What is a Bowline Knot? (with picture)

C. Ausbrooks
C. Ausbrooks
The FAA suggests use of a bowline when securing a light aircraft.
The FAA suggests use of a bowline when securing a light aircraft.

A bowline knot is a simple knot that forms a fixed loop at the end of a cord. There are many variations on the basic bowline knot, such as the French bowline and the running bowline. The bowline knot has been used as early as the Age of Sail in the late 1400’s. Then, it was used on square-rigged ships to hold the corner of a square sail towards the bow of the ship. This prevented it from being taken aback.

Bowline knots are considered to be essential knots that everyone should know. The first mention of the bowline knot in history is in John Smith’s A Seaman’s Grammar, published in 1627. He described the knot as being of great importance to sailors.

The primary use of the bowline knot is to form a loop at the end of a line. This knot can be tied, and then secured over objects, such as posts, or tied around the object from the start. The bowline is at its best when under stress.

The bowline is also a common equestrian knot, and is typically used to hitch horses to posts or inside trailers. The harder the horse pulls against the knot, the tighter it becomes. When a neck rope or harness is used, it is often secured with a bowline knot. In this instance, the knot is known as being impossible to loosen, even when being pulled upon by a panicked or skittish horse.

When sailing small vessels, the bowline knot is often used to secure a halyard to a sail or attach a jib sheet to a clew. The FAA, Federal Aviation Administration, suggests the use of a bowline when securing light aircraft. Ropes tied with bowline knots hold about 65% of their strength at the point of the knot. It can be tied in one of two ways, one used primarily for memorization, and the other a lightning method for rapid tying.

A mnemonic is used to teach how to tie bowline knots. To tie a bowline, imagine one end of the rope is a rabbit, and the other end, the standing end, a tree trunk. Form a loop at the standing end of the rope, and then bring the rabbit up and through the loop, or out of the hole. The rabbit then goes around the tree and back into the hole. Upon tightening, a bowline knot is formed.

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Discussion Comments


If I want a knot that is extremely difficult to loosen, I usually do a figure eight or a strangle knot. If I want a sturdy knot that can be undone when I want it to, I do a bowline knot. I think that's what makes the bowline so useful. Not only is it easy to do but it won't jam up either.


The bowline is also a standard knot used by mountaineers when tying a a rope linking them to another climber(s) for security.

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    • The FAA suggests use of a bowline when securing a light aircraft.
      The FAA suggests use of a bowline when securing a light aircraft.