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Knot & Rope Safety

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Rope, and sports associated with rope, can be dangerous. Wrongly handled, gripped, or tied, rope can kill, maim, or burn. You could be the victim! Handle rope with care, inspect and test any knot you tie, and respect any rope subject to a heavy load, e.g., a rope controlling a large sail, a mooring rope when you are docking or berthing, and especially your own climbing rope.


Caution Never try to control a heavily loaded rope or fishing line with your bare hands. Take two or more turns round a post, winch, or cleat, and use appropriate equipment for fishing line. The danger associated with heavily loaded rope or fishing line is commonly learned by experience, which is often very painful and could be lethal.

Breaking Rope

Knots Weaken Rope

To repeat what we already said on the Home Page, assume that even brand new rope will perform at no more than 50% of its rated breaking strength. And, when dealing with critical loads, it is vital to understand the magnitude of a sensible Safety Factor:

Working Load or Safety Factor


The National Fire Prevention Assoc. advises the following: To lift non-critical loads, e.g., equipment, a rope's breaking strain should be seven times the load (7:1).

Breaking Rope

For live or critical loads the rope's breaking strain should be fifteen times the load (15:1). To lift an average man, a breaking strain of over a ton is indicated.

Watch Your Limbs

Never stand in a loop or a bight of a rope which may suddenly tighten, e.g. an anchor line or tow line. You have two legs when you are born. Guard them. That goes for any body parts, fingers, arms, and the like, watch out for coils and small loops. Even a small line wrapped around a finger can cause serious injury when put under sudden strain. And, avoid deliberately wrapping a line/rope around your hand to get a better grip. You may find that the rope has you rather than you having it.

Rigging Angle

A rope strong enough to lift a given weight may be totally inadequate when the weight is hanging from the middle of the same rope stretched horizontally, e.g., when rigging a hammock. Too often the effect of such a rigging angle is not appreciated. In certain circumstances, such a mistake may be lethal.

Dynamic Loads vs. Dead Weights

Similar concerns apply to loads that are moving. A rope stopping a falling object will be subject to a load many times the object's weight.

Intermittent Loads

Many knots can loosen with prolonged intermittent strain. For example, a bowline just "floated undone" when Grog was swimming around scrubbing the boat's waterline; a perfectly good scrubbing brush sank before he realized it was no longer attached.

Security and Additional Half Hitches

Mooring lines are exposed to intermittent strains and it is wise to use additional half hitches or a seizing to provide greater security. A seizing is a wrap of small line holding the tail against another adjacent part of the knot. Although a seizing may be very secure, it is a nuisance because it cannot be easily "untied". By contrast, it is quick and convenient to add extra half hitches, and they are commonly found on the: Round Turn & Two Half Hitches, Rolling Hitch, Anchor (Fisherman's) Bend, the Clove Hitch and, of course, the Reef (Square) Knot.

Safety Knot: Climbers are particularly wary of the bowline especially when carried around at the end of a coil of rope. One technique they recommend is to use a stopper knot to secure the tail around either the standing end or the adjacent part of the bowline's loop.

Under Load: Four knots are valuable specifically because they can be tied and untied under load: the Round Turn & Two Half Hitches; the Cleat Hitch; the Rolling Hitch; and the Munter Mule, combination. Learn these well. By contrast, the bowline is impossible to tie or untie under load.

Disclaimer: Any activity that involves ropes is potentially hazardous. Lives may be at risk - possibly your own. Considerable attention and effort have been made to ensure that these descriptions are accurate. However, many critical factors cannot be controlled, including: the choice of materials; the age, size, and condition of ropes; and the accuracy with which these descriptions have been followed. No responsibility is accepted for incidents arising from the use of this material.

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Version 5.1. Nov 22, 2015
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