aKnot Notes to help teach Knot Tying

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Here are a few notes to help you teach the merit

A knot … is either exactly right or it is hopelessly wrong, make only one change … and either an entirely different knot is made or no knot at all may result.”  Clifford Warren Ashley   [The Ashley Book of Knots (ABOK)]

Sailors have an idiomatic language of their own which provides about everything needed for a discussion of knots.

  • A splice is put in, a hitch is made fast or taken, two ropes are bent together, a knot is put in, made, or cast in a rope.
  • A sailor takes a turn, he belays; he claps on a stopper, he slacks away, and casts off a line.
  • He clears a tangle, he opens a jammed knot, and he works a TURK’S-HEAD or a sinnet.
  • But about the only time he actually ties is when, his voyage over, he ties up to a wharf.
  • The word tie is used so seldom by the sailor only because it is too general a term for daily use, where something specific is almost always called for.

But when a sailor refers to the subject as a whole he always speaks of “tying knots” or “knot tying.” [ABOK; pg. 12.]

  • Rope is unemployed cordage, when you prepare a rope for a specific task, it becomes employed and is a line.
  • The line is labeled by the job it performs; e.g., anchor line, dock line, clothes line, etc.
  • Line is a common name for cordage aboard ship, but the word appears to be without specific meaning. Fishline, log line, ratline, clew line, buntline, whale line, heaving line, spring line, and towline indicate the indiscriminate range covered by the term.
  • Sheet is a term we use to name a line that is attached to a sail and used to control its angle relative to the wind or boat. (reefing is to reduce the area of the sail by tying off a part of the sail).
  • cord: thin, flexible string or rope made from several twisted strands. Cord: consists of several multi-piled yarns.  Yarns are then twisted and braided around each other in order to make the final cord product.
  • Corded is a general term applied to rope to indicate that it is twisted rather than braided, but more particularly it refers to hard-twisted stuff [ABOK; pg. 24]
  • twine: light string or strong thread. twine usually consists of several pieces of single strands of a material such as yarn which have been twisted together. Most twines are yarns in a simple twist, while cords are twines twisted in multiple the reverse way.
  • Yam: Is a number of fibers twisted together, “right-handed.”
  • Thread: In rope-making is the same as yarn.
  • string; threads twisted together
  • Sewing thread : May be two, three, or more small yams twisted to ether.
  • Sailmaker’s sewing thread: number of cotton or linen yams loose-twisted and is often called sewing twine.
  • Strand: two or more yarns or threads twisted together, generally left-handed. strand is two or more small yarns twisted together [104. ABOK, pg.23]
  • Rope: Is three or more left-handed strands twisted together  [‘S’ pattern], right-handed [‘Z’ pattern], called plain-laid rope. [ABOK, pg.23]
  • Rope-making consists of twisting or cording a number of strands already twisted into a larger rope.

types of Rope Materials:

Natural: [man-made] synthetic; usually a polymer.
Hemp; Manila Hemp; denim= 100% cotton metal: (wire)smooth; abrasion resistant; UV resistant; nylon:  (polyamide) absorbs water (rots)

Rope Construction:

twisting fibers into strands; strands into rope. The first operation in making rope of such material is to spin or twist a number of fibers into a yam or thread [ABoK, pg.22]8-10 fibers into tube-like braid  Hollow Braid;  Solid Braid (filler core) Double Braided: braided core           w/ braided jacket
easy to splice; less expensive;  more stretch than braided;  better for outdoorsPros: more flexible;  stronger than twisted;  smoother
tends to kink; less flexible strands can separate (dirt can get into rope)Cons: difficult to splice Running end. The free or working end of a rope….you are actually using to tie the knot. Standing [line] end. The static part of rope or rest of the rope besides the running end.  [FM 32-05-70]   Pig tail. That part of the running end that is left after tying the knot. It should be no more than 4 inches long to conserve rope and prevent interference. seized: tail is tied to standing part.   less stretch than twisted
Kernmantle: A type of rope construction with a Kern (interior core) protected by a Mantle (woven exterior sheath) – a design that achieves abrasion resistance and strength.  


For purposes of knotting, a rope is considered to consist of three parts: The [working] end of a rope is its extremity. The standing [line] part is the inactive [static] part, as opposed to the bight and working end.

