Firstly, let’s get the confusion out of the way. Nautical knot is a term that is interchangeable in the boating world. It can refer to a maritime or sailing knot but can also be used to describe speed.
In this guide (which I updated in March of 2019), I’ve put together a list of the most common knots you can learn how to tie, with this sailing knots for dummies guide. It contains videos and explainers of what each knot is used for and how you can tie it yourself.
But, if you want to know more about nautical knots and how they refer to a measurement of speed, scroll past the guide where I answer some common questions about this type of unit. You will see that I have embedded videos of the most popular knots, and linked you out to YouTube to watch the ones that are less popular.
Sailing knots for beginners
Below you can see videos and explainers for all nautical knots that you would ever wish to know about.
1. Alpine butterfly knot
The Alpine butterfly knot is more commonly used by climbers, forming a secure loop in the middle section of a knot. It’s an essential knot for climbing and rescue workers. You can still use it on a boat though, as it lets you safely connect a load from either the loop section, or either end of the loop you made.
2. Anchor bend knot
In this step by step video showing you how to tie an anchor hitch knot, you will see how to do it if you are beginner. Anchor bend knots are a fantastic sailing knot for boaters, as you can use is to apply a line to your anchor. It gives you a secure and permanent grip.
3. Ashley’s bend knot
If you need a nautical knot that is simple to get right and ties two ropes together, look no further than Ashley’s bend. I have no idea who Ashley was, but he was great at sailing knots. It is quite similar to some of the other bend sailing knots in this guide (for example, the Alpine butterfly) but has some slight differences. This one is great if you want something that won’t jam or slip.
4. Boom hitch knot
With this one you can attach and tie your rope to anything, but in most cases a sail boom. If you do decide to use a boom hitch, finish it off with a slip as that will make it easier to untie once you’re finished. It will stick fast even on a smooth surface such as steel piping, with almost zero slippage.
5. Bowline knot
One of the daddies of nautical knots. You need to learn to this one! It lets you tie a secure loop in the end of a rope, and can be used for a wide range of applications on your boat or ship. It’s an ancient knot that has been used for thousands of years, being easy to tie, even easier to untie, and one of the most essential things you need to know as a sailor.
6. Bowline on a bight
In this variation on the bowline, you tie a loop in the middle of your rope line, rather than at the end. There have been some reported dangers though, as tests showed that this knot can slip if only one of the ends has been loaded. However, it is easy to untie after a strain has been placed on it.
7. Buntline hitch
With this sailing knot you can tie pretty much anything you can think to the end of a rope. You do it by passing the end of your rope around an object, then create a clove hitch around the standing part of the rope. Just take special care to make sure you turn the clove hitch towards the object you want to tie, and not in the opposite direction.
8. Carrick bend knot
In this step by step video, you see how to tie the Carrick bend knot. It’s best used for when you need to tie two very heavy ropes together, and is commonly used on larger sea-faring vessels. It can be pulled up tight under load, and despite losing symmetrical shape, will still stay securely in place. You can increase the security by seizing the tag ends to the standing lines.
9. Cleat hitch knot
Another one of the most essential nautical knots is the cleat hitch. You will be using this on a daily basis to tie a rope to a dock or cleat on your boat and when handling mooring lines. This sailing knot is the easiest way you can tie your boat to a dock (click here for some more information on how to do this with a pontoon boat).
10. Common whipping knot
You can use a common whipping to at the end of any knot to help prevent your rope from unravelling. It’s very popular due to the ease at which you can learn and tie it, plus you don’t need any tools to make it really secure. It has been known to easily slip off though, which is why you will see it more commonly used for decorative and tidying up purposes.
11. Double bowline knot
I love this robust sailing knot, I use it all the time. It’s also known as a round turn bowline, and is basically a bowline knot but with a couple of overhand loops or some additional wrapping around the bight. It’s great for heavy rigging and when you know you need something that will withstand rough treatment.
12. Figure 8 knot
With the tail make a loop in the end of the rope, continuing around the line before you pass the tail down through the loop. And there you have it, a figure 8 knot that you can use for both boating and rock climbing. It is used as it will help to prevent rope from running out of their retaining devices. It can get jammed under a strain but is easier to undo than an overhand configuration.
13. Flemish bend
The Flemish bend is another figure 8 bend and can be used to tie two ropes together (as long as they are of a similar size). I would refer back to the figure 8 video, or you can watch the video below which shows the flake version where you form a circle at the size you need, then lay the rope inside of the circle. The Flemish bend is said to be one of the strongest knots known to man for attaching two ropes together.
