How to Tie a Bowline in the Dark | Expert Advice

How to Tie a Bowline Knot in the Dark on a Sailboat – Three Ways

Faster and Safer Ways to Tie a Bowline Knot

You probably already know how to tie a bowline, but do you know how to do it fast and reliably, and in the dark?

Check out these foolproof ways to tie a bowline in the dark for three different needs on a sailboat.  Once you practice and learn these methods, muscle memory will take over when you need it to. You will be able to concentrate on the situation at hand, and not on unseen “rabbits, trees and holes.”

Forehand Loop Bowline

This method is used to put a bowline loop at the end of a line. Example: Create a temporary dock line. With a little practice, this will become one fluid motion, and you can easily and quickly do it with your eyes closed.

NOTE: This method is demonstrated below on a flat surface, but is more practical and easier to perform with the line hanging from your hands at waist height in front of you.

  1. Take the bitter end of the line in your right hand, with trailing end away from your body.forehand loop bowline 1
  2. With the bitter end of the line between your first and second fingers, cross it over top of the other end of the line (where the knot will be) at 90 degrees.Forehand loop bowline - step 1
  3. With your thumb under the line crossover point, and your two fingers on top pinching the lines together, roll them forward to create a loop with the bitter end now coming up and out of the loop.Forehand loop bowline - step 2

Note: Your two fingers are still in control of the bitter end, and your other hand (thumb and third finger) is now controlling the loop by pinching and holding the crossover point.

  1. The line is passed from the two fingers in the loop, to the two fingers under the line, and pulled under and to the other side.Forehand loop bowline - step 3

NOTE: The loop opening, the loop crossover point and the bitter end of the line are all being positively controlled, and you know tacitly where everything is, even if you can’t see it.

  1. Thrust the two fingers in the loop to the one side (inside, towards the bitter end) of the line they were holding, and the other hand then passes the line off – two fingers on the one hand, to the two fingers of the other hand.Forehand loop bowline - step 4
  2. In one motion, pull the line through the loop, and cinch the knot.Forehand loop bowline - step 5
Forehand Loop Bowline

Forehand Loop Bowline

Forehand Bend-On Bowline

On a sailboat, the bowline is often used to tie a line to an object, such as a sheet to the clew of a headsail. This means the loop of the knot will be facing away from you, and require a different tying technique. The forehand bend-on method is a very fast and efficient way to bend a line onto something. With practice, you can easily do this in the dark, or while looking away to monitor the situation around you.

  1. You start with the line run through what you are bending it on to. From there, pass the bitter end of the line under the other side of the line at 90 degrees. The line will be held in place with your thumb underneath and your first and second fingers on top of the crossover point.forehand bend on bowline step 1
  2. With the crossover line still pinched between your finger, take the line on top and fold it over 180 degrees around the line crossed over below it. This will create a throat of the parallel line that is controlled by the other hand.forehand bend on bowline step 2
  3. Rotate the bitter end of the line forward (towards what you are bending it onto).forehand bend on bowline step 3

NOTE: The line that formed the throat is being controlled between my first and second fingers and the other between my thumb and third finger.  All the time the loop and bitter end are controlled by the pinched fingers of my other hand.

  1. With the opposite hand grab the bitter end of the line with the thumb and first finger, and pull it through the newly formed loop, and over top of the line crossing over top.forehand bend on bowline step 4
  2. Pass the line down, and under the crossed lines, and back though the hole with the first finger.forehand bend on bowline step 5

NOTE: The thumbs stay on top, and there are always fingers underneath the forming knot.  This keeps everything in place, and your fingers tacitly know where everything is, in a tightly controlled space.

  1. Pull the parallel lines and the line leading away (towards you) to tighten.forehand bend on bowline step 6
Forehand Bend-On Bowline

Forehand Bend-On Bowline

Slip Knot Bowline

This is a way to preset for a bowline when you don’t know how big to make a loop ahead of time, or you cannot get a loop up and over something (needs to be tied around something, not lassoed).  You can prepare this in the cockpit, and simply walk forward with it ready to quickly tie a bowline around something.

  1. The bowline loop to be formed will be facing away from you. Twist the main part of the line forward (away from you) to form a loop facing the bitter end of the line.  Pinching the crossover point between your thumb and first finger.slip knot bowline step 1
  2. With your other hand grab the line just behind the loop (towards you)and push it up and through the loop. This creates a loop within a loop.slip knot bowline step 2
  3. Snug the first loop (not tight) around the second loop. This creates a slip knot.  At this point, you can walk around with the slip knot held in your hand, and the coiled line in the other allowing you to walk around the boat, and to the area to be tied to.slip knot bowline step 3
  4. When ready to tie around say a piling, wrap the bitter end around the object. Then thread it through the eye of the slip knot.  Pull the line through until the desired loop size is obtained.slip knot bowline step 4
  5. When the desired loop size is obtained, fold the bitter end back on its self to maintain the loop size.slip knot bowline step 5
  6. Pull the parallel lines, and the line leading away (towards you). Watch as the square knot inverts on itself, and becomes a bowline knot as you tighten the lines.slip knot bowline step 6


Slip Knot Bowline

Slip Knot Bowline

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