9 essential sailing knots

How to tie the most useful nautical knots for all your boating needs

Ropes are one of the most important things on board any yacht and you simply can’t do without their ability to fasten, join and connect. Learning at least a few basic sailing and boating knots is absolutely essential for sailing, anchoring and mooring. As it isn't just novices who make mistakes, we've prepared a guide of the 9 most important sailors knots for all your boating needs.

1. Figure eight knot (figure 8 loop)

This is a stopper knot that is relatively gentle on the rope and has a wide range of applications. At sea, it is often used at the end of lines to stop them running through the hand or unreeving. The figure-eight is the stopper knot most commonly used by sailors. Even after a heavy load, it loosens much easier than other knots. 


The so-called figure-eight bend or Flemish bend is used to securely join two ropes together. A loose figure-eight knot is tied at the end of one rope and the second rope is threaded backwards parallel to the first rope.


The figure-eight knot is also often used to form a figure-eight loop. This is exactly the same as the knot but formed at the end of a doubled rope. Because of its numerous advantages, the figure-eight knot has also proven very popular among climbers. 

Figure-eight knot (figure 8 loop)

Figure-eight knot (figure 8 loop)

2. Clove hitch

This knot was originally used to moor boats to bollards in the harbour. It is a very simple knot, but it does also have its disadvantages. It consists of two simple overhand knots stacked in different winding directions. However, the use of a clover hitch is not recommended when the object tied to the cylindrical object can rotate, as it will almost certainly loosen.


This knot also holds poorly on lines made from synthetic fibres and in cases where the knot load slackens or its intensity changes significantly. At present, therefore, other knots are used for mooring boats, with a fixed or loose loop on the bollards and the line tension being regulated by the mooring on board the boat. 


The clover hitch can prove useful when tying a rope to a ring. When not yet loaded, the knot is simple to adjust, so the length of the rope can be easily altered. Even in this case, it is still recommended to secure the free end of the rope with at least another simple knot. The big advantage of the clove hitch is that it can be loosened relatively easily, even after its been tied tightly.


Clove hitch knot

Clove hitch knot

3. Bowline knot

This knot is highly versatile and one of the most popular knots, not just among mariners and sailors. Most commonly it is used to form a fixed loop at the end of a line. It’s very secure, does not slip and, as a result, won't reduce the strength of the rope on which it is tied. It’s very easy to loosen even when tied tightly and after high tension. For it to work properly, you need to tie it tightly


The bowline is a great aid when mooring to a ring, to bollards and other spots. You can even use two bowline knots to join two ropes together, although there are more elegant and secure solutions. The bowline can also be tied on a doubled rope to create a solid knot with two loops, each of which can be set separately. Quick and precise tying of a bowline knot is worth practicing, at sea it will be a lifesaver. 


The bowline used to be very popular among climbers, until several deaths occurred as a result of the knot coming undone under particular conditions. In the mountaineering world, it has almost been doomed to oblivion. On ropes with a braided core (which all climbing ropes are), this knot is unstable.  

Bowline knot

Bowline knot

4. Round turn with two half hitches

This knot is also sometimes called a fishing tie. Secure and solid, ancient sailors did not hesitate to use it to attach the most important thing — the anchor. However, it is also used to tie a boat to a ring or equipment, such as seat harness rings. To tie it, a double loop is secured by two half hitches. 

Round turn with two half hitches

Round turn with two half hitches

5. Cleat hitch

Strictly speaking, looping a line around a cleat is not really a knot. However, this does not diminish its importance for sailing. It is one of the most useful things you’ll do with a rope when sailing. The line is firmly attached with several figure-of-eight turns to the cleat. It is worth making sure that the rope leaving the boat makes as sharp an angle as possible with the longitudinal axis of the cleat so that the cleat engages as much as possible in the longitudinal direction and least in the transverse direction.


It takes just a second to learn the cleat hitch, but in naval circles you’ll definitely get some casual admiration for a precisely tied one. In short, learn to make this knot to the left, to the right, upside down and blindfolded, because you will need it often. Tethering a boat securely is definitely a good thing

Cleat hitch

Cleat hitch

6. Reef knot

You may know it from childhood summer camps as a square knot. On a boat, it is called reef because it is used for reefing and furling sails, and tethering reefing ropes around the boom. It is formed by tying a left-handed overhand knot and then a right-handed overhand knot, or vice versa. 


This creates nice and flat, neatly sitting knot on a furled sail. You can even use it to tie a neckerchief without having to worry about the knot pressing on your throat. However, it isn’t recommended for joining ropes as there are much more suitable and secure knots for this. On a boat, the only real application of a reef knot is for reefing. If the boat's mainsail is furled on the mast, you probably won't use this knot at all. 

Reef knot

Reef knot

7. Zeppelin bend

A popular sailing knot for securely joining two ropes, which can be loosened relatively easily even after a heavy load. It actually consists of two intertwined simple knots. Mastering the specifics of this knot is important as it can be easily mixed up with a Hunter’s bend that is far less secure. 


According to one legend, it is called a Zeppelin knot because it was used to tie Zeppelin airships. However this claim is almost certainly not true. 

Zeppelin bend

Zeppelin bend

8. Rolling hitch

This is a slip knots used to transfer weight from one rope to another, with a knot jamming in one direction. By nature, this knot works best when it is tied on using a significantly thinner rope than the knot will be moving along. However, modern materials bring other problems, for example on polypropylene rope or Dyneema it won’t really work. The rolling hitch is commonly used for rigging a stopper to relax the tension on a sheet so that a jammed winch or block can be cleared.

Rolling hitch

Rolling hitch

9. Sheet bend (double sheet bend)

The sheet bend is used to join two ropes of different diameter when the diameter difference is not too great. A simple bend is formed on the thicker rope, with the thinner one wrapping around it. This knot holds well only on ropes that are under permanent load, otherwise it tends to untie. The greatest stability is achieved when the free ends of the two ropes end up on the same side of the knot


If the diameters of the ropes are different, we recommend doubling the sheet bend. This means we wrap the thinner of the two ropes twice around the thicker rope. Again, it is important to start wrapping the shorter end of the thick rope loop first. This is the only way to make sure that the ends of both ropes protrude from the knot on the same side, giving the knot the greatest possible stability. 

Sheet bend (double sheet bend)

Sheet bend (double sheet bend)

Once you know these nine essential knots, you’re ready to set sail on your adventure. It couldn't be easier to book your dream boat in the most beautiful destinations for a well-deserved vacation.


Do you already know how to safely secure your yacht in a marina?

I'd be happy to help you choose a boat. If you need a recommendation for a suitable boat or more information on price or destination, just email me or give me a call.

What types of sailing lines and ropes will you come across?

The ropes themselves can be roughly divided according to the material used and their knit. Polyamide (PA) ropes are very elastic but do not float and partially lose their strength when wet. They are mainly used for anchoring, mooring and towing wherever it needs to absorb large shocks. Polypropylene (PP) ropes, on the other hand, float well and are produced in bold colours, emphasizing their use as rescue ropes.


Modern polyethylene (PE) ropes are known for their strength and stiffness, and don't mind getting wet at all. Artificial ropes can be comparable in strength to steel ropes. PE ropes are widely used on high-performance yachts and sailboats.


Polyester ropes (PES) are as strong as nylon ropes, but their strength is not affected by water. PES fibres are highly flexible, abrasion-resistant and stretch significantly less than nylon. They are often combined with polypropylene to achieve high durability.


Rope can be twisted (laid rope), braided or plaited (made by braiding twisted strands). This creates a variety of combinations, each with a different and more appropriate usage.