Through most of the age of sail, ships and their spars were made of wood and all rigging, running and standing alike, was made of rope. To connect it all, riggers and seamen devised hundreds of knots, bends, hitches, and splices. Because dock lines and other securing lines on trailer boats are made of rope, you still need to know a few basic but versatile knots. A common characteristic of the knots we present here is that they are easy to tie and relatively easy to untie (some more so than others) even after they have been under load. Knowing these knots will make life afloat easier and safer.
A whole subset of language has developed around the rope and the countless ways in which it can be tied. Knots, bends, and hitches are used to tie a rope to itself, to other ropes, and to solid objects; splices involve using the parts of the rope itself to similar ends. Any enthusiast boater should have a book of knots in his or her library, but here we’ll stick with a few standard terms that aid in describing how to make the basic boaters’ knots.
When you’re making a knot, the length of rope you hold in your hand is called the working part. The end of the rope you’re working with is called the bitter end. The rest of the line, between the working section and its other end, whether it’s faked at your feet or tied to something on the boat, is called the standing part.
One of the most beautiful and useful boaters’ knots is the bowline (pronounced BO’lin). The bowline forms a temporary eye, or loop, at the end of a line.
This knot is fun to tie and can save you a lot of hassle. It’s commonly tied at the bitter end of halyards and sheets to prevent them from getting pulled out of the blocks, fairleads, and jammers they’ve been led through. Like its cousin, the common overhand knot, the figure eight is bulky and serves well as a stopper knot. Unlike its cousin, it is easily undone.
This is a very easy knot to tie, and once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll figure out your way of doing it.
Many working lines on a boat are tied on a horn or T cleat with this hitch. You will also use it to tie mooring lines to dock cleats. Sometimes when tying a cleat hitch, there will already be load on the standing part of the line. The job of the hitch is to transfer that load from your hand to the cleat.
When you become adept, you’ll flick the “locking tuck” in with a quick twist. If the line in question is one that will be watched and adjusted frequently, you could forgo that final locking tuck and instead merely add another full wrap or two around the base of the cleat.
When the rope is constructed with materials like natural fibres, a highly loaded cleat hitch could bind so hard the only way to undo it is with a knife. Conversely, some modern synthetic ropes are so slippery that a simple cleat hitch won’t hold. The solution to both problems is the same: Take another turn or two before making the locking turn.