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9 essential nautical knots

There are thousands of nautical knots, and you can get along very well if you know how to tie a few essential ones and understand how they are best used.

First, consider these facts. Knots hold because of friction, not complexity. Knots weaken rope. They squeeze or jam one part of the rope against another. The rope is turned about a very tight radius resulting in uneven loading of the strands, yarns and fibers that comprise the rope. Knots are temporary solutions. Under load, if the rope fails, it usually will fail at the knot.

If you’re going to learn how to tie knots, you’ll need to know some of the terminology. The standing part is the part of the line coming from a fixed point or point of attachment. The working part is the portion of the line being used to form the knot. A bight is formed when the working part has been turned back on itself to form a “U” shape or a loop. The working part can be passed around the standing part or some object to form a turn. If the turn goes around 1-1/2 times (540 degrees) it’s a round turn.

There are scores of books for learning how to tie knots, so get yourself one and practice tying these.

1. Stopper knots stop line from slipping through something. The simplest stopper knot is the figure-of-eight.

2. Ashley’s stopper knot is essentially a slip knot with the end passed through the bight and drawn tight. It’s bigger than a figure-of-eight.

3. The reef knot, in its double slipped form, is used to tie shoelaces. In its simplest form it’s used by sailors to neaten reefs in sails that have cord reef points or for lashings. Don’t tie reefs around the boom, only to the sail itself. Never use a reef knot (Coast Guard “Six Pack” license exam notwithstanding) to attach, or bend, two lines of unequal diameter together. And never use it where loading is expected. It can become almost impossible to untie, and can capsize into two half-hitches that will then come undone. (Pulling up on one of the ends of a reef knot will capsize it and make it easy to undo.)

4. Bend lines to each other using the sheet bend. It weakens line by some 40 percent, but it won’t capsize, slip or jam. It also works with lines of different

diameter. Remember to pass the lighter line through the bight of the heavier line before taking a turn around it.

5. The bowline is the “Queen of Knots,” and is the best way to make a loop in the end of a line. It’s a loop formed with a sheet bend. It won’t slip and is easy to untie after being under a heavy load. For powerboaters and sailors alike, tying this knot separates the “men from the boys.”

6. Hitches attach lines to rings, rails, spars — essentially non-flexible objects, including lines under loads (for example, the rolling hitch). They also belay to a cleat, Samson post or other hardware. A round turn and two half-hitches is a simple hitch, used for anything from mooring boats to hanging gear. It’s one of the more common knots used around boats.

7. A clove hitch can be used to secure line to a post, piling, spar or rail (for attaching fenders). Under prolonged and heavy loading it can become difficult to untie. It isn’t suitable for towing. Under cyclic loading and unloading it can work loose, which can be prevented with a half-hitch formed around the standing part.

8. For towing, when belayed to a Samson post or drum, the tow boat, or tow man’s, hitch is a better choice because it can be cast off even when under heavy load. After several turns around the post, pass a loop under the standing part and over the body of the post. After wrapping around the post in the opposite direction, again pass a loop under the standing part and over the post.

9. The rolling hitch is used to transfer loads from a line or chain to the hitched line. It can make a snubber on chain anchor rode by forming a lazy loop in the chain with lighter, stretchy nylon line. If heavy line is jammed under load, tension can be eased with a rolling hitch in conjunction with appropriate block-and-tackle or a winch. It’s essentially two turns around the line or chain under tension with the working end brought across the standing part and finished with a half-hitch.