People have been tying knots for thousands of years. Today, despite technology, knots are still as necessary as ever. In sports such as sailing, climbing, caving and angling, and in work such as fire fighting, fishing, truck driving and even surgery, the ability to tie the right knot is essential. All knots have a purpose and it is just as important to understand what that purpose is, and when the knot is used, as having the ability to tie it. The wrong knot at the wrong time can be dangerous. In the Teach Yourself section, there are details of nine knots commonly used in Scouting. It explains what the knots are used for and how to tie them. In order to help us with knotting, it is also useful to understand a little bit about ropes.
Types of rope
- Laid ropes – These are ropes normally consisting of three strands which run over each other from left to right. Traditionally they are made from natural fibres, but nowadays they tend to be made from synthetic materials.
- Braided ropes – These are ropes which consist of a strong core of synthetic fibres, covered by a plaited or braided sheath. (They are always made from synthetic materials.)
- Natural ropes – These are relatively cheap and are made from such natural materials as hemp, sisal, manila and cotton which are easy and pleasant to knot. They have the disadvantage that they have a low point at which they can withstand stress before breaking, and other characteristics can be unpredictable because the natural materials with which they are made may have flaws.
- Synthetic ropes – These are relatively expensive but last a long time. They are superior in that they are generally lighter, stronger, less prone to rot, water resistant and better able to withstand difficult and extreme environments.
Parts of the rope
Working end – The end of the rope you are using to tie a knot
Standing end – The end of the rope opposite to that being used to tie the knot
Standing part-Any part between the two ends. It can be a part of the rope already used in the knot
Loop – A loop made by turning the rope back on itself and crossing the standing part
Bight – A loop made by turning the rope back on itself without crossing the standing part
This most common knot is used to tie together two working ends of the same material and size.
- Take an end of rope in each hand and lay the left hand end over the right
- Then, using your right hand, take the end from the left down behind the other rope and up to the front again
- Point the ends inwards again, this time the right hand one over the other one, then take it down behind it and up to the front through the loop which has now been formed
- Pull the knot tight
This knot is often remembered by, ‘left over right and right over left’
The ‘sheet’ is the sailor’s name for a rope. The sheet bend is used to tie together two ropes of different types or unequal thicknesses.
- Form a bight in the working end of the thicker rope. Take the working end of the thinner rope and pass it up through the bight
- Take the thinner rope round the back of the bight and trap it under itself. Remember not to take the working end back down the bight in the first rope
- Pull tight by holding the bight in one hand and pulling the standing part of the second rope with the other
Make sure the two ends are on the same side of the knot. If the ropes are of very different thickness, take the working end round the bight and under itself twice to form a double sheet bend.
Figure of eight
This is a ‘stopper knot’ that is unlikely to jam or pull loose. It is also used, when doubled, to tie a loop in a rope.
- Form a loop in the end of a rope
- Take the working end behind the standing part and back over itself into the open loop
- Finish by pulling both sides of the knot tight. If the knot is correct, it will look like a ‘figure of eight’
Round turn and two half-hitches
This is a long name for a simple hitch used to attach a rope to a post, spar, tree, and so on. It is a composite knot formed from two simple knots.
- Form a round turn by turning the working end twice around the post
- Then form a half-hitch by taking the working end around the standing part forming a crossed loop
- Repeat to form a second half-hitch. These should be tied in the same direction and tightened up against the post to ensure that the round turn doesn’t slip
The clove hitch is another method of ‘hitching’ a rope to a post. Not as secure as the round turn and two half-hitches, it is often used to begin other hitches and lashings. There are many ways to tie a clove hitch. However, the one that
everyone should know is:
- Pass the working end over and under a railRun it across the standing part at the front
- Continue round the rail again and bring the working end back to trap it under the diagonal
Thus the two ends of the rope should be laid next to each other under the diagonal but running in opposite directions. The clove hitch looks like a
The timber hitch is a temporary knot used to drag, tow or lift a log or pole.
- Turn the working end round the standing part and then wrap it around itself at least four or five times
- A half-hitch can be tied in the standing part further up the log or pole to add some security
- The log is dragged by pulling the standing end
This hitch is a ‘slip hitch’. Pulled on the standing end it holds fast. Pulled on the working end it comes free. Thus it is used to tie a boat to a mooring ring or an animal to a rail or post.
- Start by passing a bight behind the rail
- Take another bight in the standing part and pass it in front of the rail and through the first bight
- Pull tight on the working end
- Then take a third in the working end and pass it in front of the rail- and through the second bight
- Pull tight on the standing part
This knot is used to shorten a rope, or to bridge a damaged length, without cutting the rope. It can be tied in the middle of the rope without needing the ends.
- Form the rope into a ‘S’, that is two opposing bights
- In each free end form a half-hitch
- Pass the adjacent bight through the halfhitch
- Pull the two free ends tight at the same time
If being used to bridge a damaged portion of rope, make sure the damaged part goes through both half-hitches. That is, the damaged portionshould be the centre of the ‘S’. The sheepshank should be kept in tension. If loosened it may well come undone.
Bowline (pronounced ‘bo-lin’)
The bowline is used to form a non-slip loop in the end of a rope. It was traditionally the climbers’s waist knot before harnesses were used.
- Form a loop by passing the working end over the standing part
- Pass the working end back up through the loop from behind and around the back of the standing part
- Pass the working end back down the loop and pull tight
- If using synthetic rope, the working end should be locked off against the adjacent standing part with a half-hitch. The bowline is invaluable in rescue situations but might have to be tied blind. Once you are comfortable with tying the knot, practise it with your eyes closed. It can sometimes be remembered by ‘the rabbit comes out of its hole, round the tree, and down the hole again
Parts of the rope
Figure of eight
Round turn and two half-hitches