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Knots Terminology

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Names for Ropes and Knots

Terminology for ropes and knots is confusing. Knots are divided into broad categories such as hitches and bends. If you are trying to learn what we have presented here then you may be perfectly happy to call them all knots. However, the correct terminology is useful and worth learning:

  • Bend: Joins two ropes or fishing lines, e.g., Sheet Bend, Alpine Butterfly Bend, Figure 8 Bend, Ashley Bend, Hunter's Bend, Zeppelin Bend.
  • Bight: Made by folding a piece of rope so that the two parts lie alongside each other. When tied near the rope's end, the parts will be the Tail lying beside the Standing End. A bight can be used to finish many knots - making them easy to untie by just pulling the tail. The term "Bight" does not imply a "Loop" and does not mean the same.
  • Bitter End: Derived from the "Bitts" – the stout metal posts used for attaching mooring ropes – it is applied to the tail end of a mooring line.
  • Breaking Strength: The theoretical strength of a rope - derived by averaging many tests of a rope tested under optimal conditions, i.e., when stretched slowly while wound many times round a smooth, large diameter drum. The theoretical breaking strength is rarely (if ever) achieved in practice despite claims made by enthusiastic knot proponents.
  • Dressing a Knot: Arranging the components of the knot to optimize security and/or strength.
  • Fake (or Flake) a Rope: Lay a rope out neatly on the deck in a Zig-Zag Pattern ready for easy use. Both Fake and Flake are in widespread use. People using Flake tend to reject Fake and vice-versa. History and literature support both names. "Flaking" a rope could have entered common use because of the generally accepted "Flaking" a sail
  • Flake a Sail: Fold a sail back and forth in neat layers for storage. This prolongs the life of the sail and facilitates raising the sail later.
  • Frapping Turns: Additional turns added in another axis to bind a Lashing or a Sailmaker's Whipping.
  • Hitch: Attaches a rope to something, e.g., a Hitching Post, dock pole, mooring buoy, anchor, or cleat. Such knots include the Rolling Hitch, Cleat Hitch, Buntline Hitch, Icicle Hitch, Distel Hitch, and Lighterman's Hitch.
  • Hollow Braid: A loosely woven single-braid rope which can be spliced using a Brummel or a Long Bury technique.
  • Kernmantle: A type of rope construction with a Kern (interior core) protected by a Mantle (woven exterior sheath) – a design that achieves abrasion resistance and strength.
  • Lay: The direction in which the strands of a rope twist. As the strands progress away from the viewer, if they rotate clockwise like a right hand thread, it is a Right Hand Lay – typically used for most three-strand rope. Steel cables are usually laid with a Left Hand Lay - hence the term Cable Laid, which is used when rope has a Left Hand Lay. If you have become accustomed to splicing three-stranded rope, splicing a piece of cabled-laid rope feels very awkward.
  • Loop: Made when a rope forms a partial circle with the ends crossing each other.
  • Racking Turns: Lashing turns which pass between poles to bind against the pole better. They are used in Tripod Lashings.
  • Round Turn: Two passes of a rope round an object – to completely encircle it.
  • Slipped: A knot is Slipped when it is completed using a loop or loops. The best known example is the Bow, a slipped version of the Square Knot. Many of the knots described can be slipped. Using a loop makes them less secure - think of shoelaces - but they are released more easily.
  • Solid Braid: A tightly woven single-braid rope which cannot be spliced using a Brummel or a Long Bury technique.
  • Splice: A knot made using the strands of a rope rather than the whole rope – stronger than ordinary knots and intended to be permanent.
  • Standing End: The long end - the part not knotted. The standing part lies between the standing end and the knot.
  • Stopper Knot: A knot in the end of a rope – used to prevent fraying or to prevent the end passing through a hole.
  • Strands: The major components of a rope – three in a three-strand rope. Each "Strand" is made up of many separate fibers.
  • Tail: The short end – the part getting knotted.
  • Turn: One pass of the rope round or through an object.
  • Whipping: A binding knot used to prevent a rope's end fraying.

Similarly, there are many names for rope and line that, particularly in boating, climbing, and fishing, depend on their use:


Anchor Rode
The line or chain attached to your anchor.
Bow line
The rope attached to the bow of your boat. Used for docking or towing.
A rope used to furl (wrap up) a square sail up to the yardarm.
A rope used to tighten the front (luff) of a sail.
A rope used to pull up a sail.
A larger diameter rope used for towing large vessels and barges.
Short length of thin rope, e.g. attached to a knife or whistle.
Rope used to stretch a sail tight along the boom.
The Bow Line on a small boat such as a dinghy.
Ropes stretched between adjacent shrouds to act as steps for the crew to climb.
Rope attached at the back lower corner of a sail to trim the sail for the wind direction.
Spring Lines
Dock lines - usually used as a pair - one from the bow back to the dock and the other from the stern forward to the dock. This arrangement prevents the boat moving fore and aft.
Topping lift
A rope from the mast to the back of the boom - principally used to take the weight of the boom when the sail is down.


Accessory cord - a long loop that can be attached to several anchor points to distribute and equalize the load.
Double Rope
A technique employing two smaller ropes when leading a climb.
Dynamic Rope
Rope that is slightly elastic and therefore reduces the impact of a fall. Compare with Static Rope.
Fixed Rope
A rope secured to a fixed point. Used in Abseiling (German) or Rappelling (US English).
Single Rope (technique)
Technique employing a single rope that is attached at one or both ends.
Static Rope
A non-elastic climbing rope - compare with Dynamic Rope.
Top Rope
The use of a fixed anchor point above. This requires easy access to the top.


Backing Line
Nylon or Dacron line tied between the fly line and the reel to provide additional length if required to play the fish.
Braided Line
A fishing line made up of multiple strands - providing better abrasion resistance with no memory so coils are less of a problem.
Dropper Line
Multiple short lines attached along the length of a fishing line to allow multiple catches with one cast.
Floating Line
Fishing line that is lighter than water and floats on the surface.
Hollow Braid
Braided fishing line designed to allow the tail to be passed through the braid to create a loop or a join.
Short length of heavy line or wire between the main fishing line and the lure. Prevents sharp-toothed fish damaging the main line.
Loop to Loop
A method of joining two fishing lines that have loops in their ends, e.g., Perfection Loops.
Nylon line available in different strengths and colors. It is almost invisible to the fish. However, it absorbs water which loosens knots and has a memory so that it tends to come off the reel in coils.
Sinking Line
Heavier than water and useful when fishing in still waters.
Attaching a line to a hook using the Snell Knot – originally used with eyless hooks.
Tag (or Tag End)
The working end - where the knot is tied.
The piece of line between the leader and the fly.

When sailing, quite often, the one word that won't be used is "Rope !".

If you spend much time boating, climbing or fishing you will learn these useful names and use them. Until then call it rope or line but learn to handle it and become familiar with the Essential knots.

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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