How to tie a bowline knot



1. Turn and face the standing part of the line.

2. Hold the standing part with your non-dominant hand. Keep some slack in the standing part.

3. Pick up the bitter end and make a loop. Lay the bitter end on top so that it crosses over the standing part. Place your thumb underneath and your index finger on top (it should look like illustration 1).

4. Twist the bitter end away and under the bight (see the arrow in illustration 1). After you do this, it should look similar to the second illustration. Leave a few inches of bitter end to finish the knot.

5. Pass the bitter end around the standing part, and back through the small bight (illustration 2 and illustration 3). Hold the standing part and pull on the bitter end to remove all slack from the knot.

Practice these five steps until you can tie the bowline knot in five seconds or less!


The bowline is probably the yachtie’s favourite knot and being able to tie a bowline quickly is important. It has many uses, including several that could be life-saving.

For everyday use you can make a bowline in the end of your shoreline to pass to someone ashore. Two bowlines can be used to join ropes together when passing a strong line for towing for instance. On our sailing courses yachts frequently anchor overnight in a bay on the island of Dhokos. They moor using the anchor and a line that is taken ashore in the dinghy (usually by Competent Crew candidates). Their task is to find a large tree or rock around which they can tie the rope in a bowline to hold the yacht safely overnight.

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Tying a bowline around something rather than tying it and then dropping it over a bollard is quite tricky but this method can help you.

If you are ever unlucky enough to have a man overboard, you can toss them a line with a bowline on the end to pass over your shoulders, giving you a secure tow.

Once you have mastered the bowline try these exercises to see how good you can get:

  • Tie a bowline around the leg of a chair to practice what it’s like to tie one around a tree
  • Tie a bowline behind your back (this is a climber’s trick)
  • Tie a bowline with one hand. If you can do this you’ll even impress Captain George, the Master of Marine Knots.

† Captain John Jamieson with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide.  Visit his website at for a free issue of the highly popular “Captain John’s Sailing Tips” newsletter.  Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, e-Books and more!

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