5 essential (and beautiful) nautical knots for everyday situations
This book is a beautiful and great addition to your home library collection you can boast of to your guests. They will definitely be nodding their heads admiring your (not necessarily existing) knot tying skills. Some might even ask you to borrow that book for some inspiration on a rope ladder, flower pot hanger, or tightrope walking. However, in reality, you can survive with 5 knots. Both on the boat, and on a daily basis.
Many authors will give you their lists of the most useful knots. These are our personal favorite essential - and really beautiful - nautical knots for everyday situations:
It was the first knot I’ve learned at my sailing classes, and it was love at first sight, too! We called it “rescue loop” at our classes, but when tied correctly, you can use this knot for literally anything that requires to hold under heavy load – tow your broken car, hang your hammock, save yourself when fallen into the water, fasten your mooring line, and millions of other situations. It’s often called the most useful knot in the world!
And there is a reason why some call it King of the Knots – the Bowline has a dedicated bronze sculpture in Cardiff Bay, Wales! (Picture 1)
Picture 1 - Bowline Knot sculpture, Cardiff, Wales, UK. Image: geograph.org.uk
What’s so good about it? A Bowline is a reasonably secure knot that doesn’t slip under load and is easy to tie and untie when it’s not under load. However, because it does untie so easily, it should not be trusted in a life or death situation such as mountain climbing.
2. Square knot
This is simply the most beautiful knot, and it also has a dedicated sculpture. Not just a simple sculpture, but a sculpture by His Majesty Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona! Alright, let’s not exaggerate, Gaudi used this knot as a detail in his architectural wonders. But the point is – that man had a good taste! (Picture 2)
Picture 2 - Rope Knot detail, Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain. Image: Samuel Wooten, photovault.com
But that’s not all! The knot is so pretty, that it found its place not only in Ancient Greek jewelry (Picture 3) or on the belt of Egyptian sculpture of Raherka and Meresankh (Picture 4) but nowadays it is also used in World Scout Emblem, worn by Scouts in all the 216 Scouting countries and territories. The Scout emblem is one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world, because it has been worn by an estimated 300 million former Scouts and is currently used by more than 28 million present Scouts. (Picture 5). And that's a hell of a lot of Scouts wearing the Square knot, I must say!
Picture 3 - Ancient Greek jewelry from Pontika (now Ukraine), ca. 300 BC. Image: Wikipedia
Picture 4 - Raherka and Meresankh, 2350s BCE, Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the Louvre. Image: Wikipedia
Picture 5 - World Membership Badge. Image: members.scouts.org.uk
This knot is also present in numerous contemporary sculptures, such as 18-foot-tall (5.49 meters) white fiberglass “Friendship Knot” in Little Tokyo Historic District in Los Angeles by Japanese-American sculptor Shinkichi Tajiri (Picture 6). This man was mad about knots, I must say. He made dozens of different art objects featuring various knots, such as cast iron statuette which you can see in The Mayor Gallery, London, UK (Picture 7) that features same Square knot.
Picture 6 - Friendship Knot by Shinkichi Tajiri, Little Tokyo Historic District in Los Angeles, California. Image: discovernikkei.org
Picture 7 - Square Knot by Shinkichi Tajiri. Image: artsy.net
My late Grandma used to call incorrectly tied Square knot an Inside out knot (not tied "right over left; left over right" as it should be, but vice versa) and would tell us to avoid it. Much later, on my sailing classes, I have found out that my Inside out knot has an official name – Granny’s Knot, which is one of the poorest performing knots. (Picture 8) My Grandma was a very wise woman!
Picture 8 - One of the series of seven bollards formed into nautical knots in Whitehaven Harbor, UK, is a Granny Knot. Image: chrisbrammall.com
Apparently there are many art objects dedicated to this faulty Granny’s knot. For example, there’s a sculpture of Granny’s knot in Denmark, in Aarhus university town (Picture 9).
Picture 9 - Granny's Knot, Aarhus, Denmark. Image: TripAdvisor
Also, seems like Shinkichi Tajiri, who made a “Friendship Knot” in Little Tokyo, was obsessed with Granny’s knot too - he made several wood, metal sculptures and drawings of it (Picture 10, 11, & 12).
Picture 10 - Granny’s Knot by Shinkichi Tajiri. Image: auction.catawiki.com
Picture 11 - Granny’s Knot by Shinkichi Tajiri. Image: theartstack.com
Picture 12 - Granny’s Knot by Shinkichi Tajiri. Image: mayorgallery.com
But let’s get back to a “proper” Square knot. Also called Reef knot, Double knot, Hercules knot, or Brotherhood knot, the Square knot is mainly used to attach two ropes of the same diameter, or to join two ends of a single rope to bind around an object. You probably don’t notice it anymore, unless you are teaching your kid to tie laces on his or her shoes. Yep, when tied correctly, it is the same shoelace knot, just without shoelace loops!
As we use it to tie our shoelaces, it makes quite obvious that the knot shouldn’t be used for critical loads, and no one should trust one’s life on it. As stated in The Ashley Book Of Knots, "There have probably been more lives lost as a result of using a Square Knot as a bend […] than from the failure of any other half dozen knots combined." (p. 258).
In sailing, we use this knot for reefing and furling sails. This is also one of the key knots of macramé art, tying the Japanese obi belt, and you can definitely find it hanging framed in the bar of a coastal town as a decoration. (Picture 13) As I’ve mentioned, it’s just damn pretty knot!