  • The bight of a rope is a term borrowed perhaps from topography, which has two meanings in knotting. First, it may be any central part of a rope, as distinct from the ends and standing part.
  • Second, it is a curve or arc in a rope no narrower than a semicircle. This corresponds to the topographical meaning of the word, a bight being an indentation in a coast so wide that it may be sailed out of, on one tack, in any wind.
  • An OPEN Loop is a curve in a rope narrower than a bight but with separated ends.
  • A CLOSED Loop is one in which the legs are brought together but not crossed.
  • When the legs of a loop are brought together and crossed the rope has “taken a turn.”
  • A Loop KNOT is formed when the end of a rope is made fast to its own standing part, or when a loop in the bight of a rope is closed and knotted.
  • Often a Loop Knot is called merely a “Loop.”
  • When a vessel, lying to two anchors, turns about, under the influence of wind and tide, she is said to have a foul hawse. If one cable merely lies over the other it is called a cross (of the cables).
  • If another cross is added the result is an elbow in the cables.
  • Another cross makes a round turn. [two passes of the rope around an object.]
  • While still another cross constitutes a round turn and an elbow in the cable.

Four primary knot classifications: [ABoK; pg. 12]

hitches; bends; knots and splices

  • Hitches (rope to object knots): (stake and post, pile and bollard; rings) clove hitch; a hitch is a knot tied directly to or around an object; there are many hitches that will capsize if removed from the supporting object.
  • Slipped: A knot is Slipped when it is completed using a loop or loops. The best known example is the Bowknot, a slipped version of the Square Knot. Many of the knots described can be slipped. Using a loop makes them less secure – think of shoelaces – but they are released more easily.
  • Bends (rope to rope knots): sheet bend
  • Knot= knobs & loops; not including bends & hitches: 
  • knob: 21.stopper knot; 20,23. Button knot
  • stopper knots:  overhand; figure-8
  • Binding Knots: square [reef] knot;
  • Bowknot  [‘slipped’ square knot; tying shoe laces]
  • Noose: A noose can always serve as a simple hitch, although many simple hitches can not serve as nooses.

Bowline: “boh-lin”

  • Loops (make a loop in the rope): bowline also, noose or snare is a variety of Loop Knot. Simple Noose; 1117. The Running Bowline Knot  1127. Lariat or Lasso Noose
  • linesman loop: wrap rope around hand;  bring ‘3rd’ loop between the first two. grab the outside loop and bring through the other loops.
  • A Loop KNOT is formed when the end of a rope is made fast to its own standing part, or when a loop in the bight of a rope is closed and knotted. [ABOK, pg.13]
  • A Loop KNOT, commonly called a Loop, serves about the same purpose as a hitch, but it is tied in hand, which is the chief distinction between the two. After being tied it is placed around an object, such as a hook or a post. Its shape is not dependent on the object that it is fast to, and it may be removed at any time and will still retain its shape. [ABOK, pg. 13]
  • A Loop KNOT, commonly called a Loop, serves about the same purpose as a hitch, but it is tied in hand, which is the chief distinction between the two. After being tied it is placed around an object, such as a hook or a post. Its shape is not dependent on the object that it is fast to, and it may be removed at any time and will still retain its shape.

[ABOK, pg. 13]

The same knot may have a different name depending by the user: Arborist; Scout; Sailing; Climbing; Fishing; Surgical; etc. & the use; e.g., ‘Linesman’s Loop’ is an ‘Alpine Butterfly’ in climbing The SHEET BEND and the WEAVER’S KNOT are structurally identical  but are tied by different methods and in different materials.  [ABOK] Double-Fisherman’s knot [294. Grapevine (also called Double-English knot)]  
A knot having been tied [formed] or projected,  the next thing in order is to “work” [dress] it,  which means to draw it up snug      while molding it into proper shape.  [ABOK; pg. 28]

Purpose: building on the basic knots:

 slipped knots; knots on a bight; ‘one-handed’ knot tying; Cleat hitches; web strap ratchets.

