Marine Knots That You Need To Know!

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on June 30, 2020. In marlinespike

USCG Exam Boat Knots Chart

All sailors should have a good grasp of how to tie boat knots. Knot-tying and boating go hand in hand, and knowing how to properly tie a knot will make life on the water easier. Marine knots can be used for mooring, securing loads, moving cargo, and saving lives. In fact, they can be used for so much more than just those purposes.

Knots are such an important part of boating that you’ll need to know them if you’re planning on taking your USCG license exam. You won’t be expected to actually tie knots, but you will find several questions concerning the names of knots and their intended use. Below, we’ve put together a list of some of the most important nautical knots and their purposes.

USCG Exam Boat Knots Chart

(The illustration above was taken directly from the U.S. Coast Guard exam prep materials.)

Essential Sailing Knots That Every Boater Should Know

Figure 8 Knot

The Figure 8 knot, sometimes called the Flemish Bend, is an essential stopper knot that all boaters should know. It’s used to stop the line from slipping, and it’s basically a non-slip knot found at the end of a rope. It’s strong, easy to inspect, and very reliable.

Bowline Knot

The Bowline Knot is often known as the King of Knots. It’s one of those essential sailing knots that can be used for a number of important jobs. It’s a special knot that forms a temporary loop on a rope that can be thrown over a piling or another object, making a secure loop that won’t jam or slip.

Bowline On A Bight

The Bowline On A Bight is a variation of the standard Bowline Knot that’s used for rescuing humans. It features a number of loops that rescuers can use to transport a person safely, passing a leg through each loop, or both legs through one, and the torso through another. This is known as a Bosun’s Chair. It’s one of the most essential marine knots for rescue operations.

French Bowline

The French Bowline is a variation of the Bowline On A Bight, and it’s also used for rescue purposes. It can also be referred to as the Portuguese Bowline.

Cleat Hitch

A Cleat Hitch is used for attaching a line to a cleat on the dock or on the boat. It’s a simple knot but many newbies get this one very wrong. Since attaching a rope to a cleat is such an important part of boating, mastering the cleat hitch is essential!

Half Hitch

The Half Hitch is a basic knot that’s usually used to bolster another stronger knot. It’s most often used to secure something to an object, feeding the end of the line (or bitter end) back through a bight. For the best results, pair this knot with something like a Clove Hitch.

Marline Hitch

The Marline Hitch has many similarities to the classic Half Hitch but it’s used differently. The Marline Hitch is a temporary knot that can be used to bundle items together, or as a handle, and for many other jobs. Typically, it’s used with other sailing knots to lash canvas to a spar.

Square Knot

A square knot is a specific knot that is used to join two lines together. It’s also known as a Reef Knot, and can be used to join two ropes of different diameters together. It’s one of the most popular marine knots.

Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

The Round Turn and Two Half Hitches is a knot that features two parts: a round turn, and two half hitches. It’s used to securely fasten an object. It’s often used for permanent tie-ups. For example, a Round Turn and Two Half Hitches could be used to tie up to a piling. It’s not as strong as an Anchorbend (Fisherman’s Bend) though.

Clove Hitch

Unlike the Round Turn and Two Half Hitches, a Clove Hitch is used to temporarily attach a line to an object. For example, it could be used to hold a mooring buoy. It’s not the securest of knots, however, if it’s followed with a Half Hitch, it’s much safer. The Clove Hitch is a very common knot.


The Sheepshank is one of those essential marine knots. It’s simple to learn and will come in handy time and time again. It’s mainly used to temporarily shorten a rope or strengthen a weak section of line. It’s not a stable knot though, and too little or too much stress can cause it to come undone.


The Anchorbend, also known as the Fisherman’s Bend, is actually a hitch rather than a knot or a bend! It’s primarily used for permanently attaching a line to an anchor or a ring. If you’re using an anchor, then this is the only knot to use.

Timber Hitch

A Timber Hitch is a specific hitch used for hauling cylindrical objects. Typically, it’s used for pulling timber either on land or afloat on water. It can also be known as a Bowyer’s knot. While hauling timber might not be on top of your priorities list, it’s a very useful knot to learn.

Becket or Sheet Bend

The Becket Bend, also known as the Sheet Bend, is arguably the most essential knot that any boater should know. In the famous Ashley Book of Knots, the Sheet Bend is the first listed! Used to join two lines of different size or rigidity together, this quick and easy-to-use knot is useful for many applications.

Double Sheet Bend

The Double Sheet Bend is similar to the regular Sheet Bend, but it features an additional round turn. A Doble Sheet Bend is used when added knot security is required, particularly when joining two lines of unequal diameters.

Plain Whipping

Common whipping, or plain whipping, is a special knot used to stop the end of a rope from unraveling. It’s easy to perform and requires no tools, making it a practical way to whip the end of a line.

Sailmaker’s Whip

The Sailmaker’s Whip is a durable rope whipping, often quoted as being the most satisfying whipping of all. It’s a secure whipping that prevents the end of a rope from fraying. It’s not your average knot and requires the use of a sailmaker’s needle to properly execute.

Blackwall Hitch

The Blackwall Hitch is a basic hitch that’s used to secure a rope to a cargo hook. Essentially, it’s a half hitch over a hook. Since it’s such a basic knot, it’s not for permanent attachments, and it can slip and become unsecured very easily.

Double Blackwall Hitch

The Double Blackwall Hitch is identical to the single Blackwall Hitch, but it features a second hitch for a more secure and controllable knot.

Carrick Bend

The Carrick Bend has many other names. It’s a special knot designed for joining together two lines in a strong and secure way. It’s ideal for heavy ropes, and it can support heavy loads easily. Unlike many other knots, the Carrick Bend can easily be untied, even after being soaked in water or carrying heavy burdens.

Ashley Stopper Knot

The Ashley Stopper Knot is one of many types of stopper knots. The Ashley variant is a bulky stopper knot that’s found at the end of a rope. Its size makes it ideal for a number of boating applications.

Barrel Hitch

The Barrel Hitch is a special knot and rope assembly used for hoisting cargo—barrels, in particular. The Barrel hitch can be used for more than just cargo though. It’s a useful rope arrangement for suspending tools and keeping things out of your way on deck.

Rolling Hitch

A Rolling Hitch is most commonly used for fastening a line to a spar. It can also be used to attach one line to another. It’s a special knot because it can be tied and untied whilst under load, plus, it won’t slip either. Be careful though, because some rope materials aren’t ideally suited for this kind of knot.



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