My husband is an Eagle Scout and he is a knot-tying machine. He knows scores of knots and exactly when to use which ones. He is efficient and a total pro. It is pretty annoying, but I am glad someone on the boat has these skills, so I keep my opinions to myself.

I cannot tie knots to save my life. I learn, I practice, I struggle, I forget. Repeat. “If you don’t know what knot to tie, tie a lot of them,” my husband says helpfully as he watches me grappling with the most basic of tasks. Knot amusing.

Or he will try to break it down for me: “There is a rabbit, and he comes out of his hole, sees a fox, then gets scared and runs around a tree and goes back in his hole.” I’m sorry, WHAT? I am trying to tie a knot here and you are telling me some nursery rhyme? Please focus.

I chalk this up to the fact that I really am not one of those people who can see how things “work”. I put together a self-assembly file cabinet once, following the directions ever-so-carefully, and somehow managed to create a hermetically sealed container that had to be pried open with a crowbar, resulting in its ultimate demise. True story. This stuff doesn’t come naturally.

As part of The Plan, however, I realize that this is unacceptable. I really should have at least a few knots in my back pocket. So I have been working double-time on figuring it out, and with the help of my husband’s twin brother (also an Eagle Scout and highly skilled knot master) I finally think I have sorted a couple of them out. My newfound knowledge (with pictures!) shared below. As you will soon see, there are hundreds of knots. That is frankly too many out of the gate. For a beginner, here are the top four knots you should focus on first and when to use them.

Stopper Knot

A stopper knot is a knot that basically keeps the rope from slipping through a narrow passage. Specifically, it should be at the end of all ropes going through cam cleats, so that if things go amiss, the rope stops and you don’t completely lose your sheet (rope) with no chance of getting it back.

When you board your boat, just make sure there are knots at the end of the ropes. If there aren’t go ahead and tie one on!

Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is the knot you will use to tie the fenders to the lifelines. You do this every time you Mediterranean moor, tie up to a dock, and always when you come back to the marina.

My advice when tying a clove hitch for a fender is bring the rope on the side of the life line closest to you, go over the lifeline, cross back over your rope, then bring the end up through the “X” that you made. For a video demonstration including the addition of the “half hitch” click here.


This is the rabbit/fox knot. I kind of get it now, but had a really hard time identifying the players at first. Check out our video of how to tie this knot (click here) complete with the forest animal associations. The important thing to know is that this knot is helpful for many purposes, most notably we recently have used it for Mediterranean Mooring to put around the cleats on the side before tossing the stern or dock lines (ropes) ashore.

Cleat Hitch

You’ll use this one all of the time – tying your dinghy to the boat, tying the bow line for Mediterranean Mooring and more! It is super easy, you just have to get the last part right, which is basically “turning over” the loop so the end of the rope is under the loop.


If a little more instruction and detail is needed – and believe me, I still have to think through these – you are in luck! There are some terrific knot-tying resources out there. One of my favorites is animated knots.  Their slogan is Better to know a knot and not need it, than need a knot and not know it”. Nicely done animated knots.

The American Sailing Association (ASA) also has some pretty handy information about all things sailing – not a surprise – and their Knots Made Easy Videos are top knotch [sic]. Check it out!

Knots Made Easy Videos