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~ Written for Wavelength Magazine 07/12/98 ~


Whether you are a paddler, a climber or just simply need to tie things down once in a while, here's a handy knot to know for all aspects of outdoor activities. In case you haven't heard of a "Bowline"(pronounced bo-lin), it is one of the old mariners standards.

Traditionally, it was used to tie the bow end of a ship to the dock or mooring, hence the name "bow-line". When the heaving of ocean swells would continually attempt to tug a ship or even a small boat from its ties, it would eventually jerk most knots used otherwise into such a tight wad, that even a marlin spike could barely release the knot. The design of the bowline is such that no matter how tight the knot is jerked tight, most of the time it can simply be bent apart and loosened by hand.

Of course the bowline knot has many more practical purposes other than tying a boat to the dock. Mountain climbers use it to 'tie in' a rope to thier harness. Firemen have been known to use the knot in emergency situations, where sometimes one hand would be occupied by attending to a victim for example . With a twist and a flip of his remaining free hand and forearm he could artfully sling a rope around his own waist and tie a bowline knot to secure himself while still attending to the rescue. Other uses for the 'bowline' are for situations where the 'standing part' of line is under great tension. For example, tying down a canoe or kayak to a roof of a vehicle or anchoring a mountain climber to a tree. In these cases it could be the first knot used to tie a rope to a fixed point.  The 'standing part' of the rope can then be reefed extremely tight. The bowline will still be easily undone afterwards.

Another very important feature of the bowline knot is that it does not slip. No matter which line extending from the knot is pulled or tugged, it has no effect on the knot. It stands fast and maintains its form. The only drawback with this knot is that it is difficult to learn how to tie, using the traditional method.

As the ancient mariner might describe it; Create a 'rabbit hole'.  Pass the end of the rope around or through the object being tied to:

 knot1.gif (995 bytes)  

(click on images for a larger view)

The 'rabbit' then comes out of its 'rabbit hole',.... goes around the 'tree',....then back into it's 'rabbit hole':

knot2.gif (1596 bytes)         knot3&6.gif (1444 bytes)

Here is another faster, simple and very crafty method of tying the "Bowline":

Notice how it is possible to have the knot mostly tied even before having arrived at the location of where the knot is to be fixed! 

Tie a very loose hitch with a 'loop'. (Make sure the loop is from the 'standing part' of the line).  Pass the end of the rope around or through the object being tied to.....then throught the 'loop':

knot4.gif (1408 bytes)

Pull the standing part of the line so that the 'loop' pulls all the way back through the loose hitch knot, then tighten. The knot appears to turn 'inside out':

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With practice, this method can create a bowline with one flowing motion.

by Don Cole Harvey