Tie a Bowline

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

| October/November 1994

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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