Basic Rope Work

Commonly used knots and how to tie them

Commonly used knots and how to tie them...

Here are just a few knots that you may come across in your boating.  This list is by no means exhaustive but it will give you an idea of some of the more commonly used knots, how to tie them and what they are used for…

Video created for RYA Spotlight

End and Stopper Knots

Double Overhand Knot – Primarily used to form a stopper knot in the end of a line or cord; some people favour this knot over the Figure of Eight in the ends of halyards and sheets.  This knot forms the basis of many other knots so it is worth becoming familiar with.

Form an overhand crossing loop then tuck the working end through the loop from back to front twice.  

To tighten, pull on the standing part and the working end.   

On thicker lines you may need to massage the knot in to place.  The lesson here is that not all knots suit all ropes!    

Figure of Eight Knot – The classic end of rope stopper knot used by sailors in halyards and sheets to prevent the end of the rope running out of a block or fairlead.  Easy to tie and remember, it’s a very versatile knot, but a word of caution, this knot comes undone easily if subjected to constant flailing; remember to leave a long end.      

Form an overhand crossing loop, with a long working end.  Pass the working end behind the standing part then from the front to the rear through the loop.  

To tighten: pull the knot up with the standing part and the working end then hold the standing part cupped through one hand, shown in diagram 4, then pull down on the standing part with the other hand to form the knot, leaving a long end.  


Sheet Bend – Used to join two ropes that are of slightly differing thickness – but with caution.  This is one of those knots that unless under load, can come undone very easily; which is probably why it is not used to secure sheets to sails!  

  1. Make a closed bight in the end of the thicker line.  Pass the thinner line from back to front up through the bight of the thicker line.  
  2. Then pass behind both parts of the first line, in the direction shown in figure 2 (under the short end first).  
  3. Then bring the working end across the front of the closed bight tucking it under its own standing part on top of the bight.  Pull on both standing parts to dress the knot.  

Binding Knots

The Reef Knot – Easy to tie, and equally easy to untie, the Reef Knot has for many years been one of the staple ‘handy’ knots.

From a Half Knot; (take the two ends of a line, cross the right hand working end over the left hadn working end, tuck it under and out to the left.  Pull the two working ends to tighten or adjust to size.)

Form another Half Knot on top of the first one, start by crossing the now left hand working end over the right, before tucking and pulling up tight; ‘right over left’ then ‘left over right’; or the other way round!    

You now have two interlocking bights.     



Clove Hitch – Useful for securing fender lines to guardrails and rope around posts or stakes.  Always leave a long working end when tying Clove Hitches, because the knot can rotate and the working end slip back in to the knot, releasing it.

Pass the working end over the rail, then make a crossing turn over itself – this can be right to left or left to right of the standing part.  Continue to make another complete turn around the rail then tuck the working end under its own part, to lie alongside the standing part.  

Round Turn & Two Half Hitches – Probably the most used ‘general purpose’ knot in boating.  It is one of the safest, secure and reliable knot you’ll ever use on the water.

  1. Make a Round Turn around the rail, post, ring or bollard.
  2. Bring the working end in front of the standing part then around the back and tuck under itself to form a Half Hitch around the standing part.
  3. Complete a second Half Hitch in the same direction
  4. Dress the knot so that the two Half Hitches are up close to the Round Turn.  


Bowline – Another much used general purpose knot, it forms a temporary fixed loop in the end of a rope which can be used, among other things, to secure sheets to sails, make a loop in a temporary mooring line.    

  1. Take the standing part in the left hand and pull enough line through to form the required size fixed working loop and a couple of feet or so to make the knot  
  2. Make a small overhand loop (to the left – like you would write a figure 6) with the standing part, in the left hand      
  3. Take the working end and pass it from back to front through that loop, then around the back of the standing part from right to left before passing it back down through the loop.  
  4. When complete make sure the working end is inside the working loop and that it is at least long enough to put a Half Hitch around the adjacent working loop leg for added security.    

Written extracts taken from RYA Knots, Splices & Ropework Handbook, written by Gordon Perry & Steve Judkins, illustrated by Steve Lucas.

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