Seamanship:How to Tie the Most Useful Knot On Ship
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Seamanship:How to Tie the Most Useful Knot On Ship

On a boat or ship your life and survival often literally hangs on a rope. So, for this reason, it is of utmost importance that rope work and seamanship are learned right from day one at sea. Some of the most important knots are discussed below Practice and get to know them.


Knots and hitches tend to reduce the strength of the rope locally by as much as 40% to 60%.  This should always be borne in mind as it may affect the safety of life and property at sea.

Some definitions and terms

A knot involves the use of only one rope and generally used to prevent the rope from unreeving.  In addition, it provides hand holds.

A bend is a method of temporarily joining two ropes or ends of two ropes together.

A hitch: is used to attach a rope to a structure or a ring or eye pad.  It may also be used to join two ropes (not at the ends).

The above definitions are only a guideline and need not be adhered to strictly.

Bight:  is the term used for the middle part of the rope, for example, a rope suspended between two points is said to be hanging “in a bight”.

Standing part: is that part of the bight nearest to the eye.

End:  is the short length at the extremities of the rope.  It is also the leftover short piece of rope after making a knot, bend or a hitch.

The Running End: is that part of the rope which first comes out of the coil or which moves through the pulley.

Whipping:  A rope is whipped at the end using twine so that the ends do not fray.

Seizing: Is used to end a knot or to bind two ropes by tying a twine to the standing part and the running end.

 Some important knots used at sea

The Overhand Knot: This is the simplest of all knots and for this reason, it is hardly ever used on its own. It is usually used to start off another, more complicated knot.  This knot may be used on a rope to give a good holding grip for hands.  It is in fact also known as the “Half Hitch”.

The Figure of Eight Knot: it is larger, stronger and more easy to untie than the overhand knot. It is used most commonly as a stopper knot.  This knot is generally used in the lifelines of the lifeboat davits as a foothold and also in the gripes of the boat.  It may also be used to prevent the rope from unreeving from the block.

The Reef Knot: The reef knot is only useful in simple applications. It is easy to tie and will not jam, so it is always easy to untie. It is used for binding rolled sails, tying packages and as a base for the shoe-bow. It can be used as a trustful knot on most occasions unless there is jerking on the line.  The reef knot is used to join two ropes of equal size and which does not come under too much strain.  It cannot be used to join two ropes of unequal size.  It consists basically of 2 overhand knots but care must be taken when putting the knot that the ends are crossed in the opposite way each time, that is, left over right and right over left and vice versa.

The Sheep Shank: is generally used to shorten the bight of a rope or for strengthening a part of the rope without cutting it.  The bights should be lashed with the standing part.

The Bowline: The Bowline is probably the most widely used knot. It is useful for making a temporary eye at the end of a rope, to be put around or through anything.  For example bending a heaving line around a hawser,  as a lifeline around a man’s waist.  Note: all members of the ship’s company should be able to make a Bowline with their eyes closed.

 The Running Bowline:   An ordinary bowline used to make a running eye at the end of the rope.  It should never be used around a man’s waist.

Bowline on the Bight:  is similar to the normal Bowline but it is made of a loop or a bight and not on the ends.  This is very useful to make a Bowline on a rope when both the ends are already secured.  This knot may be used in an emergency like in place of a bosun’s chair where the man can sit on one loop and puts the smaller bight under his arm for support.

 Some bends used at sea

Bends are used to join 2 ropes temporarily.

Single Sheet Bend: is used to bend or join 2 ropes of unequal sizes, for example, a halyard to the flag when no hook is available, a rope to the thimble of the wire or a sheet to the clew of the sail.

Double Sheet Bend: is a more secure way of accomplishing the same purpose as the Single Sheet Bend.  It is the only hitch accepted to secure a gantline to a bosun’s chair.

Carrick Bend:  is used to join two hawsers when the joint has to pass over a winch or a capstan. The end of the bend has to be seized with the standing part.

The first hawser is made to form a loop.  The end of the second hawser is then passed under A, brought above through loop at B, passed through C and brought up again through loop  B and over A   The end is seized to the standing part.

The double carrick bend – is similar to single carrick bend except a full round turn is taken across the first hawser at C before bringing back the end to A and seizing this to the standing part.

Fisherman’s Bend: This is used to tie a rope or hawser to a ring or an anchor and generally used in small fishing boats.  An alternative to this bend is the Round Turn and Two half hitches.  In this hitch, the running part is taken from inside the round turn.

Some hitches used at sea

Round Turn and two half hitches: This is very similar to the fishermen’s bend except that the running end is taken from outside the round turn.  This hitch will never jam and can be cast off quickly.  Usually, it is used to tie a heavy load to a spar, ring or a shackle.  It is also used to tie a hawser to the breeches buoy.

Clove Hitch: This is one of the most common hitches used at sea.  It can be made either with the end or with the bight of the rope.  It is generally used to tie a rope to a spar or a railing.  It tends to slip if pulled sideways.  When this hitch is formed using a bight of the rope – a loop and a reverse loop are closed together and slipped over the object to be secured.

 Marline Spike Hitch: This hitch is used to secure a hook or a marline spike into the bight of the line.  For example, to pass a tool or a small pipe to a person working on a stage.

Timber Hitch is a very simple hitch, used for tying the end of the rope to a spar or a bale either for hoisting or for dragging.

