Basic Marlinspike Seamanship - the top five knots you need to know to get started on the water

Published April 12th, 2021 by Bernardo

The old adage, “If you don’t know a knot, then just tie a lot,” speaks volumes about recreational boaters and their relationship to marlinspike seamanship. It seems that many mariners underestimate the importance of tying proper knots while out on the water and don’t understand the consequences of tying improper knots. The improper use of ropes while underway or at a mooring can cause vessel damage, a boating accident, serious bodily injury, and even knots that are too tight to untie.

What is marlinspike seamanship? Marlinspike seamanship broadly refers to the use of, working with, and storage of ropes, knot tying, and rope maintenance. Some seamen even take it as far as creating decorative works by splicing, whipping, lashing, and knotting particular ropes, or lines, as they are called once cut and prepared for work.

Today, though, we are going to dive into the five most imperative basic knots you need to know to get you started on the water and looking like a seasoned, salty pro! Let’s learn about some boating basics.


Pronounced bō-lən, the bowline knot is an incredibly popular and frequently used knot in boating. It can withstand a heavy load without becoming overly tightened, making it easy to untie. It creates a temporary and secure eye, or loop, to be used in a number of scenarios. It can be looped around a cleat or used to secure a fender or throwable PFD, among other uses. Let’s explore the simple steps of tying a bowline knot.

Start with a simple loop like this:

Pull the bitter end through and around your loop.

Pull the bitter end back into your original loop.

Pull tight, and you have a bowline!

Cleat Hitch

The cleat hitch is arguably the most-used knot in boating, but it is also the most frequently improperly executed. The cleat hitch is used to secure a vessel or other line to a cleat. The cleat is a two-horned piece of mooring equipment most commonly found on docks and gunwales. The post of the cleat bears the weight of the vessel, while the two horns secure the line to the post. It is imperative that this hitch is tied correctly, or you will end up with a horrifically impossible knot to untie.

First, complete one whole wrap around the post of the cleat.

Next, one half hitch around one horn.

Next lay the line parallel to the first hitch, as so.

Twist the end of the line and slip around the horn to create a full hitch which will hold the knot.

This will give you the perfect, easily untied yet impeccably secure cleat hitch!

Square Knot

The square knot secures two lines of the same diameter together. This simple knot is most frequently used to add length to a line or secure objects but should not be used under heavy tension. It is simply two half knots tied together to create a secure hitch.

Begin by creating an overhand knot. Twist the line in your left hand over the line in your right hand.

Repeat this overhand knot with the line in your right hand. You may say to yourself, “right over left, and under. Left over right, and under.”

Pull tight on both ends to secure before admiring your perfect square knot.

Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is a brilliant knot used to secure an object to a pylon. You can use the clove hitch to tie your boat off to a pylon when no cleat is available or to tie a fender to a railing. The uses for the clove hitch are endless.

First, make one wrap around the pylon with the bitter end of your line.

Take the bitter end and make one more wrap next to (or below) the first one. Tuck the bitter end of the line in between the two wraps that you have made and pull from both ends to tighten.

Pull tight, and that’s it! It’s really that easy.

Figure Eight

The figure eight is a reliable “stopper knot” that you can use just for that. It is simple and easy to master.

First, cross the bitter end of your line over the working end to create a simple loop.

Cross the bitter end under the working end. Next, pull the end up over and through your initial loop.

Pull tight to reveal the finished knot! Now, you can use this strong knot as a stopper.

Now you’ve learned the ropes!

These five knots are simple to comprehend with a bit of practice and will have you looking like a professional mariner in no time. Impress your friends at the marina or sandbar while family boating with your nonchalant execution of the bowline or figure eight. As long as you tie these knots correctly, you can be sure that your South Florida boating trip will go without a “hitch!”

Here at Nautical Ventures, we’re proud of our reputation as one of the best boat dealerships in the state of Florida. We are your go-to concierge regarding all things boating and to get you in the right boat for your needs. We have numerous Florida locations in Broward, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and Tampa Bay, making it more convenient for you to buy a boat. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is enthusiastic about boating and will ensure you are prepared. Stop by today, and we’ll help make sure all of your boating basics, including tying knots, are covered!

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