Most of the sailing knots we use today were developed by sailors serving aboard the square riggers of the 18th and 19th centuries. The running rigging aboard our sailboats today are much less complex than those of yesteryear of course, but we still need reliable, easily tied knots for such things as:
It's vital that every sailor is able to tie the correct knot for the purpose for which it was intended, as the safety of the vessel and its crew may well depend on it.
And it's important to remember that all knots reduce the strength of the line in which they are tied, some more so than others - but a reduction of 50% or so in polyester braids (and considerably more in dyneema) is a reasonable approximation.
Whilst there are many different sailing knots to choose from - far too many to remember how to tie all of them - the most useful and commonly used ones you'll find here.
But before we get into the knots, we need to familiarise ourselves as to the various parts of the rope that we'll be referring to later...
Working End: The end of the rope that is actively involved in the knot tying process.
Bight: A section of the rope that is folded back on itself without crossing over.
Loop: A bight with two adjacent parts of the rope crossed over.
Standing Part: The part of the rope downstream of the working end.
Standing End: The other end of the rope.
This is a term applied particularly to stopper knots (aka 'knobs') and loops, and anything else which isn't a hitch or a bend.
The sailors favourite method of creating a loop in a rope.
A stronger version of the Bowline favoured by climbers.
Bowline on a Bight
Used in recovering a Man Overboard.
Figure of 8 Knot
A commonly used Stopper Knot.
Bends are used to tie two rope ends together - either two ends of the same rope or two ends of different ropes. Note that some bends are traditionally call knots (ie the reef knot and the fisherman's knot) although they are in fact bends.
A popular bend (not a knot) for joining lines of the same diameter.
The most frequently used bend for joining lines of different diameter.
Double Sheet Bend
A stronger version of the Sheet Bend,
A simple and secure way of joining two lines with two overhand knots tied back-to-back.
Double Fisherman's Knot
An even stronger version of the Fisherman's Knot.
Hitches are used to attach a rope to another object, such as a ring, a spar or a stanchion. A line or rope is said to be 'made fast' rather than 'hitched' because only the knot itself is called a hitch. Note that some hitches are traditionally called bends (eg the Anchor Bend) although, correctly speaking, they are hitches.
A popular method of making fast a line around a rail, a spar or another rope.
A useful hitch that locks in one direction and slides in the other.
Round Turn & Two Half-Hitches
A quick and secure way of making fast a mooring line to a bollard.
Once put under load this strong and reliable hitch (not a bend) is almost impossible to undo.
An alternative to the Anchor Bend.
The most unreliable of all hitches, but an important component in several other reliable knots, bends and hitches - the round bend and two half-hitches for example.