The First 5 Boating Knots You Need to Learn

Those knots look simple enough, right? When it’s truly time for you to tie up to a dock or attach your first anchor, you want to be sure you know your basic nautical boating knots inside and out, because a mishap could be disastrous at worst, and embarrassing at best case. 

Beginning boaters can be intimidated by the sheer number of boating knots out there — there are probably hundreds of knots essential to boating safety and security. Some aid the vessel in speed and performance. Then there’s rules about the knots and rope. From coiling rope correctly to tying a specific knot in the right direction, after you buy a boat, learning your knots needs to top your priority list of things to know before you get on the water.  You’re going to need them.

Below are five boating knots the experts at Boats For Sale have agreed are the most essential. Once you’ve mastered these, there are many more to learn. We’re leveraging boat industry friends’ videos to illustrate, and then we provide step-by-step instructions for each knot, too. After you master these, here’s a list of more top knots. With ongoing practice, you’ll be a nautical knot pro in no time!


Anchor Hitch

Used to fasten the anchor to its rope, the anchor hitch is arguably the most important knots in boating.

Embed this video:

The anchor hitch is also called an “anchor bend” knot. 

1.  Wrap the rope loosely twice around the anchor shackle. Leave enough rope to finish the knot!

2. Pass the end behind the standing line through both loops.

3. Pull the end out tightly. 

4. Wrap the tag end around the standing line again, passing it beneath the new loop.

5. Hold and pull the end to tighten.


Cleat Hitch

Used to tie boats by cleats on docks and lifts, the cleat hitch is an essential, non-slip knot that’s quick & easy to master.

Embed this video:

Used to tie boats and PWC to docks, bulkheads and boat lifts via cleats, this knot is quick, easy to tie, and doesn’t slip. For many, it’s the first boating knot to learn.

1. Wrap the line completely around the far horn of the cleat.

2. Pull the line over the near horn, then wrap it under the far horn again.

3. Wrap the line under, then over the first horn again to form a figure-eight.

4. Form an underhand loop and slip it over the near horn.

5. Pull the free end of the rope tight to firmly secure the knot.



The bowline makes a loop at the end of a line which can be used to secure it or attach two lines together.

Embed this video: 

One of the advantages of this essential knot is that it’s easy to undo, even when holding a lot of tension.

1. Make a small loop in the line, a few feet from the end.

2. Pass the end through the loop.

3. Tug hard on the end and on the main line above the loop to tighten the knot.


Clove Hitch

An all-purpose knot, the clove hitch is great for securing lines to a rail.

Embed this video:

Boaters also use a clove hitch to fasten and stow items or coils of line, or secure things. They can be tied either to a rail, or a pole with an open end, like in the video. Note if this line isn’t consistently taut, or if fastened to a rocking or twisting object, it may come easily undone. The clove knot should only be used for light-duty tasks. 

1. Wrap the line once around the rail (or pole). 

2. Wrap the line around the rail a second time, crossing over the first wrap. 

3. Pass the end back underneath. 

4. Tug to secure the clove hitch in place.  


Figure Eight

The figure eight knot is super-useful when you want to stop a line from passing through.

Embed this video:

Be careful, though, because if both ends of the line are made too taut, you may have difficulty getting the figure eight back out of the line.

1. Make a loop in the line.

2. Wrap the end over the main line, then pass it back through the loop.

3. Adjust the knot to its position, if necessary.

4. Pull both ends to cinch the knot tight.

Need a boat to practice all these knots on?

Search our listings for all available boats for sale. Filter by location, boat type, boat make or price range. Then get on the path to Instant Boatification.™ Ready to sell a boat and get a new one that may require you learn some new knots? List your boat for sale or see about a cash offer, then buy your new boat.