Boating has been part of human history since prehistoric times, with archaeological finds dating back to 8200 BCE. Wooden boats have played a key part in the development of human history for millennia since they were first used in ancient Sumeria and Egypt. 

Since then, generation after generation has taken to the water for commerce, food, exploration, and the pure enjoyment. For nearly as long, the boating knot has been a crucial element of sailing, with 19th-century sailors even trading knots across global ports. 

Thanks to the modern convenience of the Internet and innovations in rope technology, learning and tying a good boating rope has never been easier. In this post from the boat canopy manufacturers at Canvasworks in Cokato, we’re breaking down the five essential boating knots every boater needs to know!

Practice these knots, then call us to order your custom boat canopy, heavy-duty boat cover, or custom boat upholstery.

The Usefulness of Boating Knots

A good boating knot is one of the most important things you can learn if spend time out on the water. Although there are dozens of sailing knots you can potentially learn, you really only need a few good knots. 

These are just a few examples of times when knots can come in handy:

  • Tying your boat to the dock
  • Putting fenders out
  • Creating a rescue loop

No matter which knots you learn, it’s important to practice often to develop the muscle memory needed to create a good knot when needed. 

Grab a spare piece of rope and give these knots a try!

The Square Knot

Also known as the reef knot, the square knot is a simple knot that can be used to tie any two ropes together and can easily be undone if it doesn’t tighten too much. Sailors once used this knot to climb the rigging on tall ships and frigates. 

To make a square knot, follow these simple directions:

  1. Begin by holding one end of a rope in each hand.
  2. Cross the right end over the left end to create an "X" shape.
  3. Bring the right end under the left end, pulling it through the loop that just formed.
  4. Now, take what is currently the right end (which was the left end originally) and cross it over the left end again.
  5. Bring that end under and through the loop, just like in step 3.
  6. Pull on both ends of the rope to tighten the knot, making sure both ends come out parallel to each other on each side of the knot.


This reliably secure knot is useful for joining two ropes of equal thickness and is commonly used in camping, boating, and various crafts. However, don't use it for carrying or securing heavy loads. 

The Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is one of the most essential knots and is ideal for temporarily tying something to a post or pole. This handy knot dates back to at least the 18th century and is considered to be equal to the bowline in importance. 

The clove hitch, made using two successive half-hitches, can easily be adjusted by feeding rope in from either direction.

To tie a clove hitch, follow these steps for a secure and easily adjustable knot, often used for securing ropes to posts, trees, or any cylindrical object:

  1. Approach the object (like a post) with one end of the rope.
  2. Wrap the rope around the object so that it crosses over itself, creating a crossing turn.
  3. Lead the rope around the object again, parallel to the first wrap.
  4. Tuck the end of the rope under the second wrap, ensuring it goes over the first wrap and then under itself.
  5. Pull both ends of the rope to tighten the clove hitch around the object. The friction between the wraps holds the knot firmly in place.

This knot is particularly useful for beginning or ending lashings, hanging hammocks, or securing loads during transport.

The Cleat Hitch

Often used to secure a boat to a dock, the cleat hitch is simple to learn and easy to use. It is used frequently by boaters and on land since it can quickly be tied and untied without much effort. 

To tie a cleat hitch, follow these instructions for a strong and reliable fastening:

  1. Approach the cleat with the rope and loop the free end of the rope over the far horn of the cleat.
  2. Wrap the rope under the near horn of the cleat, then back over the top, creating a full turn around the base of the cleat.
  3. Cross the rope over the first loop, and then loop it over the opposite horn to form a figure-eight pattern across the top of the cleat.
  4. After making the figure-eight, make one final loop by passing the free end of the rope under itself before the last overhand loop. This creates a locking loop.
  5. Pull on the free end to tighten the hitch, ensuring it is secure. The knot should have a neat, tidy appearance, with the locking loop effectively securing the knot from slipping.

This knot is essential for boaters. It provides a secure and quick method for mooring a vessel to a dock or attaching a line to a deck cleat.

The Bowline

The bowline knot is an ancient knot that is considered by many to be the “king of knots” due to the important role it has played in sailing small watercraft over the centuries. 

Reliable, simple, and easy to use, the bowline is used to create a loop at the end of a rope that can be easily tied and untied. 

To tie a bowline knot, follow these steps for a reliable hitch:

  1. Form a small loop (the rabbit hole) in the standing part of the rope, making sure the loop is big enough to work with but not too large.
  2. Pass the free end of the rope (the rabbit) up through the loop from the underside.
  3. Then, bring the free end behind (around the back of) the standing part of the rope.
  4. Bring the free end back down and pass it through the loop (rabbit hole) again, this time from the top to the bottom.
  5. Hold the free end and the standing part of the rope with one hand, and with the other hand, pull the loop tight around the rope passing through it.
  6. Adjust the size of the loop as necessary before fully tightening the knot by pulling on the standing part of the rope. The bowline knot should resemble a loop with a knot outside that does not slip.

This classic knot is indispensable for creating a non-slip loop at the end of a rope. It is useful in sailing, climbing, and rescue situations due to its ease of untying even after bearing a heavy load.

The Figure Eight Knot

Also known as the figure-of-eight knot, this is a classic stopper knot that is useful for both rock climbing and sailing. It is similar to the overhand knot but easier to untie when it jams.

To tie a figure-eight knot, well-regarded for its simplicity and strength, useful for preventing ropes from running out of retaining devices, follow these steps:

  1. Start with the rope in hand, leaving ample tail for the knot.
  2. Make a single loop in the rope by bringing the tail over and under the standing part.
  3. Pass the tail over the standing part again to create a "figure-eight" pattern by laying it parallel to the initial loop.
  4. Continue by bringing the tail up through the lower loop of the "eight," following the path of the rope back through the pattern you just created.
  5. Finish the knot by pulling the tail all the way through and then tightening both the loop and standing part of the rope to secure the knot.


This knot forms a stopper at the end of the rope or integrates into more complex knot systems in activities where safety is critical.

Protect & Secure Your Boat with a Custom Boat Canopy 

Learning these essential boating knots is just one of the things you can do to prepare for this year’s boating season. To order your custom boat upholstery and boat covers, call us at 320-559-0165 or contact us online. 

Don’t forget to vist our online gallery and check out our custom boat covers today!