knob Knot:OverhandDouble overhand 
  Stopper knotFigure-eight  
Binding1204.Square knot1214. Bowknot 
Loop Knot33.; 39. loop 1050. Harness Loop
  Anchor KnotBowlineBowline on a bightFigure-eight Loop
  Prusik Loop661. Linesman Loop
Noose Running BowlineSlip Noose
Sliding loop knot  1116. Figure-eight
HitchTwo Half-Hitchesw/Round Turn52. Slipped Half-Hitch
makes a rope fast to another objectClove Hitch 1804. Halter Hitch
‘Taut-line’ HitchRolling Hitch 
Timber Hitch Trucker’s Hitch
Bend1431. Sheet Bend1434. Double  Sheet BendFigure-eight Bend
[Joining knot] [Unites two ropes] 1414. Fisherman’s Knot
1410. offset overhand bend 1415. Double Fisherman’s [Grapevine knot]
  1472. Adjustable Bend
  How to tieuse
  52. Slipped Half Hitch [ABOK]  
  1804. HALTER HITCHbased on the preceding knot but the tuck is made with a bight instead of the end.   After the hitch has been carefully drawn up the end is dropped loosely through the final bight so that the knot cannot spill accidentally.Quick-release knot commonly used to secure a horse  [Animated Knots]
  [45.] 1115. The Slip NOOSETo tie: Make a TOM FOOL’S KNOT near the end of the cord or rope (# 1134) and draw it taut as i1Iustrated.   The knot is slipped by pulling on its end. [ABOK]1115. The SLIP NOOSE (HALTER HITCH #1804) closely resembles the foregoing knot but it has an extra part and is differently tied. [ABOK]
  1116. The FIGURE-EIGHT NOOSE   1117. The RUNNING BOWLINE KNOTMake a loop. Figure-8: Form an underhand loop; continue to wrap running end around both ropes. bring running end through the loop next to the standing line.draws up more smoothly than the two that have been given and for that reason is to be preferred to either.
Figure-eight loopStart by tying a loose Figure 8 knot in one of the ropes. Follow the same path in reverse with the other rope, starting beside the tail and exiting beside the standing end.This [loop] knot is the main rescue knot in use today; used the same as a Bowline.
1050. Harness Loop The loops should be made large enough to pass around a man’s shoulder so that he may keep both hands free. The knot may be tied in any tow or climbing rope. It has been used by anglers for attaching dropper flies.
1053. Lineman’s Loop [Alpine Butterfly]Make a loop in the rope and twist it one full rotation into an eight shape.   Fold the top of the eight down around the bottom of the eight.   Now up and out through the lower opening of the eight and pull tight.It has an excellent lead and is strong, secure, and easily tied; a better knot in every way than the HARNESS Loop.
2124. ‘Trucker’s Hitch’‘Trucker’s Hitch’ (Power Cinch Knot, Lorry Knot, Haymaker’s Hitch, Harvester’s Hitch) The variety of names for this hitch is a tribute to its widespread use.   It is a valuable knot – particularly for securing loads or tarpaulins. (ABOK # 2124, p 344)  has the distinctive feature of providing a mechanical advantage  [and works like a pulley system] when being tightened.In lashing a wagon or truck load, the length of a lashing IS variable.   A Loop KNOT on the bight (HARNESS Loop #1050 or FARMER’S Loop #1054) can be put in at the proper length and a lashing made as shown here.
1057. The  SINGLE BOWLINE  on the bightThere are a number of knots that have been given this title, including the HARNESS Loop (#1050),Used to tie off to an anchor, such as a tree or bar on a tower [RR Rappelling merit]
Prusik w/Bowline ties a short rope around a longer rope (for example, a sling rope around a climbing rope) slide and grip (friction) knot. The principal use of a Prusik Knot is allowing a rope to be climbed – ascending  [Animated Knots]
1465. Rolling Hitch   [original ‘Taut-Line Hitch’]The ROLLING HITCH was formerly called MAGNUS HITCH and MAGNER’S HITCH.The ROLLING HITCH is the best-known knot for bending a small rope to a larger taut one, and it is one of the most frequently used knots on shipboard. [ABOK #1465, pg. 265]