14. Halyard hitch
For a reliable and compact knot that will work great for securing rings and shackles, learn how to tie a halyard hitch. I speak from experience when I say that this knot is virtually impossible to untie, needing to be cut straight off when you need to remove it. It is very similar in configuration to the buntline hitch knot shown in video 7.
15. Harness bend (aka parcel knot)
If you have two ropes under tension, try using a harness bend. It is also known as a parcel bend or parcel knot, and is said to originate from the olden days when riders needed to saddle up horses, making the harness tighter as the horse exhaled to take up the slack.
16. Heaving line knot
This one uses a length to provide a weight end for throwing, giving you some weight at the end of your line. It’s a great knot if you need to throw a line from the side of your boat to another vessel, or onto land, and it’s going to be used frequently no doubt.
17. Icicle hitch knot
This simple to tie hitch knot will hold in place even when under heavy loads. It’s a great knot when you need to hoist up a post or similar. I’ve never used it, but it’s an easy nautical knot you can learn with these step by step instructions for beginners or dummies.
18. Midshipman’s hitch knot
With this tutorial you can create an adjustable loop at the end of your line. You can then slide the knot up and down the rope to make the loop bigger or smaller. It is very similar in configuration to an adjustable grip hitch or taut line hitch and is very easy to untie even when under a load.
19. Monkey fist knot
This knot isn’t really used for any real practical purpose on boats nowadays, being more a decorative method to achieve a ball shape at the end of a rope. In the wrong hands it can also be used as a weapon, as it creates a heavy tight knuckle at the end. You could use it as a stopper on your ship, but it’s unlikely you would need to learn this one off by heart.
20. Mooring hitch knot
This quick release knot is useful as a temporary tie for a quick solution. Whilst it is a quick release tie, it can still be undone very quickly with one pull on the tag end. You can tie it up to anything and then release it in double quick time, making it great when you’re on the move.
21. Overhand knot
This simple stopper knot is the basis for what so many nautical knots are based. It’s probably the easiest to learn and can be used in a range of applications, not just boating. If there’s one sailing knot you decide to learn today, make it the overhand.
22. Portuguese bowline knot
Watch the video below to learn how to form a bowline knot with two adjustable line loops. It’s very similar to the Spanish bowline, but the key difference being you can adjust the size of the loops and one loop can be pulled into the other even after tightening.
23. Racking bend knot
This knot is used for joining two lines together that have a different diameter. It works in a similar way to the sheet bend or having line, and lets you throw a thick line, but possibly using a monkey fist at end on a thinner line.
24. Reef knot (aka square knot)
Also known as a square knot, the reef is a staple knot for securing two things together. However, don’t use it for joining two ropes together as it can quickly come apart. It’s been used for centuries and was first used by historical sailors for reefing sails.
25. Rolling hitch knot
Use this sailing knot to secure a rope to a post. It’s something you could use when docking or mooring and is a lot more secure than a clove hitch. It’s one of the top knots I would recommend you learn, as it could be one you use daily.
26. Running bowline knot
A running bowline knot is made up of a standard bowline, but it will be looped around it’s own standing end. By doing so, you can create a noose that is strong, secure, and slides. You can untie this just as easily as you can secure it.
27. Sailor’s coil knot
On a daily basis you are going to need to store ropes away safely so they don’t get tangled up or cause a hazard. This is where a coil comes in handy. There are multiple ways of doing this one, but the video below demonstrates the best method I have ever seen if you need to learn how to do it quickly.
28. Slipped overhand knot
This simple slip or draw loop knot will tighten when under load, at the working end. It is a simple stopper knot which you can un do easily just by pulling on the tail. You can form it easily by creating a loop in the shape of the letter p first.
29. Slipped sheet bend knot
This is an essential knot for boating, and lets you join two ropes together. When you double it up, it offers even more rigidity but can become loose if there is no load applied to it. Fast to tie, I rank it alongside the clove hitch and bowline in terms of the top knots you should know for sailing.
30. Spanish bowline knot
One of the more elegant nautical knots you can learn is this Spanish bowline. It’s a double loop that will be strong enough to lift a person, and can be set up to act as a makeshift Bosun’s chair. It is very complicated to learn, so you will need to watch the video multiple times if you are a beginner.
31. Stevedore stopper knot
This is a great alternative to a figure 8 as it probably won’t jam as much. As a stopper knot they don’t come much bulkier than this, but that bulk gives you added security. The name is said to originate from the Stevedore labourers from the 1950s who used to work in the docks.
