Cibola
Search and Rescue

Basic Knots - Part 1

by Tom Russo

Introduction

Count on it: sometime while on a mission you'll need to handle a rope or piece of webbing. Knowing how to tie the correct knot is essential, and not just because you'll have to demonstrate it as part of your litter-handling evaluation. In this brief piece I'll present the basic knots you're expected to be able to tie, and provide photos of each one being tied. Practice these knots until they're second nature! You should be reading this article with a piece of rope in your hand. PRACTICE as you read. I am including here the standard terminology of the knots presented. Avoid colloquial usages, as they are easily confused for each other, but be familiar with all the names so you can recognize them should others use them.

Rope Terminology

There are some common terms used in the knot literature, and you should be familiar with them. (Source: the Essential Knot Book by Colin Jarman)

On Knot Names

Before we start, I need to clear up one little point. There are at least three names for every knot I give here: a strictly-correct technical name (e.g. "Double Overhand Bend"), a colloquial name (e.g. "Double Fisherman's Knot") and at least one slang usage. I will strictly avoid slang usages and only present the technical and correct colloquial names of each knot. If you see a knot here which you believe is called something else, or if you see me calling a knot something that you believe is the name reserved to a different knot, you are encountering a difference between technical correctness and slang usage. The clearest example of this is the "Double Overhand Bend" which is colloquially named "Double Fisherman's Knot". This knot is so univerally used as a bend in the sport climbing community, to the exclusion of the knot which is really called the "Fisherman's Knot" that many climbers appear to have dropped the "double" from the name as a matter of conversational convenience. I will avoid such conveniences and stick completely to the accepted terms which appear in books on knots such as the definitive "Ashley's Book of Knots," or manuals such as the NASAR SAR Technician course textbook.

The Overhand Knot

Perhaps the most basic of all, the overhand knot is the basis for several other knots you will need to tie, so learn to recognize its shape. To tie it, simply make a single loop in the rope and pass the end through.
Bummer --- this is a graphical article You should always back up any knot you tie, to give redundancy should the line slip. The overhand is a good knot to use as backup, although the double overhand is even better. When you back up a knot, tie the backup knot right next to the primary knot, not a few inches away.

The Figure 8 knot

The easiest way to describe making a figure 8 knot is to say that one makes a loop in the line, then wraps the end around, passing it through the first loop at the second opportunity (passing it through on the first opportunity leads to an overhand knot). This is, of course, not the easiest way to picture it. Examine the pictures below.

Here's the first loop:
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Pass the end over the standing part again:
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Now insert the end through the back side of the original loop:
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Pull the knot tighter and dress it up:
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The Figure 8 knot is used as the basis of several other knots, but is often used by itself at the end of a line to keep the end from "unlaying" (fraying).

The double overhand knot ("grapevine")

This knot is similar to the overhand knot, but stronger. It is the basis of the double overhand bend ("double fisherman's knot" or "grapevine bend"), and can be used as a backup knot instead of the simple overhand knot.

Form a loop in the line, then pass the end around the standing part:
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Finally, pass the end through both loops:
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The Figure 8 Bend

To join two lines, begin with a Figure 8 knot in the first line, leaving a sizable tail. Feed the end of the second line (shown below in blue) through the first figure 8 knot. Note that the end of the blue rope is being fed in through the end of the knot from which the end of the red rope emerges. When the knot is done the end of each rope will lie along the standing part of the other.

[NOTE added 30 June 1999: In the photo below, the "dressed" knot is not correctly dressed --- we will correct this as soon as possible. When properly dressed, pulling on any of the emerging ropes will not cause the knot to change, and clearly if the knot were "dressed" as shown in the last two photos, the knot would rearrange to something else. We apologize to anyone who was misled by the figures, and take the opportunity to point out that a cook a book does not make, that Cibola SAR disclaims all liability for any errors or omissions in its web-based material, and cautions casual websurfers not to take everything they see on the web as gospel!]

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Snake the second line through the original figure 8, following each curve exactly.
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Nearly complete:
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Now dress it up so that it lays properly THE KNOT IN THIS PHOTOGRAPH NOT IS NOT DRESSED CORRECTLY!.
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and remember to back it up! (here it is, backed up on each end with overhand knots):
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Figure 8 Rewoven

Nope, no pictures here, because tying it looks exactly like tying the figure 8 bend. The difference is that you tie it on one rope: tie a figure 8 well away from the end, pass the end around a tree, rock or other anchor, then treat the end exactly as if it were the end of a second rope --- the result will look exactly like a figure 8 bend, but you'll have tied the rope securely to the anchor. Of course you will still need to back it up.

Coming Attractions

In the next exciting episode I'll have pictures of how one combines these basic knots to form bends (note the colloquial names --- they're all properly called "bends", but colloquially they're named "knots"): and a few more important knots and hitches:

Self-Quiz on Basic Knots

Ten questions? Don't be silly. Just tie the things and compare them with the pictures until you can do it in your sleep. Back to the Minilesson Page
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Last Modified: 04/20/15 12:45:58
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