What Knot To Do

By BoatUS Editorial Staff

For every task on a boat, there's usually a knot that goes with it. Here are five knots commonly used by trailer boat owners.

The Wagon Hitch (sometimes called the Wagoner Hitch)

This began as its name implies; a knot to secure goods being transported on a wagon. Today, it's still used, as a replacement for broken tie downs on trailers to keep the boat in place while underway at high speeds. Some Trailering Club Members never use a tie down, and rely solely on the Wagon Hitch to keep their boat on the trailer. In any event, it's a good knot to know when it's needed.

Step 1. Secure one end to the boat or trailer frame opposite of where you intend to tie the knot (in some instances, Wagon Hitches have been used on both sides). Now, put a loop in the length that will go around the trailer.

Step 2. Put a bight (another loop) in the loop you've just made.

Step 3. Now secure the working end of the line around the trailer frame.

Step 4. Bring the working end through the second loop you made in the line and then back down to the trailer. Secure it or, if there is excess line once the Wagon Hitch is complete, wrap it around the trailer frame and tape the end.

Photo of tying a Wagon Hitch, Step 1
Photo of tying a Wagon Hitch, Step 2
Photo of tying a wagon hitch, step 3

The Cleat Hitch

This is a common knot used for the cleats on the bow and or transom of the boat. It's commonly used to secure dock lines on the boat.

Step 1. Start by making the first turn around the cleat horn farthest away from where the line is coming from. Then cross over the cleat diagonally and go around the second horn.

Step 2. Cross over the cleat again and do another wrap around the horn.

Step 3. Finish the cleat hitch with a "Lock" the line on the cleat using a half hitch (as shown).

Step 4. It's not necessary to make more wraps around the cleat because this can slow you if the line has to be quickly undone. The finished cleat hitch should cross the cleat three times. You can flemish the excess line as shown.

Photo of tying a Cleat Hitch Step 1
Photo of tying a Cleat Hitch Step 2
Photo of tying a Cleat Hitch Step 3

The Bowline

This is one of the most common knots used on a boat. A bowline is tied to attach a line around a piling (make the bowline and slip the opposite end of the line through the loop and pull it taught), it can be used to tie a sheet around a genoa jib on a sailboat or for a variety of other purposes when a strong knot is required.

Note: There's a "bow line" (usually two dock lines attached to a boat's bow in a slip) and then there's the "bowline" (the knot often used in securing a dock line).

Step 1. Make a loop a few feet from the end of a line held vertically. The line facing down should be on top in the loop you make.

Step 2. Bring the end of that line up through the loop. Now, take the end around the line on the top.

Step 3. Now put it through the loop. (Old salts learned this by saying "the rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and goes back into the hole"). Tighten the bowline by pulling on the top of the line and the loop at the same time.

Photo of tying a Bowline Step 1
Photo of tying a Bowline Step 2
Photo of tying a Bowline Step 3

The Clove Hitch

The Clove Hitch is a simple and basic knot used to tie your boat onto a piling or to secure something on a temporary basis (boat fenders can be tied to a lifeline with the clove hitch). If you intend to stay tied for a longer period of time, use the Buntline Hitch.

Step 1. Put a turn around a piling putting the working end (bitter end) diagonally across the turn. Bring it back in front of you.

Step 2. Tuck the bitter end of the line beneath the diagonal and pull it through.

Step 3. A Clove Hitch always has a single line crossing over two other lines.

Photo of tying a Clove Hitch Step 2
Photo of tying a Clove Hitch Step 3

The Pile Hitch

As it's name suggests, the pile hitch is used on pilings at the dock. The key to using this hitch is not to have any tension on the other end of the line and to have enough time to get a get a turn around the piling. This is a strong knot but you'll have two ends, instead of one, coming back to the boat to be cleated which can be more trouble than you want.

Step 1. Make sure you are close enough to the piling to get a looped line around it. As you complete the first turn of the line around the piling, bring the loop up and over the line.

Step 2. The loop you've made is going to have to be large enough to go up and over the piling.

Step 3. Tighten the pile hitch you've just tied and secure it to the boat.

Photo of tying a Pile Hitch Step 1
Photo of tying a Pile Hitch Step 2
Photo of tying a Pile Hitch Step 3


For more information go to: Chapman Deck of Essential Knots www.amazon.com 

— Published: August 2013

BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at WestMarine.com
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!