How To Tie a Sailor’s Bowline Knot


There are many different types of knots that sailors need to learn to be more efficient in and out of the waters. There’s the figure-8 knot, the square knot or the reef knot, the clove hitch, and several others. One of the most essential knots that every sailor should learn is the bowline knot. It is actually a very easy knot to learn, yet is still considered to be one of the most reliable knots available to sailors.

Because of its reliability, many people from other fields also use the bowline knot like mountaineers, firefighters, and rescuers. Even campers consider the bowline knot to be one of the essential camping knots. Below is an outline of the bowline knot including its pros and cons, applications, as well as for instructions on how to tie a bowline knot and its other variants.

What Is a Bowline Knot?

Accordingly, the bowline knot is a simple and ancient knot that has been used way back into the days of the pharaohs, as evidenced by the excavation of a solar ship owned by the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. The knot forms a fixed loop at the end of a rope, with the loop providing a host of benefits that make this knot ever so useful. That said, the bowline knot is considered to be one of the most essential knots that everyone who wants to learn how to sail must master.

The bowline knot, simple as it may appear to be, is actually pretty strong, retaining about 60%-75% of its strength and has a knot efficiency of around 75%. Of course, these numbers can either be positively or negatively influenced by a variety of other factors like the nature of the rope, the material it is made from, and others.

Application of the Bowline Knot

The bowline knot is one of the easiest knots to learn and make, but it is also reliable and strong making it perfect for use in many settings and applications.

In the sailing community, the bowline knot is commonly used in sailing small watercraft and is employed when it comes to fastening a halyard to the head of a sail. It is also used in tying a jib sheet to the clew of a jib. However, being the king of the knot does not mean that you can use it in every situation like when tying your anchor rope to the boat anchor (in which case you need to do the anchor hitch).

Rescuers and mountain climbers also use the bowline knot a lot when attaching themselves to their harnesses and to anchor the other end to something heavy. As mentioned, the bowline knot is strong and reliable and is capable of holding securely onto the person.

There are plenty of other applications for the bowline knot aside from sailing and mountaineering. Some campers use it to tie their camping hammocks to trees or rocks which makes it a great choice since the knot strengthens when you get in the hammock (the knot strengthens when under load).

Tying a Bowline Knot

Learning how to tie a bowline knot is very easy, and even if you haven’t tied any knot before you should still be able to learn how to tie a bowline knot in a matter of minutes.

Before we get to the specific instructions though, there are certain things you need to know or be aware of. First, there are two ends of the knot: the standing end and the working end. The standing end refers to the part of the rope that just hangs loose, whereas the working end is the one that you move around when tying the knot.

You can also use a mnemonic (the “Bunny” mnemonic as it is fondly called) to help make it easier to remember. Here the working end is the rabbit, the loops are the rabbit hole, and the standing end is the tree.

With that out of the way, let’s get started with tying a bowline knot.

  1. Place the rope with the working end facing you and the standing away facing away.
  2. Take the working end leaving plenty of extra lengths and then make a small loop in the line. The loop should lay over the standing end and not under it.
  3. Pass the working end of the rope through the loop from below (the rabbit climbs out of the hole).
  4. Pull the working end through the loop and then cross it under the standing end (the rabbit goes around the tree).
  5. Pass the working end through the loop, this time from the above or over the loop (the rabbit dives back into the hole).
  6. Pull the working end until it tightens, and then you have a nice, secure bowline knot.

If you’re boating with your kids and teaching them how to tie a bowline knot, use the mnemonic to make it easier for them to remember the steps.

Advantages of the Bowline Knot

One of the advantages of a bowline knot is that it allows you to create a loop with your rope. If you’ve been working with boats or even a rope a lot, you’ll understand how helpful and useful loops can be in your everyday tasks. For instance, it is much easier to attach and tighten your rope to a peg, pole, or pilings by simply tossing and pulling the loop tightly over it.

Another advantage of the bowline knot is that it is very easy to tie and untie. In general, sailors and boat enthusiasts are capable of tying a bowline knot in a matter of minutes, with the more experienced folks being able to do it even faster.

As for untying the bowline knot, you simply need to shake it out if it is not under any pressure or load. But even if it is, it is still much easier to untie a bowline knot, unlike other knots which tend to over-tighten and lock-up after excessive stress or pressure has been applied to it, which often happens when the rope and knot are used in tying together or lifting heavy loads.

