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3 essential sailing knots

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A skilled sailor should be able turn a length of line into a work horse. Whether it becomes a fender whip, a dock-line, or a jib-sheet, with the right knot a line can become the most useful tool for a sailor. There are hundreds of knots to learn, but these are the three essential knots every sailor should know.


This knot is as old as time and is the most useful knot on  board a sailboat. No wonder it's called the "king of knots". With a bowline, you can easily form a secure, open loop, perfect to secure sheets to the clew of your head sail or tied two lines together. This knot does not slip or bind under pressure, yet is so simple it can be tied with one hand! 


Step 1: Form a loop near the end of the line. (How much of the line you leave will depend on how big you want the final knot to be.)

Step 2: Run the end of the line back through that loop.

Step 3: Next, run the line around the standing end and back through the small loop.

Step 4: Now grasp the end and pull the knot tight.

Step 5: You should have a large loop now! Congratulations, you’ve tied a bowline.


This is an ideal knot as it can be untied quickly, perfect for hanging the fenders over the side as you come into dock. You can also use this knot to temporarily tie your dock line to a piling. However, this is not as secure as a cleat hitch, as the knot will move freely as the boat moves.


Step 1: Wrap the end of the line around the stancion.

Step 2: Cross the line over itself and wrap it around the post again.

Step 3: Loosen the last wrap slightly and slip the end under, then pull it taut. This is a way of “locking” the knot.

Step 4: Give it a few tugs to make sure it’s secure, and you’re done!


This type of knot is designed especially for one purpose, and I bet you can guess what that is. If you said, “Making the line fast to a cleat,” you were correct. As you might imagine, this is used all the time on a sailboat, whether you’re docking, towing a dinghy, or rigging a preventer. Knowing how to do it will make you a much handier sailing companion!


Step 1: Make a wrap around the base of the cleat. Begin your wrap on the edge furthest away from where the line originates.

Step 2: Make a figure 8 on the cleat. If the line is going to be under a lot of pressure, and the cleat is big enough, repeat this two or three times.

Step 3: Add a hitch to the final turn to lock it. Do this by making a loop with the tail end underneath, hook it around the cleat, and pull taut. The tail end should be pointing away from the line’s origin.

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