Narrowboats & Knots: What You Need to Know!

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Knots are probably one of the last things that people think about when they start narrowboating! With so many other exciting things to think about, it’s hardly surprising that learning how to make knots in rope is often not high on the priority list. But think about it this way…. how much is your boat worth? £5000? £15000? £70000? Narrowboats are valuable assets and when you moor up by that towpath, the knot you make is all that is stopping it from floating away in the night!! So knots should be taken seriously.

Before we start a little disclaimer. I am not an expert in tieing knots, just someone that has a great interest in narrowboats and wants to share information with you on the subject. This article is a starting point, please make sure you learn how to tie your knots from an expert! In short, if your boat floats down the canal due to a poorly tied knot, don’t blame me 🙂

What Knots Does a Narrowboater Need to Know?

Tying knots is not an art that comes naturally to everyone. For some, it’s a real struggle to remember the difference between a clove hitch and a taut-line hitch, let alone how to tie them. But don’t worry. With a little practice, you’ll be knotting like a pro in no time.

And I don’t want you to ‘freak out’ thinking you need to spend hours of your life learning knots!! There are some pretty simple and easy knots you can start out with that won’t take you an age to learn!

The Cleat Hitch

Knowing how to tie a cleat hitch is important when you are a narrowboater. Whenever mooring up and cleats are involved, this is the knot a lot of people turn to. This knot is very easy to tie and untie, with a little bit of practice you will quickly be making the perfect cleat hitch every time 🙂

With a cleat hitch you start by wrapping the rope once around the base of the cleat, followed by several figure of eight tieing motions to get the most secure knot possible.

Explaining a knot in words is probably not really helping you though, so here is a video that demonstrates the full ins and outs of a cleat hitch! Thanks Maryland School of Sailing for hands down the most complete video I have ever seen on the subject of a cleat hitch!!

If you are more into reading about knots (or maybe your internet is too slow to watch videos!!), there is also an awesome writeup with diagrams of a cleat hitch over at

The Bowline Knot

Another popular and essential knot among canal boaters is the bowline knot. This one is slightly more complicated than the cleat hitch, but nothing too crazy 🙂

As you can see below, a bowline knot is a single looped knot. It is tied by making an overhand loop in the end of a rope. The standing part passes through the loop and the working end is pulled tight to form a secure knot.

How to tie the bowline knot

For those of you that are visual learners, below is an excellent and detailed video from the Life Afloat YouTube channel all about this very knot!!

The Canalman’s Hitch

As the name suggests, this is another popular knot that a lot of narrowboaters use, and is again a pretty quick and simple knot to learn.

The Canalman’s Hitch is a secure knot for tieing a rope around a post or ring for temporary securing. It is a good alternative to the Bowline, as many believe it is more secure.

With this knot you start by wrapping the rope around the base of the cleat or dolly several times, followed by making a loop and slipping it under the rope and back over onto the back of the dolly or cleat.

Willow Wren Training has an awesome video on their YouTube channel that explains this better than I ever can!! Watch it below!

Want To Learn More About Knots?

Hopefully, I have helped you realise the importance of good knot craft as a canal or narrowboater! It’s a subject that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and can cause a lot of heartache and potential boat damage if done wrong.

With that in mind, I am sure a lot of you want to find out more about knot tieing! I have a couple of valuable resources for you as a start.

One of the most respected books on knots is ‘The Ashley Book of Knots’, a book first written in 1944 but still highly relevant today. This book has over 7000 drawings on over 3000 different types of knots! So why not sample a cool piece of history whilst learning your knots! Click the image below to view this book over at Amazon.

If you are looking for something more narrowboat specific, I would recommend this awesome little book from Ben Selfe titled ‘Knots for the cut’. You probably won’t find this book quite as overwhelming as ‘The Ashley Book of Knots’ and it has some detailed illustrations to help you learn. Again, click the image below to view this book for yourself over at Amazon.

Finally, if you are looking for some good free advice, the Narrowboat for Beginners website has an excellent short course on knots and ropes for canal boaters that is totally free and a great starting point. You can access it by clicking HERE.

Happy Canal Cruising!

That’s your lot for today, I hope you are more clued up on knots and all that 🙂 If you have any advice on knots of your own, please leave them in the comments section below!

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