The ABC of mooring knots


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mooring knots
How to – Mooring knots

Tying a cable on a bollard or tying a mooring knot should be to a sailor like lifting a cup for the coffee drinker. A simple and natural gesture. Even the most experienced ones, however, often make the mistake of using mooring knots invented for quite different purposes. A typical (but erroneous) example is securing the mooring line with a lover’s cleat, a knot invented instead expressly for tightening sails securely without damaging the fabric.

Mooring knots: characteristics

The essence of good mooring knots can be summarized as follows:

– The knot must never untie, except (and very easily!) when desired, even if the line is strongly tensioned. This is in order to be able to leave the mooring with extreme speed if an emergency should make it necessary, which is impossible with, for example, a bowline under tension because it can only be untied if the sheet is slack.
– The knot must allow the line to work to its full potential. This means as much tension as possible, i.e. without too many low-angle bends. It should be noted that the bowline is also penalised for this reason. The block knot reduces the breaking load by a factor of 4.


Mooring knots – One time and two half-loops

The simplest of the mooring knots, and also one of the fastest and safest of all, is undoubtedly the one called one turn and two half-loops (it also has other names, but this is the most common): the line is made to go around the bollard, ring or mooring bricola (which is already sufficient to hold the boat securely) and then two half-loops on the part of the line that will be under tension.

mooring knots

As can be seen in the picture above, the line certainly works under tension, provided its diameter is at least four times smaller than that of the bollard on which it is wound. The two half-loops, on the other hand, ensure that the knot is perfectly tight and at the same time can be untied easily and quickly when desired, even under maximum strain.

Mooring knots – clove hitch

The clove hitch (pictured below) is the other classic knot for mooring operations, most commonly used to secure wings to the dredges. It is formed by two half-loops paired and crossed, so that both the side of the line under tension and the head remain inside the half-loops It should be noted that the clove hitch is identical to the two half-loops seen above, but whereas the clove hitch is executed to tighten a line around an object, when we speak of two half-loops we expressly mean that the locking knot is executed on the sleeper of the same line.

clove hitch
Mooring knots – The clove hitch is mainly used to tie the wings to the stanchion; if it is used on a large bollard, it is a good idea to also provide two half-loops, as it could come loose if it is stretched and let loose rhythmically, as in the case of undertow.

The clove hitch can also be confused with the slipknot (pictured below), but in this case the half-loops are not crossed but paired and opposite, so that the sleeper and the current (i.e. the side of the line that will be under tension and the end used to technically tie the knot) both come out on the same side of the knot. The slipknot is to all intents and purposes a slipknot, while the slipknot is not.

nodi di ormeggio - nodo scorsoio a bocca di lupo

Care must be taken that the clove hitch tends to loosen if the line is not under tension at all times (e.g. if due to undertow the boat loosens and stretches the mooring rhythmically), so it is advisable to tie two half-loops as seen for the previous knot. On the other hand, there is no problem tying wings, as their very weight causes the line to remain taut and the knot will not untie.

Mooring knots – on the cleat

To secure the line to the bollard or cleat on deck, follow the procedure illustrated in the sequence below (read clockwise from the first picture above left).

Mooring knots - The sequence for correctly securing the line to the cleat.
Mooring knots – The sequence for correctly securing the line to the cleat.

After stringing the line, it is made to go a full circle around the base (this, as already mentioned, is sufficient to hold even considerable tension without effort), then it is turned by crossing in the shape of an 8 and choking with a half-neck, i.e. making the line go round on itself.

Often, out of haste or inexperience, the ligature shown in the figure below is executed, but it is wrong because it tends to slacken quickly as soon as the line goes under great tension.


mooring knots - wrong sequence
Mooring knots. WRONG! The wrong way to tie a cleat: as soon as you release your grip, the top of the false knot comes loose.

Mooring knots – Tips

When arranging mooring lines on a bollard on land to which several boats are already tied, always take care to place them under those of others, especially if you expect to be the last to cast off. If you intend to stay on the quay for only a short time, then it is preferable to run the ropes directly over the dock, so that the manoeuvre of setting sail is much easier.




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