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How to Tie a Bowline Knot or Rescue Knot Tutorial with Pictures

Updated on December 24, 2012

The Bowline, or Rescue, Knot

The bowline is one of the four essential maritime knots, and perhaps the most important. It allows you to create a secure, general-purpose loop at the end of a line. Frequently used to attach lines to sails and for fastening pennants, bowlines are also referred to as the 'rescue knot' because a person who falls overboard can tie a bowline around their waist and be pulled to safety. If someone falls in a hole, he or she can tie a bowline and sit in the loop as a makeshift chair.

The bite. Note how the loop is to the right and how the tail end is crossed over top of the main portion of the line.
The bite. Note how the loop is to the right and how the tail end is crossed over top of the main portion of the line. | Source

How to tie a Bowline

Learning a knot from pictures alone is usually difficult, but the bowline is an easy knot to master. While bowlines are usually used to affix an item to the line, it is easiest to practice just with the line itself.

First, move several inches up the line, away from the tail end, and form a bight (also spelled bite), or small loop. For practice, leave about a foot of line below the loop. The loop should be to the right of the line, as shown in the picture.


Next, take the working end of the line and pass it through the bight, bringing it from back to front. Only bring a couple of inches through the loop, leaving the rest of the line free to form the knot's main loop.


Then, pass the working end behind the main line.


The last real step in forming the knot is passing the working end through the bight one more time. This time, bring the working end from front to back.


The final thing you need to do is grab on to the little tag of the working end, hold on to the main portion of the line and tug to tighten it down. As you can see, the knot to the right has not been tightened enough, but it is easier to see how the knot is formed. In real life, if you knot is this loose, you need to tighten it more.

How to Tie a Bowline

Why Learn how to Tie a Bowline?

If you are still unsure exactly how to form the bowline knot, watch the video above to see the process in action. The video also shows you how to easily crack the knot, or break it open, after it has been tightened down by use.

Knowing how to tie a bowline could literally save your life in an unexpected situation. It only takes a few minutes and a piece of rope (or cord, yarn, twine or anything else you can tie a knot in!) to learn - the next time you have a spare moment, give it a try.


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    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I always think I know how to do this until I actually have to! Great instruction1

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for the tips! No, I haven't done on on a square knot and I haven't heard of a folklore connection - I will have to check that out!

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Great hub. Figure out how to get it near the scouting programs. I don't know about SEO and stuff, but I am sure there are a bunch of little ones wanting to know. The video made it so simple too! I never knew the trick of releasing the knot until today. And, I ain't a tad pole either.

      Using the sheetbend for tents I remember too. Hey, have you written a hub on the square knot yet? There is a connection with that knot and marriage, may make for intrigue with folklore too.

      Have an awesome day . . .

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I have actually thought about writing a hub on tieing a bowline on a bight and was telling someone about the knot just a couple of days ago. It is a very useful knot to know! Unfortunately, even though I really like my knot hubs, they really aren't that popular overall. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Natasha. I was taught to tie the bowline behind my back as well! (Navy) There is also another useful bowline, the Bowline on the bight (or double bowline). The rope is doubled, the bowline tied, then the two loops separated, one is to sit in the other goes around the body. Often used with a bosun's chair. I understand you may know of these but didn't want to complicate your hub too much.

      Jeez! Looks like yours and outdoor skills? No wonder Ray Mears is always smiling.


    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks so much! If you have difficulty following the instructions, let me know what's difficult for you and I'll try to offer a better explanation.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Fantastic guide! I used to know how to tie this and several other knots, but I've completely forgotten. Guess I should get back to practicing @_@

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Yes, bowlines are used by hikers and climbers. I find it interesting that there are also a lot of terminology overlaps between sailing and climbing.

      Thanks to both Teaches and Vinaya for reading and commenting! I hope you find the knot easy to tie and, if you have any questions, be sure to let me know and I will try to answer them.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 6 years ago from Nepal

      This is something I have to learn because I have decided to go on a mountain expedition, and as a member of expedition team I must be able to tie knots.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      This is quite interesting to read and very valuable to know. I wonder if this is where the saying "to the bitter end" comes from? Anyway, it looks fairly simple to repeat and I will have to give it a try. Voted up for usefulness in life!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm honestly not sure why, but the bitter end is just the tail end of a line. My best guess: everything has to have a different name on a boat. If people on land can tell what you're talking about, it's time to change your terms!

    • rlbert00 profile image

      rlbert00 6 years ago from USA

      I have found this hub more useful than you will ever know. I spent some time at The Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands and have since been curious as to what the "bitter end" meant. So thank you for that.