Bowline knots can also be tied by using only one hand, and many rescuers are taught how to do this during their training. Even people engaged in mountaineering or other climbing sports are required to learn how to tie a bowline knot using only one hand. This can be pretty handy when you need to tie a knot but have only one hand free.

Disadvantages of the Bowline Knot

Although the bowline knot is considered to be the King of Knots, it doesn’t mean that it is not without faults. Some of these are mostly caused by poorly tied knots, while others are due mostly to the inherent nature of the knot.

As mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of a bowline knot is that it is easy to untie. Unfortunately, this is also one of its weaknesses. Because of this particular feature of the bowline knot, there are instances when the knot becomes undone when shaken violently. Pulling it sideways can also cause the knot to slip which is why it’s not recommended for use when tying boat covers as the sideways movements of the fabric while flapping in the wind may cause it to come loose.

Also, because the knot is somehow loose you may find that it has capsized or rearranged itself into a different knot. This can be a real headache when it happens because undoing the knot then becomes a challenging and cumbersome task.

Despite these drawbacks, the bowline knot is still one of the best types of knots available for sailors and anyone else who find themselves working with ropes. The different advantages and effectiveness of the bowline knot have proven to overshadow its disadvantages in various settings and applications.

Types and Variants of the Bowline Knot


There are also different variants of the bowline knot, many of which were created to improve upon the original design’s strength and efficiency. Below are some of the most well-known and widely used versions, although many other variants may be available.

  • Cossack Bowline. The Cossack bowline is made by tying the knot around the loop as opposed to tying it around the standing end of the line. This version of the bowline knot is much better at keeping the knot from shaking loose (which again is one of the weaknesses of the original bowline knot). The Cossack bowline is also recommended for use when you need to stretch the loop wide.
  • Double Bowline Knot. With the double bowline knot (also called the round turn bowline), you wrap the initial loop twice instead of once. This version of the bowline knot is mostly used by rescuers and mountain climbers who need to undo and re-tie their loops several times while climbing.
  • Water Bowline. The water bowline is another version that addresses the original bowline knot’s weakness of easily shaking loose. This can be done by making two initial loops and then overlapping them, with the loop closer to the standing end on top.
  • Running Bowline. The running bowline is actually a noose and creates an adjustable loop that can be tightened by drawing it up. It is also considered to be more secure than the original bowline knot and works well in rigging situations with the sliding knot being tied around trees or posts. It is also used in retrieval operations by throwing the large loop of the knot around an item and then cinching it down by pulling on the standing end of the line.
  • Bowline on a Bight. The version of the bowline knot is used in instances where you need to create a dependable loop but neither end of the line is available. That said, it creates a secure loop in the middle length of the rope. The main advantage of this knot is that it is easy to untie, making it a good knot for climbing harnesses. To make this knot, you need to form a loop by passing the end of a bight over the standing end and then pulling t through the loop. After that, open the bight and then pass it over the entire knot until it encircles the standing ends. Pull the loop down to tighten the knot.
  • Yosemite Tie-Off. This is basically a bowline locked with a tie-off finish. The Yosemite tie-off is predominantly used to add strength to an ordinary bowline knot. It also prevents the bowline knot from capsizing into a dangerous slip knot. To do the Yosemite tie-off, you first need to make a loop as with the original bowline knot. That is, make a loop and pass the working end of the line through the loop, around the standing end, and back through the loop. After that, pass the working end through the larger loop, then pass it back up through the smaller loop. Pull-on the working end of the rope encircling the standing end to tighten the knot. It is important to follow the steps correctly and to practice making the knot several times since incorrect knot construction can result in the knot capsizing or becoming loose.

Globo Surf Overview

As can be seen above, the bowline knot is one of the most important knots that sailors should learn because of its ease of use, reliability, and applicability in a variety of situations and settings. From tying your sails to your boat to mooring your boat, the bowline knot is one that you can always rely on and depend on. So why not grab a rope and start practicing how to tie a bowline knot after reading this? Follow the steps outlined above and you’ll be making bowline knots with ease.

More Sail Reviews:


  1. How to Tie a Bowline and Other Sailing Knots, Trident Marine Insurance
  2. Bowline Knot, Animated Knots
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!