Sailing Knots 101

The knots which sailors tie to manage their rigging can be beautiful and elaborate. But form follows function, and being able to tie the right kind of knot which doesn’t slip can make the difference between sailing safely and dealing with hassles or even an emergency out on the water.

As a beginner, maritime knots can be intimidating. But they are not as difficult to learn as you might think. Let’s start out by discussing the three main categories of knots. Then, we will go over some common types of sailing knots you should know, and some recommendations for how you can learn to tie them.

What Are the Three Main Categories of Knots?

Knots: This term generally applies to any sort of knot or loop that doesn’t fall into the two categories below.

Bends: If you need to attach one rope to another, you can tie a “bend” knot.

Hitches: Need to secure a rope to some other object? Use a hitch knot.

Common Sailing Knots


This is probably the first sailing knot you will learn how to tie. It has the appearance of a noose. But as the load increases and pulls on it, it tightens instead of slips. You can use it to connect the head of the sail to the halyard. It also is a smart option for tying around the body of a person you are attempting to haul out of the water.

Clove hitch

You can use this type of knot to attach a fender whip to a toerail, lifeline or stanchion base. It is a convenient option because you can tie it easily in a hurry.

Figure eight

You can guess what this knot looks like just from its name. It is useful as a stopper knot for preventing slippage, and indeed is arguably the most powerful knot in this category. What is doubly awesome about it is that tying and untying it is a breeze.

Reef knot

This is another type of stopper knot, also sometimes called a square knot. You can use it to link together too lines, though you can also use it to knot together two ends of a single line. It is one of the most basic and versatile types of knots in existence, and you already probably know how to do it, since it is how you are supposed to tie your shoelaces. Note that a common error is not to reverse which end is over versus under between the first tie and the second. You need to reverse in order to prevent slippage.

Sheet knot

This type of knot is called a weaver’s knot sometimes. If you have a line which is not long enough, you can use a sheet knot to connect two lines together. You can do this as many times as is necessary with additional lines to get the full length you require.

Obviously, this is just a start to the types of knots that you need to learn to go sailing safely and conveniently. There are many other essential types of knots which you should learn.

How Can You Learn to Tie Nautical Knots?

When you look at a picture of a completed knot, it can be pretty difficult to figure out how it was done just by a visual examination. Thankfully, there are many online resources which make it fairly easy to learn how to tie knots.

One website which I can recommend is Animated Knots. This site shows you frame-for-frame how to tie different types of knots. You can speed up or slow down or pause as needed to study and catch up. You’ll find few better tools for learning at your own pace.

YouTube is also a great resource for learning how to tie knots. Watching videos not only gives you additional demonstrations, it also can provide you with helpful commentary.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of learning sailing knots is memorizing the steps. When you are in a hurry on the water, obviously you do not have time to consult a video (and may not have any ability to do so anyway).

For common types of knots, there are memorization tricks. Take the bowline, for example. Now, imagine that the working end is a rabbit. The rabbit hops out of a “hole” in the standing end, then runs around a “tree” in the standing end, and then returns to the hole. Once you grasp the metaphor and how it translates into the tie, it should be harder to forget the steps.

Enjoy Tying Safe and Snug Knots

Once you have learned how to tie sailing knots and apply them properly to different applications, you will be much safer on the water. You may also discover along the way that tying knots can be a lot of fun.

What you learn may also come in handy with other activities—everything from fishing to crafting to search and rescue. Indeed, tying beautiful and functional knots may turn into a second hobby.

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