Picture 13 - Square Knot wall decoration. Image: Etsy
That’s how to tie it: https://www.animatedknots.com/reef/index.php
3. Overhand Knot
Overhand Knot is the simplest of the single-strand stopper knots. His more complex “cousin” is Figure 8, and no, it’s not a mistake, that’s the name of the knot – Figure 8! Why Figure 8? - You ask. Because that’s exactly how you tie it – you make a figure 8 out of the rope.
Let’s get back to Overhand knot. The knot is mainly used as a simple and quick solution to make stopper knot to prevent a line from sliding out of retaining devices. As a stopper, the Overhand knot has one advantage: it is one of the few stopper knots that can be tied tightly up against an object or a knot. Although some other “cousins” - like Double Overhand knot - also makes a good stopper knot; when an even larger stopper knot is required, the Ashley Stopper Knot (otherwise called Oysterman's) should be used.
The knot can be undone quite easily, even after the load, which makes it one of the sailor’s favorite. On the other hand, the simplicity of the knot, especially when used on slippery ropes, sometimes causes the self-undone. Therefore when in doubt, the knot should be substituted by mentioned above - and more complex - Ashley Stopper Knot.
And as you might have guessed, the Overhand knot is also immortalized in art objects! One of them is a stainless steel sculpture by Bert Flugelman in Light Square, Adelaide (Picture 14).
Picture 14. Overhand Knot sculpture is one of several stainless steel works done by Bert Flugelman in Adelaide, Australia. Image: theaudioprof.com/blog
Did Shinkichi Tajiri make any sculptures featuring this knot? - You ask. Of course, he did! One of them is located in a small village of Baarlo in the Netherlands, where the artist had settled with his family in 1962. (Picture 15). Another one is a Folded Overhand Knot sculpture in Amsterdam (Picture 16), and there are few more. Just google the guy!
Picture 15. Connection knot sculpture by Shinkichi Tajiri, Baarlo, Netherlands. Image: buitenbeeldinbeeld.nl
Picture 16. Folded Overhand Knot by Shinkichi Tajiri, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Image: artzuid.nl
Where to use it at home? We see this knot most often on DIY hanging shelves (Picture 17), or rope bracelets (ok ok, I promise a DIY tutorial one day!).
Picture 17 - Floating Shelves. Image: Amazon
And that’s how you tie it: https://www.animatedknots.com/overhand/index.php
4. Sheet Bender's Knot
Nope, we are not talking about bed sheets here. In The Ashley Book Of Knots, this knot is also called Weaver's Knot and has numerous uses. And also some sculptures dedicated to it. (Picture 18).
Picture 18 - Weaver’s Knot, Whitehaven Harbor, UK. Image: scotimages.com
First of all, it is widely used as more secure, easy to untie knot for joining two ropes of unequal diameter or different material. However, it will perform worse if you try to tie ropes of the same size. Also, it has a tendency to work loose when not under load.
Secondly, it is used for making fishing nets since the Neolithic period. (Picture 19) I’m not sure about those ancient times, but nowadays a skillful net maker is able to tie this knot in no more than three seconds!
Picture 19 - Remains of a fishing net found in the Huaca Prieta, 6,000 to 4,500 BC (photo taken at the Larco Herrera Museum, Lima, Peru). Image: mundusmaris.org
If you feel enthusiastic enough, you can easily (ok, probably after some practice - I wouldn’t expect 3 seconds at the first go) make yourself a nice fruit hammock for your boat galley (or ordinary hammock for the country house) using Sheet Bend combined with Bowline. You’re welcome!
But where did the name “Sheet Bend" came from? - You ask. The term derives from its use bending lines to sails (or sheets) on sailing boats. It’s an old technique, still used on smaller and simpler boats.
This is how you tie Sheet Bend: https://www.animatedknots.com/sheetbend/index.php
5. Two Half Hitches
Also called Double Half Hitches, it’s the simplest knot to tie a rope to a post, tree, or ring, or tying boats to piers. The knot is easy the tie, holds well under the load and is easy to loosen when the load is relieved. Just note that it also means it’s not secure when not under load!
It has several more secure and complex “cousins” for more extreme situations, but hey, who wants complex here? If you need more security, take a second turn around the tree or any another object you are tying it, or just add more half-hitches.
The knot is commonly used by fisherman, but they mostly combine it with other knots to secure the fishing hook and avoid losing their precious fish.
Maybe this knot is not beautiful enough to deserve its own sculpture, but it’s widely used in another form of art - macramé (Picture 20). So go on, and use it for your next plant hanger project!
Picture 20 - BoHo Macramé Hanging Wall Decor. Image: Amazon
There’s step by step how to: https://www.animatedknots.com/twohalfhitches/index.php
We hope that you will change your perception towards knots! Because knots can be not only useful and practical, but they can also be beautiful, and they can be a piece of art or jewelry (I’m wearing this one myself!). Pick a couple of favorites, learn how to tie them properly, and they might save you in some funny or not so funny situations one day. Why? - You ask. Because Why Knot!
Picture 21 - My personal ring in a shape of Overhand Knot
If you like what you have just read - don't be shy, scroll down and subscribe for new blog post updates!
Some links above (but not all of them!) are affiliate links, meaning that we earn a small commission from qualifying purchases at no extra expenses for you. Learn more.