Boating 101: Five Knots You Need to Know

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For an experienced skipper or crew member, tying the right knot for the task at hand is often a point of pride as well as safety and security. Attaching a new anchor? You’ll want to use an anchor bend, of course. Tying up to a dock? Then a cleat hitch or rolling hitch might be in order.

Beginner boaters, on the other hand, sometimes seem overwhelmed when it comes to boating knots, and who could blame them? There are dozens if not hundreds of specialized knots used to do everything from making vessels fast to pilings to stowing a coiled rope in a tidy manor so it will be at the ready whenever needed.

While many knots excel at a dedicated function others are versatile enough to be used in a variety of situations. That means you only have to master a few basic ones to get started. Still, like anything else in the boating world, it’s best to putter before you cruise. Following are five essential knots all boat owners and crew members should know. Master these and you should be fine in most situations. Add a couple new ones to your repertoire each year, and you’ll soon know enough knots to handle any on the water situation.

While directions are provided for each of the knots that follow, it’s tough to beat animated illustrations for instruction purposes. For that reason, we suggest visiting and Both sites show a variety of boating knots that will come in handy and their illustrations are top shelf. We’ve provided links to each should you need further assistance.


1. The Cleat Hitch


Used to tie boats and PWC to docks, bulkheads and boat lifts via cleats, this knot is quick, easy to tie, and doesn’t slip. For many, it’s the first boating knot to be mastered.

1. Wrap the line completely around the far horn (arm) of the cleat.

2. Pull the line over the near horn and wrap it under the far horn again.

3. Wrap the line under and then over the first horn again to form a figure eight pattern.

4. Form an underhand loop and slip it over the near horn.

5. Pull the free end of the rope tight to firmly secure the knot.


2. Rolling Hitch


This easy-to-tie knot is used for fastening a rope to a piling, pole or even a tree.

1. Wrap the tag end of the line fully around a secure piling or pole. The tag end should cross over the standing line.

2. Wrap the tag end of the line fully around the piling or pole a second time, again crossing over the standing line.

3. Make a third wrap around the piling or pole but keep this wrap above the standing line.

4. Slip the tag end of the line under the third wrap and pull tight to secure.


3. Double Half Hitch


Perhaps the simplest boating knot to tie, a double half-hitch is nothing more than two half hitches (overhand knots) tied side-by-side. This knot is great for securing a small boat to a horizontal post, or as a support knot to ensure another knot will not slip. Some boaters simply tie a single half hitch but be aware that this can slip, making the double-half hitch a far better knot to choose under most circumstances.

1. Wrap the tag end of the rope around the post and secure with a simple overhand knot (half hitch).

2. Tie a second half hitch alongside the first (the tag line should thread between the line loops).

3. Pull the tag end tight to secure.


4. Anchor Bend


The anchor bend, sometimes called an anchor hitch, is used to fasten an anchor to its rope. The tag end after finishing the knot is best secured with seizing but adding a double half hitch will do in a pinch.

1.  Wrap the tag end loosely twice around the anchor shackle being sure to leave enough tag end for finishing the knot.

2.Pass the tag end behind the standing line and then bring it through both loops in front of the standing line.

3. Wrap the tag end around the standing line again, passing it beneath the new loop to form a half hitch.

4. Pull the tag end to tighten the knot securely.

5. Seize the tag end to secure the knot or use a double half hitch knot as temporary reinforcement to ensure the anchor bend does not loosen and pull free.


5. Sailor’s Coil


The Sailor’s Coil relies on a couple of half hitches to securely keep a rope coiled so it will be easy to grab, transport and make ready without unraveling.

1. With the rope neatly coiled, make a half hitch around the top section of the coil.

2. Pull the tag end relatively tight and make a second half hitch.

3. Pull the tag end tight again to snug up the knot and keep the coil neatly secured.

4. If you want additional security, you can now tie a double half hitch knot with the remaining tag end of the line.