If you are learning to sail, or are planning to learn to sail, then it's time to get out a rope and start practicing some basic knots. Sailors use knots to raise sails, attach the boat to a dock, keep lines from becoming loose, and many other tasks. Many of these tasks are best done with a specific knot. With a little practice, you can learn to tie the most commonly used knots onboard a sailboat.
Before you get started, there are a few terms that will come in useful. First off, when a rope is brought onboard a boat, it is generally referred to as line, although technically speaking it is still a rope. This line then forms the various halyards, sheets, painters, etc that are used to control the vessel. Rope used on a sailboat can be made of natural fibers or synthetics. In our modern world, synthetic rope is much more common and can be made of polymide, polyester, Kevlar, and other materials. Rope can be either braided (interwoven) or laid (twisted).
There are several parts of a rope that are important when you tie knots. The bitter end is the very tip of the rope while the entire end portion used to make the knot is the running end or working end. The standing end or standing part is the part that leads away from the knot and is in use. A bight is a bend in a rope where the rope does not cross over itself. A loop refers to a twist in the rope, where one part of the rope overlaps another part of the rope. When you make fast a line you secure that line to an object or another line and when you take a turn you wrap that rope around another object.
Depending on their use, knots can be given different names. Technically, a knot refers to a knot in the end of the line, a hitch indicates that the knot connects the rope to another object, and a bend means that the knot is connecting two lines together.
Here is a list of some of the basic sailing knots you should learn with some links to help you learn these knots:
Double Half Hitch
The key to learning these basic sailing knots is to practice, practice, practice. You should be able to tie these knots with your eyes closed and behind your back. When you are sailing and you need to tie one of these knots, you will most likely have to do it quickly. If tied incorrectly, a knot can capsize, slip, or slide. Any knot will also weaken a rope, so certain knots are used for certain tasks. For example; a square knot is relatively weak compared to a bowline. For this reason, a bowline is a better knot to choose when you are towing a small boat behind your vessel.
Many of the basic sailing knots have very specific applications onboard a boat. It is important to learn these applications and practice tying the knot in that location. It is also important to be able to attach rope to a cleat and a winch. If you have access to a sailboat the best place to practice these knots is onboard.
In addition to learning basic sailing knots, basic rope-work also includes learning to splice, whip, and melt rope. Splicing refers to interweaving rope with itself or another rope. This can be done to connect two ropes, or to form an eye or permanent loop in a rope. Whipping involves wrapping a smaller rope around the bitter end to keep the rope from fraying. When cutting synthetic rope, the easiest way to secure the end is simply to burn it. This is best done with a lighter or a hot knife.
In addition to the basic sailing knots listed above, there are many decorative knots used onboard sailboats. A Turks head is often used around an object and is commonly seen on sailors' limbs as a bracelet or an anklet. A monkey's fist is a useful, decorative knot used on a heaving line.
There are many tools that can be used to help tie and untie knots. The most common tool is a marlin spike. This is a spike that can be pushed into a knot to loosen it and untie it. A knife is also important to either cut the end of the rope, or to cut loose a knot that will not untie. Other useful tools include needles, Swedish Fids, pliers, and wire loops.
Remember, most sailors rely on a handful of knots when they are underway, so knowing a few basic sailing knots really well is much more useful then knowing a whole bunch of sailing knots only a little. Most importantly, don't forget: practice, practice, practice.