A Timber Hitch and a Half Hitch: is a modification of the timber hitch used for lifting long timber pieces or spars. The timber hitch is made on one end and a half hitch towards the lifting end.

Rolling Hitch:  This hitch is also used to bend a rope to a spar or to a larger rope.  It is made by passing the end of the rope twice (known as the riding turns) around the spar – riding the second turn over the first and finishing with a half hitch on the other end.  Hauling will be in the direction of the riding turns.  When compared to the clove hitch it has an additional turn and used generally as a stopper for mooring ropes.

The Blackwall Hitch: is the easiest hitch which secures a line to the hook.  They are not entirely reliable as they tend to slip.  When the standing end is stressed it jams the bare end as the bare end is below the standing end. A single Blackwall Hitch is used when the rope and hook are of the same size and a Double Blackwall Hitch is used when the sizes are different.

The Cat’s Paw: is formed by making two bights in a rope – one with each hand and twisted in the opposite direction.  It is used to shorten a sling or to make a temporary eye to attach a block or a hook.

The Crown Knot: This knot is used to begin a back splice.  When the Crown Knot is finished the three strands of the rope are left pointing back along the rope.  This knot is seldom used on its own and is a basis for other complicated knots.

To make a crown knot: whip the rope approximately at 12 times the diameter of the rope.  Unlay the strands till the whip.  Now you have 3 strands lets name them a, b and c.  Whip the ends of each strand.  Place strand an over strand b, strand b over strand c and strand c over strand a (in this case strand c will enter the loop formed by strand a after placing the same over strand b).  Tighten all the strands to form the crown knot.

The Wall Knot: This knot is exactly the opposite of the Crown knot described earlier.  When completed the knot leaves all the three strands of the rope in the original direction.  Follow the same directions as for the Crown Knot except that the strands are laid under the adjacent strand instead of over it.  This knot is used as a stopper knot to prevent the rope from unreeving and also used in other complex knots.

Often in some type of knots, a combination of the above crown and the wall knot is used either as a Crown Knot over a Wall Knot or a Wall Knot over a Crown Knot.

The Wall and Crown knot: is where the wall knot is made first and then over it the crown knot.  This can be used for a lanyard to prevent unreeving.  It is also used in manrope knot.

 The Crown and Wall knot: where the crown knot is made first and then the wall knot. This knot is generally used to finish off seizing.

The Man Rope Knot: Is a decorative knot made at the end of the man-ropes for the gangway and the pilot ladder to prevent the rope from unreeving.  It is basically a combination of a wall and crown knot – The wall knot made first and then the crown knot keeping all the 3 strands of the rope loose and then following the strands once again around the wall and the crown knot.  Once a second turn is taken around all the strands – the strands are pulled taut and the remaining strands cut off.

Monkey Fist: This is a good heavy knot similar in looks to the man rope knot but made differently.  It is made on the end of the heaving line to weigh the heaving line to carry against the wind when throwing.  Unlike the crown, wall or the manrope knots – no unreeving of the rope is required.  The rope is first coiled around the palm of the hand for 3 rounds.  The second set of 3 coils of the rope is taken perpendicular to the first set and then the third set of 3 rounds are taken perpendicular to the second set but under the first set.  Once the rope is coiled properly the running end lands up near the standing part.  Then the knot is made taut and sometimes a piece of rag or oakum is kept in the hollow of the knot before making it taut to act like a heart. Do not put any heavy objects inside.

The Heaving Line Knot: This knot is an alternative to the monkey fist and simpler and quicker to make.  Make a big bight (loop) at the end of the rope approximately 1.5 meters away and start trapping the ends around both parts of the bight until the entire bight is covered except for a small portion near the end of the bight.  Pass the end of the rope through the loop and haul on the standing part to make it taut.

The Stage Knot: A stage is rigged on board ships for maintenance purposes.  It is very important that the knot tied on the stage should be extremely secure and safe for persons to work on stage.  There are 3 or 4 ways to tie a stage knot – the most popular 2 ways are shown:

First Method: involves making a marline-spike hitch in the bight of the stage rope and slipping it over the cross pieces of the stage as shown.

Second Method is the true stage knot.

To make a stage knot:

  • First lay the bight of the gantline over the stage inside the cross ties.
  • Cross the a and b ends of the gantline below the cross ties and bring them up at the end of the stage outside the cross ties.
  • Lay the ends a and b on top of the stage over the cross ties.
  • Pull the initial bight formed ‘c’ towards yourself and put it on the ends a and b and under the stage plank.
  • Now tighten the parts a and b – ensure that both a and b are of equal length before securing.
  • Secure the free end of the standing part using a bowline.

The Lowering Hitch: This hitch is used to lower a bosun’s chair by the same person using it.  It saves the need of another person to be standby for lowering purposes.  A bosun’s chair is used for a variety of purposes on board a ship especially to wash down the outside bulkheads of the accommodation, wire greasing of topping lifts of cranes and derricks, cleaning and painting the funnel.  A bosun’s chair itself is a piece of wood about 457mm x 127mm x 25.5mm  having two holes at each end through which a strop is roved and spliced underneath.  A gantline is roved through it and made fast using a double sheet bend.  Sufficient length is left on completion of the sheet bend for the person in the bosun’s chair to bouse to the mast and ride out to the yard.

When the person is working on top of the mast it is advisable to have one person below lowering the man on the chair as required.    Once the person is sufficiently down – in the lower mast he can self-lower himself as required using the lowering hitch.


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