32. Trucker’s hitch knot
More commonly used on trucks to secure down heavy loads, it can also be used on your boat trailer. It’s a compound knot that is assembled using loops and turns in the line to create a block and tackle configuration. It apparently originates back to the cart and horse days when salesmen would transport goods to sell.
33. Tucked sheet bend knot
Popular with fishermen, the tucked sheet bend knot is very similar to a double sheet bend, but the tucked aspect gives you an extra layer of security. It’s also referred to as the becket bend or weaver’s knot and is used to join up two lines together.
34. Water knot
This is the best knot you can learn for use with webbing as you can securely tie grabbing handles and slings. It’s used by climbers but also on boats if you need to tie loops into webbing. Watch the beginner’s video below.
35. Zeppelin bend knot
And finally, the Zeppelin bend knot. You might also have heard it being called the Rosendahl Bend knot, but it’s the same thing and lets you tie two lines together. This is a very simple sailing knot to lear, and offers a jam proof and secure configuration.
Related questions to sailing knots
Here are some commonly questions that beginners will often ask about how to tie nautical knots or how to tie boating and sailing knots.
What are the 4 basic maritime knots?
Knowing how to tie a few simple sailing knots are essential if you own a boat. The ones that 4 basic maritime knots I recommend you learn how to do are:
- Bowline knot
- Figure 8 knot
- Reef (or square) knot
- Clove hitch knot
As well as those four, I’d also look to learn how to tie a cleat knot and a round turn. If you can master all six listed here, then you’ve taken a huge step towards being a competent sailor.
What is the strongest knot?
Knots are not defined by their strength, but instead by what they will be used for.
However, the most useful knot in the world (in my opinion) would be a bowline knot. They are great for so many different functions, and if you get them tied right will provide decent strength and stability.
What knot do you use to tie up a boat?
You can tie a bowline as it will form a loop which you can then hook over a post or docking area.
Cleat hitches can also be used for tying a boat up to a cleat, or you could use a quick clove hitch, but it won’t hold nearly as well as a bowline.
How do you make a monkey fist knot step by step?
I’ve already covered this nautical knot off with the guides and video above, so scroll up for a visual guide for dummies and beginners on making a monkey first knot step by step.
Related questions to speed and distance
If you have come here to find out more about speed knots, and not sailing knots, then apologies. But in truth, there isn’t much to say about them other than they are a unit of speed on the water.
However, I did uncover a few related questions that you might be interested in if you are a speed demon instead of wanting to know how to tie a sailing knot.
What is knots in speed?
One nautical knot is one nautical mile per hour. And one knot equates to 1.15 miles per hour if you were on land.
Why do we measure speed in knots?
Knots were first used as a unit of measurement in the 17thcentury. Historical records tell us that old-fashioned sailors used to measure the speed of their vessel using a device called a common log.
It was a coiled-up length of rope with knots evenly spaced along it, then attached onto a pie-shaped piece of wood. The common log was lowered out of the back of the ship, floating behind in the water.
The sailors would let the coil unravel for a length of time. When it was pulled back on board, the sailors would count how many knots on the rope had passed from the boat’s distance to the wood, to give them a measurement of distance.
They could then come up with how fast the ship was going, based on how many knots had been counted.
If you are interested in boating history, take a look at this article which explains the naming origin of a ship’s steering wheel.
How fast is 25 knots on a boat?
Great question, and below you can see a knot to miles per hour conversion chart that I developed to help you compare the two.
|Knots||Miles Per Hour||Knots||Miles Per Hour|
|5 knots||5.75 mph||30 knots||34.52 mph|
|10 knots||11.51 mph||35 knots||40.28 mph|
|15 knots||17.26 mph||40 knots||46.03 mph|
|20 knots||23.02 mph||45 knots||51.79 mph|
|25 knots||28.77 mph||50 knots||57.54 mph|
Therefore, 25 knots on a boat is equal to 28.77 miles per hour.
The last word…
No matter what your plans are for boating, knowing how to tie the various maritime knots (or at least a selection of the most useful) is going to be essential. It could even save your life at some point! But at the very least, it will help you solve common tasks that will occur when boating.
Each of the knots shown above have a different purpose, and whilst some do virtually the same thing, if you can at least learn the most important 4 or 6 you should be able to cope with most scenarios you encounter on the water.
Most of the videos above are produced by a company called Animated Knots. They have an amazing app which you can install on an Apple iPhone or Android device, meaning you can learn how to tie a sailing knots whilst you on the go.
It’s an invaluable app, and you can pick it up on the various app stores I link to below.
If instead you would like some bedtime reading to really get your knot tying knowledge accelerated, then this book of 50 Essential Sailing Knots comes highly recommended too.