Working Knowledge of Knots

You might never need to know how to properly secure a rope. Until you do, at which point your life (or social standing) may well depend on it.

Illustration: Mickey Duzyj

In June 1999, the Surrey Branch of the International Guild of Knot Tyers published the Surrey Six, a selection of six knots that every knot tyer should know. They are: figure-of-eight; sheet bend; bowline; round turn and two half-hitches; constrictor and rolling hitch. You don’t have to know all of these, but you should know how to tie a bowline, often called the King of Knots. Should you find yourself adrift on the open seas or, more likely, out sailing on your girlfriend’s father’s sloop (or yacht, if your girlfriend is from Monaco), the ability to tie a bowline will stop you looking like a land-lubbing city-slicker. As William P. Maclean wrote in Modern Marlinspike Seamanship, “I would happier if everyone could tie some kind of bowline. The number of sailors who cannot make a bowline at all is disgraceful.” And who is William P. Maclean? Beats us, but we do know this: The man is passionate about knots.

The bowline is a member of the fixed single loop family. That is, it forms a fixed loop that can be used for everything from tying down an aircraft to securing a harness round one’s waist or fixing a boat to its mooring. One of the oldest and most versatile knots, the bowline—pronounced BOW-linn, mind you—is also one of the simplest to make (see the illustration). It’s even got a mnemonic device involving a tree, a rabbit and a hole. And, for extra credit, it can be tied one-handed.

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  2. Adam says:

    As an accomplished boater and a once, (and always), boy scout, I must ask: What about the quintessential square knot?

  3. Greg says:

    the bowline can also be tied in about 2 seconds simply by whipping the end of the rope around the stretched out length of the rope –

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