Learning how to tie knots and handle rope properly are essential skills to safe boating. Generally speaking, a good knot holds whatever it is designed to, and is also easy to untie.
Sailors will disagree over which knots are "best" to learn, but the knots below are reasonable choices--learning them well will significantly improve your capabilities on the water. Many of them are also useful for other outdoor activities, such as hiking, climbing, and camping, so you will likely be able to use them outside of Ephemerisle.
As with any skill, knot tying is "use it or lose it" skill. Ideally, you want to be so proficient that you can tie these knots rapidly from many different angles, and under varying conditions (cold, rain, heat, fatigue, wind, and darkness). This will require regular, frequent practice. The best way to do this is to get out on the water regularly. However, that may not be easy to do, so another way is to make or buy a pocket knot tying guide and practice with a bit of paracord when watching TV, standing in line at the grocery store, on the bus, etc. You should be able to tie these knots with gloves, in the dark, and with your hands behind your back. "Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong."
If you don't remember how to tie a knot, ask the owner of the boat you are using to show you. Failing that, ask any Ephemerisler nearby if they know. Most will be happy to help. It's much better to suffer the minor embarrassment of asking for help, than damaging someone's expensive boat, or causing injury to someone else. Please ask before tying up to someone else's boat. If in a small craft, avoid tying to cleats used for anchor lines or cleats used to raft boats together. Sometimes boats need to be de-rafted or de-anchored in hurry, and a rat's nest of small craft lines can critically delay the process.
Knots everyone should know
These are knots that everyone at Ephemerisle should know (or functional equivalents), in order to not be a hazard to life and property.
- Bowline - Versatile knot which forms a strong loop, yet unties easily even after being under load. Use to tie a rope to a ring/pole/cleat, create a loop to throw to a person in trouble, and tie two ropes together. Can be tied with one hand in a few seconds, which is useful if you are injured, holding another line, or need to act quickly. If you learn only one knot, learn this one! Note that the bowline can work loose if not under load, and is easy to get wrong. For an additional safety factor, finish the bowline with double-overhand knot.
- Cleat Hitch - Use this to attach dock lines to a cleat.
- Slipped Buntline Hitch - Use this to temporarily tie up a dinghy or a kayak. A good temporary knot which will hold, but comes undone with one pull.
- Butterfly Coil - Ropes and lines must be coiled and stored properly, or else they will knot and tangle, making it difficult or impossible to deploy when needed. The butterfly coil is one method of of coiling rope so that it can be stored and deployed without twists/knots. If you have a very long rope, or limited arm strength, you can butterfly coil the rope over your neck, instead of your arm.
Other important knots
- Clove Hitch - A temporary knot used to tie and adjust fenders.
- Trucker's Hitch - The Trucker's Hitch is not a single, knot, but rather a system of knots that together make a ratchet strap out of rope. Use the Trucker's Hitch to tightly ratchet down a line around cargo (such as a backpack, kayak, etc.)
- Icicle Hitch- A gripping hitch. Can be used to relieve or distribute pressure on an anchor line, or to tie off a line securely to a post, or railing. Practical Sailor tests found it to be better than other gripping hitches, such as the rolling hitch.
- Buntline hitch - Used for securing lines to halyards and shackles.
- Figure Eight Stopper Knot - Used as a stopper, to prevent line from going through pulleys or winches. Also the basis for the Figure Eight Bend and Figure Eight On a Bight.
- Figure Eight Bend - Used for tying two ropes of roughly equal diameter together.
- Figure Eight On a Bight - Used for creating a loop in a rope. More secure than a bowline, but slower to tie, and harder to untie if it has been under load.
- Anchor hitch - Used for attaching anchor rodes to anchor shackles.
- Bowline on a Bight - Another way of tying a bowline when you don't have access to the end of the line.
Additional boating knots are listed on Animated Knots. 5 Essential Sailing Knots shows how to use some of them in practice. When reading knot-tying tutorials, you will likely encounter unfamiliar rope terminology, such as "bight", "bend", and "hitch". Learning this vocabulary is worthwhile, as it will help you understand tutorials, and communicate precisely when training others.