The Bowline Knot

The Bowline Knot – The Essential Knot for Sailors

the bowline knot

The bowline must be the most popular knot in the sailing world.  One of the first knots to be mastered by the novice sailor it is considered to be one of the most versatile and trusted knots a sailor will use.  Whilst, not the strongest knot it is easy to tie even with one hand and can be untied when under load.  So why is it called a bowline?


The bowline was a favoured knot during the age of sail and was called such because it was used to secure the sails on a square-rigged ship in a forward position towards the bow.  This was done in order to sail close-hauled and the bowline would stop the sail being blown back (taken aback) onto the mast.

Examples of bowlines were also discovered in Egypt on the Khufu’s solar ship.  This barge was discovered in 1954 in a sealed pit in the Giza Pyramid complex.  The ship dates back to 2500BC and is believed to be a ceremonial ship used by King Cheops.

Bowline Statistics

Whenever a knot is tied it weakens the rope being used.  When subjected to a pull-test the bowline performs well and will break at 70-75% of the rope’s full strength.  The strongest knot is a figure-eight follow-through knot.  Whilst the bowline is a strong and stable knot it can have a tendency to work loose when not under load.  It can also capsize (alter its structure) either from misuse or incorrect tying.  It is possible to use a variation on the basic bowline to improve its safety.

Bowline Variations

There are many variations on the bowline.  There is the Cossack Bowline, the Double Bowline and the Water Bowline.  Then there is the Cowboy or Dutch Bowline a Portuguese Bowline and Running Bowline to name just a few.  For a bowline with added security, it is recommended that a Water Bowline or Double Bowline is used.

How to tie 5 Bowline Variations:

The video below shows you how to tie the following: A Yosemite Bowline which doesn’t slip; a Water Bowline which is useful for wet lines; a Round-Turn Bowline which is more secure than a normal bowline and will lay better than Water Bowline; a Bowline in a Bight which is handy for a long line if you don’t want the knot at either end; and lastly a Twin Bowline Bend.


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