Boat Trader and boats.com. She also writes for several boat builders as well as charter and rental companies and regularly contributes to Greenline Hybrid yachts, TJB Super Yachts and Superyachts Monaco. Emma is the founder of Cloud Copy and enjoys traveling around Europe, spending as much of her spare time as possible in or on the water.