Bowline Knots

The bowline knot is one of the six main knots that are used by Boy Scouts.  It’s not only handy, but it’s a requirement for First Class Scout:

8a. Demonstrate tying the bowline knot and describe several ways it can be used.

It’s also a knot that has subjected me to lots of questions which I’ll tackle here.  First, a couple of definitions about ropes.

  • Standing end: The part of the rope you’re not tying.  Hand it to your buddy.  That half is the “standing end”.
  • Working end: The opposite end of the “standing end,” which you’re actively using to tie.
  • Loop: a full circle of rope where the rope is crossed
  • Dressing a knot: arranging the knot to look correct and properly tightening it

Q: How do you tie a bowline, correctly?

Like this

Q: Why is it important to dress my bowline knots?

An improperly dressed bowline can collapse into a noose.  Make sure to tie it correctly or it will function the exact opposite of what you intend!

Q: How do you pronounce bowline?

Bo-lynn.  Think of it as if it was written like this – bolin

Q: Is it the same knot if my working end is outside the loop vs. inside the loop?

They do pretty much the same job, though some sources disagree.  A correct bowline knot will have the working end (tail end) on the inside of the loop.  If it ends up on the outside, it’s called a cowboy bowline (or Dutch marine bowline, or Dutch bowline, or left-handed bowline)

Q: What’s a bowline knot good for, anyway?

  1. It’s a rescue knot for those that might need to be pulled up.  The loop won’t constrict because of the knot, cinching around any body parts.
  2. The knot is used in small sailboats to attach the head of the sail to a halyard.

Q: How much does this knot weaken the rope?

It depends on a lot of factors, but generally the bowline reduces the overall rope strength to 2/3.

Q: How long (or short) should the tail end of the knot be when I’m done?

The rule of thumb is to make the tail (the part below the knot and inside the loop) a length that is about 12 times the diameter of the rope you’re using.

Q: I like the bowline.  Are there other cool variations on it?

Check out the double bowline, water bowline, Yosemite bowline and bowline on a bight.

Q: Why do I care about bowline knots?

  1. It’s needed for advancement to First Class.
  2. It’s a knot that useful, especially in rescue.
  3. Any scout in our troop that reads this post, tells me something they learned from it, and demonstrates a bowline will get a free drink, purchased courtesy of the Scoutmaster at one of our meetings (limit 1 per scout).
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