Knots and ropes


Tying up the boat is an everyday narrowboat task that many people find challenging. I consider myself a capable person with a good grasp of mechanics. I’ve rebuilt a car engine and a carburetor and I build furniture, but I can’t tie a knot to save my life. The excellent Boaters Handbook has a page that shows common knots, but static diagrams are extremely difficult to follow.

tip iconDo yourself a favor and take some time to work out any knots in the front, stern or center lines of your boat. Lines on hire boats always have knots left over from previous boaters. These knots can get in the way when you’re holding a boat against a lock or trying to moor.

The solution is to visit the website Animated Knots by Grog. There is no better way to learn how to tie knots, as the process is demonstrated either as step-by-step animations or can be viewed on YouTube with narration. (In fairness, there are several good knot websites.) You can even download an iOS or Android app. Knots are divided into sections: basic, boating, climbing, fishing, etc, and even better, the description for each knot lists uses, cautions and alternatives.

If you don’t have Internet access or you dropped your iPad in the canal, however, you can still refer to the drawings in this book. They’re based on the drawings from the Boaters Handbook, but much expanded.

Line drawing showing the eight steps of tying a canalman’s hitch

Canalman’s hitch: bollard, spike

The single most useful knot is the canalman’s or lighterman’s hitch (a lighter is a flat-bottomed barge), which isn’t actually a knot, and that’s its chief advantage. It’s very secure if done correctly but it’s also very easy to remove. This hitch is most suited for use on bollards, either on the towpath or brought back to the bitts (they look like mini-bollards) on the stern of the boat. It’s actually quite easy to tie, although it’s not so easy to follow these diagrams. Definitely visit the website mentioned earlier or search YouTube for other videos about this hitch.

Step 1

Loop a line around a bollard twice (called a round turn).

Step 2

Pass a bight (loop) of rope underneath the line from the boat and then draw the bight over the top of the bollard.

Step 3, 4

Take the end of the line and wrap another loop over the bollard in the same direction as the original loops. This will require you to cross over the line from the boat.

Step 5

Then pass another bight underneath the line from the boat and again draw it over the bollard, just like you did in Step 2.

Step 6–8

The remaining steps are optional. You can pass the end of the line back through the opening indicated by the arrow to make a half hitch. Add another half hitch for safety or to use up rope. If you have a lot a lot of leftover line, you could make the half hitches with a bight of rope.