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Safe at Sea: Know your knots

By PAT SCHMIDT - | Jan 20, 2021

Virtually every boater relies on “knowing his/her knots,” and an excellent captain also wants the crew to know them, as well. The principle of a good marine knot is that:

– It is easy to use.

– It is easy to untie.

– It holds fast.

Knot typing is part of the practice of marlinspike seamanship, which is defined as the general knowledge of knots and the care of rope. (The term marlinspike originates from a pointed metal tool — a marlinspike — used in working with rope.)

For the beginner: Rope is purchased as “rope.” When aboard any boat, rope is no longer called “rope,” it is called line. (Technically speaking, there are a few exceptions, such as “lanyard ropes [on bells], “bolt ropes [on sails], et cetera.) A line has three parts:

– Bitter end: The inboard end made fast to the vessel.

– Working end: The outboard end that is fastened to things.

– Standing part: The section between the bitter end and the working end.

Also useful to know, there are three ways to tie a line:

– Knot: A general term for securing a line to an object, another line, or to itself.

– Bend: A type of knot used to tie one line to another.

– Hitch: A type of knot used to secure a line to an object.

The two fundamental knots that should be adequate for most boating situations — and are most usefully known by all crew members — are the cleat hitch and the bowline.

– Cleat hitch

This is the simplest and most important hitch used on a boat. It involves nothing more than making a few turns of the line around the horns of a cleat. While a cleat hitch is, indeed, the simplest knot, you must tie the cleat hitch correctly or it will be hard to untie under tension. Some of the lines often fastened to a cleat with a cleat hitch include anchor lines, dock lines, mooring lines and tow lines.

– Bowline

The bowline (pronounced BOH’-LIN) forms a loop in the end of a line. It has many uses on a boat; among them are to secure a loop in the end of a mooring line, to place a loop over a cleat or a post, and to tie together lines of the same diameter.

If you want to learn how to best make a cleat hitch or bowline, these are lessons provided through the America’s Boating Course. You can also visit www.animatedknots.com and follow the step-by-step directions. Then practice, practice, practice! Because you will want to know how to tie one quickly and — most importantly — correctly.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and its boating education courses, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.