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Overhead photograph of ropes on bow of boat

How to Tie 4 Essential Knots for Sailing

How to Tie 4 Essential Knots for Sailing

Whether you’re piloting the smallest of dinghies, or commanding a larger catamaran, there are a handful of important knots that every sailor should know. These four basic sailing knots from The Complete Sailing Manual will ensure you’re safe, secure and ready for whatever the water brings. Learn how to tie each nautical knot by following the step-by-step tutorials below.

Happy sailing!

1. How to tie a reef knot

Used for tying the ends of rope of equal diameter, the reef knot is named after its most common use: tying the ends of a sail’s reef lines when putting in a reef. It's easy to tie properly, just remember the rules: left over right, then right over left.

1. With the rope under the object, cross the two ends of the rope with the left working end over the right working end.

2. Now bring the left working end up, over, and pass it behind the right working end.

3. Bring both working ends up and tuck the now right working end over the left working end and through the middle.

4. Tighten the knot by pulling on both the working ends, producing the distinctive square-shaped reef knot.

2. How to tie a bowline knot

If you learn only one knot before you go sailing, make it this one. The bowline (pronounced bow-lynn) is used to make a loop in the end of a rope or to tie to a ring or post. The bowline cannot be untied under load.

1. With the working end of the rope held in the palm of the hand over the standing part, rotate the hand so the working end is pushed under the standing part as the palm turns face upwards.

2. Turn the hand and the working end so that a crossing turn is created around the hand and the working end.

3. Finally, pass the working end behind the standing part and then down through the crossing turn. Tighten the knot by pulling on the standing part and the doubled working end.

3. How to tie a sheet bend knot

A sheet bend is one of the best ways of joining two ropes together.

1. Make a loop in the blue rope then pass the working end of the white rope through the loop from below.

2. Pass the working end of the white rope around and under the short end of the loop in the blue rope.

3. Bring the working end of the white rope over the long end of the loop, back to the top, and then under itself.

4. Finally, tighten the sheet bend by pulling on the loop and the standing part of the white rope.

4. How to tie a figure-of-eight knot

A figure-of-eight is a stopper knot used in sailing to prevent a rope end running out through a block or fairlead. It's simple to tie, does not jam, and is easily undone.

1. Make a crossing turn, bringing the working end of the rope over and then under the standing part.

2. Bring the working end up to the top of the knot and then pass it through the centre of the crossing turn. Pull tight.


The ultimate illustrated guide, The Complete Sailing Manual is the ideal companion for sailors of all stripes. Covering essential equipment, techniques, up-to-date navigation technologies, boat care and more, it's guaranteed to ensure smooth sailing.

Buy the book

Buy the book

The Complete Sailing Manual The Complete Sailing

The ultimate illustrated guide for sailors is now fully revised and updated. With a foreword by Olympic gold Read More

The ultimate illustrated guide Read More


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