Whether you're tying your sailing boat to the dock or simply attaching your whistle to your backpack straps, you need the right knot for the right job. If you were a Boy Scout, your memory of a bowline might be all about a rabbit coming out of a hole, around a tree, and back down its hole. We'll get to that, but what is a bowline knot? And why does the rabbit matter?
The bowline is considered by many to be the king of knots. It creates a secure loop at the end of your rope that tightens as the load increases. Most importantly, no matter how tightly you pull your bowline, it can always be undone easily. A properly secured bowline relies on the standing part of the line remaining under tension. If the standing line continually slackens and tightens, the knot can work itself loose, or the loop can capsize and the knot can come untied.
Step 1: Make a loop in your rope with the working end over the top of your standing end. This loop is often referred to in bowline tying practice as the rabbit's hole.
Step 2: Pass the working end of the rope up through the loop -- the rabbit comes up out of the hole.
Step 3: Lead the rope around the back of the standing line -- the rabbit goes around the tree.
Step 4: Feed the working end back through the hole -- the rabbit goes back into its hole.
Step 5: Dress the knot by pulling on all the two strands of rope that go through the loop, and the standing line, individually. Then pull all three individually to tighten your bowline.
However you tie your bowline, it is important to make sure that the standing end is secure and remains under tension when the loop is in use. Keeping your standing line under tension prevents the bowline knot from coming untied.
You can either tie your bowline around an object, like a tree or a boulder, or tie it freestanding. When you're learning to tie a bowline, it can help to run the working end around an object to fully separate the two ends of the rope.
If you are tying around a tree, start by running the rope around the tree before making your loop. This will mean that you definitely have enough rope left to tie the knot before you start. Freestanding knots are useful for dropping over tent pegs, or poles on a dock. This gives you a secure loop that can be used when you need it, where you might not have time or space to tie around the object.
There are hundreds of uses for a bowline knot, but here are three that you might come across in the outdoors.
Suspending your hammock: After a night of swinging in your hammock, you don't want to spend the morning trying to pick apart a knot that has worked its way into a ball. In the worst case, you may even end up having to cut your hammock lines, which can signal the end of your trip. A properly tied bowline is secure enough to support your weight but can be undone easily in the morning so you can get on with your trip.
Hanging a bear bag: When you're camping in the backcountry, you don't want to attract any peanut-butter-hungry wildlife into your camp. This means hanging a bear bag. If you're camping for multiple days, you won't want to tie anything too complex, as you will be undoing and retying your knot several times. The bowline is easy to tie and will come undone when it's time to move on, no matter how much food you've been suspending from your line.
Rescue situations: - Hopefully you won't need this one, but if you've ever seen the coast guard pulling someone out of the water with a rope under their armpits, chances are that's a bowline they're using. When time is critical, a bowline gives you a quick, secure knot that can be passed under someone's armpits so you can help them out of deep water or up from a ledge.
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