The Only 9 Boating Knots You’ll Ever Need

Boating Knots

An important skill you’ll need to learn for boating is how to tie sailors’ knots.


For any given situation at a marina or out on open water, you will need to choose a knot to effectively and safely accomplish a task. 

Nautical Knot Dictionary

First, know that you may use the terms nautical knots, sailors’ knots, and boating knots interchangeably. They all mean the same thing.

There are a few sailors’ terms you need to know before learning how to tie nautical knots. Here is the most important terminology you’ll run into when learning to tie knots.

  • Rope vs line: A rope is just a plain-ol’ rope, but a rope becomes a line when it has a knot on it and has a purpose on a boat.
  • Working end of a line: You can refer to the end of a line as either a working end or a standing end. The working end is the end that is being used to tie a knot.
  • Standing end of a line: The end of a line not being used to tie the knot. The standing end is the opposite part of the working end.
  • Bight: A curved section in a line, attained by simply folding a rope so that each part lays next to the other.
  • Loop: When a ropes cross itself to form a partial circle, a bight becomes a loop.
  • Overhand loop: When you cross the working end OVER the standing part.
  • Underhand loop: When you cross the working end UNDER the standing part.
  • Elbow: Two or more ropes next to each other.
  • Cleat: A device used for securing a rope. Cleats are usually used to secure a boat at a marina.
  • Noose: A sliding loop, where the loop tightens when you pull it.
  • Piling: Heavy stakes or poles that support structures and to which you can secure boats.
  • Fender: Air-filled cushions that are deployed at the dock. They hang off the side of a boat and prevent it from rubbing or hitting the dock.
  • Fender whip: The rope that is attached to the end of a fender. You can alter the length of the fender whip to make sure the fender lays against the hull at just the right height to protect the boat. 

Here is a longer knot terminology list.

Most Useful Boating Knots

There are three broad categories of sailors’ knots which are as follows:

  1. Knots – “Knots” are the first category of boating knots. You tie them at the end of a line. The stopper knot and bowline knot are some examples.
  2. Bends – If you need to join two lines together, you use the second category known as bends. In sailors’ talk, “bend” implies joining. Some sailors’ knots in this category include the word Bend in their names, For example, sheet bend.
  3. Hitches – Hitches are the third and last category of sailors’ knots. People use them to secure a line to a stanchion, piling, or cleat.

There are many knots out there, but you really only need a few of them to get pretty much any job done.

Here they are by category:

Bowline Knot

This knot is amongst the most useful knots aboard a boat. Sailors commonly use it to secure the sheets to the clew of their headsail by forming a fixed noose at the far end of any line that does not slip or run. You can also use two bowlines to connect two Lines. The best part of a bowline knot is that you can always easily untie it, irrespective of how tight it may become after getting loaded for some time.

Double Overhand Stopper Knot

The double overhand stopper knot is known as the stopper knot in a short form. It is the most secure knot for keeping a line from getting over a block or a rope clutch as you tie it at the line’s end. Although a figure-8 knot or simple overhand knot comes loose easily, you cannot make a stopper knot loose without difficulty.

Figure-8 Knot

This knot is useful in stopping a line from passing through a pulley or chock or something similar. Hence it is also called a stopper knot. You got to be careful with this knot because you may find it challenging to get the figure 8 back out of the line after putting both ends under considerable stress.

Square Knot

You can use this bend knot to tie two lines together to create longer lines, secure your boat to a different line, or connect lines for some other purpose. It is another knot that is exceptionally reliable because it gets tighter with increased stress levels. People use the square knot for furling or reefing sails.

Sheet Bend

Many people use square knots to tie two lines together, but they usually loosen when they are not loaded. In this respect, the sheet bend offers better security because you can untie it easily and also tie two lines of different diameters together. Although the sheet bend’s final shape is similar to a square knot, securing a sheet bend is quite different.

Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is a handy knot as you can tie it very quickly. You can quickly adjust it to raise or lower a fender as per your requirements. Typically, you can use the clove hitch on sailboats to secure fender whips to a toe-rail, stanchion base, or a lifeline. You have to be careful to use it only temporarily to secure a dock line to a piling because it can work free unexpectedly when the boat moves around the dock.

Two Half Hitches

As is evident from its name, this knot has a half hitch followed by another half hitch. You can tie this knot easily as it creates an adjustable running noose, and you can make it smaller or larger as needed. You can use this hitch to secure a line tightly around objects. It is an excellent way of securing a dock line to a piling when you combine it with a round turn. You can also try tying two half hitches over a clove hitch to keep your fender whip from slipping.

Cleat Hitch

You can find many dock lines improperly tied to cleats when you go around the dock in any marina. The cleat hitch is handy as you can connect it quickly and release it even when it is under load. 

The Anchor Bend Knot

An anchor bend is useful for creating secure connections, like securing an anchoring ring. You can tie this knot by using two half hitches with two additional wraps around an object. Be warned; the anchor bend knot is so secure that you will have to cut the knot to release it.

Trucker’s Hitch

Truckers usually use this knot for keeping heavy loads in place. It works equally well in tying kayaks or any object onto the top of a car or a tender onto a deck. In this knot, you can pull the line to the desired tension with the loop’s pulley effect in the middle of the line and secure it with a couple of half hitches around one or two lines. Using a trucker’s hitch, you can pull a line as tight as a guitar string and then secure it.

In conclusion, let me leave you with a final piece of advice that helped me learn to tie knots quickly.

TIP: It’s a good idea to learn how a completed knot looks. I recommend you keep practicing them until you are an expert in tying the knot, even with closed eyes.

Are you new to the world of inflatable boats? Then my Getting Started Guide is for you. You’ll find tips, tricks, and how-to articles to start off right.

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