Tie a Bowline

Here are three ways to tie a bowline, the King of Knots.

| October/November 1994

  • 146 tie a bowline 1a 1b
    Diagram shows the first two of four basic steps used to tie a bowline. 1a) Rotate your wrists out, allowing a few inches of the short (working) end of the rope to extend on the right. 1b) Immediately bring your hands together with your right above the left, rotating your right wrist so that your right palm faces down again — the hitch will form itself.
    ILLUSTRATION: BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline - 2a
    2a) Use the following method to tie a bowline around an object. 2a) pass the rope around an object and then hitch it around its own standing part.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 1c 1d
    1c) Pass the working end through the hitch, behind the standing part of the line, and back through the hitch. 1d) The short working end should now lie inside the working loop.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 2b
    2b) Transfer the hitch you have just formed around the standing part of the rope to the working end.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 2c
    2c) Finish by interlocking your loop into the hitch and trapping the standing part as in the instructional bowline.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 3b
    3b) Pinch the crossed ropes between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand, thumb down. The large loop formed will be the working loop of the knot.While rotating both palms back down, bring your hands together, slapping the working end across the standing part.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 3a
    3a) Start by draping the rope across your hands with both palms up, the working end to the right.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 5
    Application of a reinforced bowline, bowline noose, and bowline bend.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 3c
    3c) With your left hand, use the left leg of the loop you have just made to wrap a hitch around the working end in your right hand.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline 4a
    Tying a reinforced bowline entails one more pass around and through.
    BARRY ROSS
  • 146 tie a bowline - jim sullivan
    In addition to writing and tying knots, Jim Sullivan likes to paint.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 146 tie a bowline 1a 1b
  • 146 tie a bowline - 2a
  • 146 tie a bowline 1c 1d
  • 146 tie a bowline 2b
  • 146 tie a bowline 2c
  • 146 tie a bowline 3b
  • 146 tie a bowline 3a
  • 146 tie a bowline 5
  • 146 tie a bowline 3c
  • 146 tie a bowline 4a
  • 146 tie a bowline - jim sullivan

The bowline (pronounced bo-lin) is the single most important knot for all outdoors people, on land or ashore. Its job is to make a loop in the end of a rope. This allows you to put your rope to use by attaching it to an object such as a hook, a post, or even another rope. The bowline is traditionally preferred to the many other possible loop knots because it is secure, it won't come untied, it is easy to tie under difficult conditions, and it is easy to untie — a requirement of good knots.  

The bowline is always one of the first knots taught. Once learned, it serves as a basis for understanding many other important knots. But surprisingly few people know how to tie a bowline — and even fewer can make reliable use of it in the field. This is often because your physical orientation to a rope can be different in the field than it was when you learned the knot while sitting in a comfortable chair with a knot book open in your lap and a clean, supple length of practice cord in your hand. In the field, you may suddenly find yourself having to tie it in stiff material, upside down, with freezing fingers, in the dark, or around the object rather than "in hand."

Think of the bowline simply as an interlocking hitch and loop. Perhaps a dozen different methods have evolved to tie it under all conditions, but you need only three of them to tie your way out of most situations. Once you learn to visualize the knot, you won't need to follow the precise directions given here or anywhere else. Half the fun of tying knots is developing your own style.

Instructional Bowline

Although a somewhat pedestrian version, this is often the first method taught because it so clearly illustrates the structure. In this method you form the hitch first, the loop second.



Stretch the rope out on a table with the working end on the right and place your hands on it, palms down. As you pick it up, rotate your wrists out, allowing a few inches of the short (working) end of the rope to extend on the right.

Immediately bring your hands together with your right above the left, rotating your right wrist so that your right palm faces down again — the hitch will form itself. You can gain additional control by twisting the rope between your forefinger and thumb, then pinching it with your left hand. That's the end of step one; it takes about two seconds. Getting this correct is probably the most important step. The hitch should be pointing away from you, the right side should be over the left, and the working end should be leading off to the right. Practice these few steps until you can do them without thinking about it. Step two involves interlocking the loop into the hitch. You can do this in two stages. First, with your right hand, thread the working end (on the right) up through the hitch. The big loop you are making now will be the functional loop of the knot, so adjust it to the size required at this point.

David Chapus
3/19/2012 6:42:07 PM

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