The old adage: “If you can’t do knots, do lots” might be widely used, but you won’t be thanked on board if you have tied everything up into a hard-to-undo jumble of bitter ends. There is a reason that a tangled knot of line is referred to on board square riggers as a “bunch of b*stards”!
There are just a few knots which, when learnt by the novice sailor, make for a useful pair of hands:
The bowline is a knot that forms a non-slip loop. It is very useful on board and is primarily used by sailors for connecting sheets to the clew of the sail. Being able to tie a bowline quickly and reliably makes you well on the way to being an honorary pirate - ahaa.
Round Turn and Two Half Hitches
This is a very simple but effective knot. It will take a lot of load without pulling out (primarily because of the round turn, secured by the half hitches. It is also easy to undo after being loaded. It is very useful for tying a line onto a spar and many boats use this knot when tying fenders onto stanchion posts.
The Sheet Bend
The sheet bend (and it’s big brother, the double sheet bend) is a useful knot for tying two pieces of line together. If tied carefully it is very effective for lengthening a towline.
The Rolling Hitch
Very handy to know, the rolling hitch can be used to tie around a line under load. It’s primarily used for diverting load from a line to another point so that the line can be re-run or unravelled. This is a useful knot when un-jamming a riding turn on a winch.
The Clove Hitch
A simple knot, the clove hitch is used by many sailors of small yachts for tying fenders to stanchion posts or safety rails. It can be easily tied and undone and if tied ‘on the bight’ it can be used as a quick release clove hitch also - ideal when fenders need to be moved quickly! The clove hitch has a tendency to slip out over time when under load.
The Figure Eight
The figure eight knot is generally used as a ‘stopper knot’ on the end of genoa sheets and reefing lines and halyards. Whilst a stopper knot is essential for good seamanship, this writer prefers the Admiralty Knot for use as a stopper knot.
The Reef Knot
Taught as part of the RYA syllabus, the knot is rarely used on board vessel these days. Easily mis-tied and likely to undo when not under constant load, the simple thumb knot is more likely to be used when a quick slipping, relatively easy to tie knot is needed for securing foresails on deck.
Additional knots worth knowing include the Trucker’s Hitch, the Fishermen’s Bend and the Tugman’s Knot.
To understand how to tie these knots, and many more, consider buying a book on knots published by the RYA. Alternatively, YouTube is great for learning your knots, but make sure it is a credible source!