  per [animatedknots.com]:  ‘Regrettable Change: The 1948 (5th edition) of the Boy Scout Handbook included the Midshipman’s Hitch Knot but used the name Taut-Line Hitch. Inexplicably, after the 5th edition, the Boy Scout Handbook retained the name but showed in its place the less secure version (ABOK # 1856). [‘Rolling Hitch’]   We should all urge Scouting organizations to be consistent with Ashley’s nomenclature and abandon both the Taut Line Hitch, and its name, and teach instead the Midshipman’s Hitch. To reinforce the need for this change, the misspelling “Taught Line Hitch” is astonishingly widespread.’   1800. Adjustable Hitch [‘Taut-Line Hitch’]The ADJUSTABLE HITCH is based on the MAGNUS or ROLLING HITCH and is closely related to the MIDSHIPMAN’S KNOT,the difference being in the arrangement of the second turn. If the concluding hitch is reversed there will be less tendency to twist. Slide the knot either way and it should remain without rendering.      [ABOK #1800, pg. 304]
Flemish Bend   [Figure-eight bend]Start by tying a loose Figure 8 knot in one of the ropes. Follow the same path in reverse with the other rope, starting beside the tail and exiting beside the standing endBend= unites two ropes   1411. The FLEMISH BEND, also called FIGURE-EIGHT BEND, is often given in knot monographs but is seldom used.  [ABOK] For critical loads, e.g., yourself (!), the Figure 8 Bend, should not be used with ropes that differ much in size
Double-Fisherman’s knot [bend] [294. Grapevine Bend] (also called the Double-English knot)]  Overlap the two ends. [lay the rope ends next to each other]  Wrap [coil] one end around both ropes two full turns. Then pass this end [tail] back through these turns [from the ‘center’] and pull tight. [tail should be in same direction as original rope]. Next pass the other end two full turns around both ropes. Pass this end back through and pull tight. Pull on both ropes to tighten the two knots against each other.The Double Fisherman’s (Grapevine Bend) is the way to join two ends of a line to form a Prusik Loop and is also an excellent and reliable way of joining two climbing ropes.  [Animated Knots]
1472. Adjustable Bend1472. An ADJUSTABLE BEND is formed by tying a ROLLING HITCH in each end around the standing part of the other. The knots may be easily slid, even when the rope is under tension, and will hold when the hand is removed.Excellent for guy ropes of any sort where adjustment is required, and for lashing a load that may require tightening after it has shaken down
1434. Double Sheet Bend   1414. WATER KNOT, also called ENGLISHMAN’S, FISHERMAN’s, WATERMAN’S, ENGLISH, TRUE-LoVER’S  and ANGLER’S KNOT. Hutton (1815) calls it WATER KNOT. It is very strong and one of the commonest of bends employed by anglers, but it is needlessly bulky.
Sometimes this knot is employed as a “trick” and the rope is cut at X.  1154. Sheepshank1154. If a SHEEPSHANK KNOT is to be tied around a wounded or chafed part of a rope it should be arranged so that the weak point will be where X is marked on the accompanying drawing. Under steady pull, even when cut, the knot is reasonably secure. [ABOK]A method of shortening a rope, it may also be used to take the load off of a weak spot in the rope. It is a temporary knot unless the eyes are fastened to the standing part of the rope on both ends
1155. Sheepshank w/ Marlingspike HitchesSynthetic ropes tend to be ‘slippery’ and flexible; contributing to the unreliable nature of Sheepshank under loads.  1155. The SHEEPSHANK WITH MARLINGSPIKE HITCHES is the safest of the SHEEPSHANK KNOTS. All other varieties should be seized or otherwise secured to make them safe, unless the need is very temporary

Bowline (one-handed)

With the rope round your back, hold about half a meter of the short end in your hand.

Hook the standing end with your thumb to form a loop around your hand.

Pass the short end round the standing end and pull it back through the loop.

Secure the end with an overhand knot to the loop.. [animated knots]

Rappelling Rope Harness

Rope in half

Tuck bight in belt left-side

Surgeon’s knot in front

Ends back through legs

Loop on back this the rope

Bring ends to the front

Tie square knot on side

Tie half-hitch on

Carabineer in front

Ashley’s Book of Knots [ABOK] 


Animated Knots by Grog

US Army Field Manual FM 32-05-70 Ropes and Knots  (Appendix G-1) 


About Jody Smith

As Communications Coordinator, I maintain the web site and send out email promotions for the district. I get the inside scoop at the National LEAD conference, I'm in FCF, teach JTC/AJTC and practice on the Discovery Rangers class I teach at Bridge Church, Waukesha.