Sailboats and the art of sailing involve a lot of ropes—although old salts will tell you there are no “ropes” on a boat at all, just lines and sheets. These lines must be tied to things, around things, to other lines, on cleats, etc. Over the centuries sailors have devised literally hundreds of knots and variations for special purposes!
But in reality you can sail well for years knowing how to use just a few basic knots.
Tie a bowline when you need a strong loop of line around something. You can even use a bowline at the ends of two different lines to tie them together. A bowline usually holds well, but with modern ropes made of slippery synthetic materials, the knot can occasionally slip. For a more secure version, try this enhanced bowline. And if you want to learn an even faster, friend-impressing way to tie a bowline, try this method.
Use a cleat hitch to tie the end of a line around a cleat on the boat or on the dock. Your anchor rope can be secured to a bow cleat this way, or the boat’s dock lines tied to cleats on the dock.
A clove hitch is a perfect way to quickly tie a line temporarily around a column or tubular structure. Use a clove hitch to hang fenders from a rail or tie a dock line around a piling.
Use a square knot to tie together two lines of equal diameter or to tie a single line in a loop around something.
Use a sheet bend to securely tie together two lines of different diameter.
Use a taut-line hitch to tie a line between any two things and be able to tighten or loosen the line.
Use a reef knot much like a square knot when you need to be able to untie it soon or quickly, such as when tying up a reefed mainsail around the boom.
When a line passes through a piece of boat gear, such as a block or fairlead, you want to ensure that it doesn’t get away from you and snake back through the hole or device. Use a stop knot in the end of the line to prevent this. For a fatter stop knot, try a stevedore's knot.
One sign of a skillful boat owner is the condition of their lines. Rope frays easily with use. Learn how to whip a line end to prevent fraying and unraveling, and keep your boat in Bristol condition!