How to Tie a Bowline in less than 5 Seconds

How to Tie a Bowline in less than 5 Seconds

Do you struggle to remember how to tie a bowline? Many people learn the ‘rabbit comes out of the hole’ method when they are children but it never worked for me. I must have been taught to tie bowlines about six times but, after a week or so, I had forgotten how to do it.

Then one day I was shown how to tie a bowline in a completely different way … and it stuck.

Since then I’ve shown lots of people my method and almost all of them report that they now know how to do it. I recently came across the instructions and a diagram for this method for the first time. I have reproduced it here – thanks to John Jamieson† of

So what’s the secret? Well, to make it clear, you need to learn some terminology that applies to marine knots. Here we go (it isn’t difficult)


* Standing part: The part of a line attached to something, like a boat cleat. You can think of it as the part of the line you can’t move – it stands still.

* Bight: A loop in a line. A single bight in a line is one loop, a knot may contain more than one bight, and a coil is made up of many bights.

* Bitter end: The bitter end means the part near the end of a line – the bit you that is free for you to move.

* Slack: The opposite of taut – there is some “give” in the line.


1. Turn and face the standing part of the line.

2. Hold the standing part with your non-dominant hand. Keep some slack in the standing part.

3. Pick up the bitter end and make a loop. Lay the bitter end on top so that it crosses over the standing part. Place your thumb underneath and your index finger on top (it should look like illustration 1).

4. Twist the bitter end away and under the bight (see the arrow in illustration 1). After you do this, it should look similar to the second illustration. Leave a few inches of bitter end to finish the knot.

5. Pass the bitter end around the standing part, and back through the small bight (illustration 2 and illustration 3). Hold the standing part and pull on the bitter end to remove all slack from the knot.

Practice these five steps until you can tie the bowline knot in five seconds or less!


The bowline is probably the yachtie’s favourite knot and being able to tie a bowline quickly is important. It has many uses, including several that could be life-saving.

For everyday use you can make a bowline in the end of your shoreline to pass to someone ashore. Two bowlines can be used to join ropes together when passing a strong line for towing for instance. On our sailing courses yachts frequently anchor overnight in a bay on the island of Dhokos. They moor using the anchor and a line that is taken ashore in the dinghy (usually by Competent Crew candidates). Their task is to find a large tree or rock around which they can tie the rope in a bowline to hold the yacht safely overnight.

Tying a bowline around something rather than tying it and then dropping it over a bollard is quite tricky but this method can help you.

If you are ever unlucky enough to have a man overboard, you can toss them a line with a bowline on the end to pass over your shoulders, giving you a secure tow.

Once you have mastered the bowline try these exercises to see how good you can get:

  • Tie a bowline around the leg of a chair to practice what it’s like to tie one around a tree
  • Tie a bowline behind your back (this is a climber’s trick)
  • Tie a bowline with one hand. If you can do this you’ll even impress Captain George, the Master of Marine Knots.

† Captain John Jamieson with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at for a free issue of the highly popular “Captain John’s Sailing Tips” newsletter. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, e-Books and more!

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