Let’s take a look at the really useful, perhaps essential, knots the sailor needs. I started out learning every knot in the book but over time I came to the realisation that I actually used the same eight or nine knots over and over again.
The first knot most sailors learn is the bowline. This is a useful loop knot – I use it for many things including attaching sheets to jib, tying up to rings, making a loop to drop over a bollard and for joining two lines together.
There are many variations on the bowline – bowline on a bight, spilled-hitch bowline, running bowline and so on – but the basic version is all I ever use. I have a friend who likes to amaze non-boaty types by tying a bowline with one hand, with a bit of a flourish. This trick is up there with flipping loops over a cleat instead of bending down to the task – more useful if you work at the fair than on a boat.
Hitches are used to attach a line to something – another line, a rail, a ring or even back to itself. I use the rolling hitch a lot. Most often I use it to attach my anchor snubber to the anchor chain – I started out using a chain hook but after the first year or so switched to the rolling hitch for its reliability and simplicity. It’s also useful for attaching the hammock to the forestay.
When I was first shown the rolling hitch I was told it was very useful for clapping a line onto a jib sheet to take the strain whilst undoing a riding turn on a winch; in all my sailing I have never encountered this circumstance but, should it ever arise, I’m ready.
I use a clove hitch for temporarily attaching fenders to the rail during docking – I then move them to stanchion bases and secure them with a round turn and two half hitches. I also use the round turn and two half hitches to secure to mooring posts and rings if I want them snugged up tight
I use a sheet bend to bend sheets together. To non-nautical types I suppose that sounds bizarre! It just means to join two lines together. You can achieve the same thing with two bowlines but this knot is more compact and simple when you know how. The double sheet bend is even better. We all use the reef knot to tie in reefs, of course, and that’s a bend too.
The figure of eight knot is what we use as a stopper knot in the end of a line so it can’t run through a block or cleat and disappear up the mast. If this happens you might want to search the archive for a post on climbing the mast. You’ll use the bowline to secure a halyard to your bosun’s chair.
That’s about it for knots – you really don’t need to be proficient at any others. But, for some, knot tying is great fun and a rewarding pastime – have at it.