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Twelve Knots to Know in 2012

Happy New Year!

There are thousands of knots out there and while that simple fact can be overwhelming, in swiftwater rescue we use surprisingly few. Knowing how to tie, and when to use the right knot can be a big help in swiftwater rescue scenarios. Please don’t heed the advice of “if you don’t know a knot, tie a lot.” 

Here is a review of 12 knots and hitches that you’ll see in swiftwater rescue applications. It may not be this year, but if you spend enough time around swiftwater, odds are these will come in handy. Please note, the list below is not exhaustive, and many of the knots and hitches have other uses. A good knot has 4 characteristics. It is strong, secure, easy to tie and un-tie, and easy to tell if tied properly (dressed).

Click on the thumbnail images for larger picture.


Images below courtesy of Animated KnotsCarl Markham,  WorkSafeBC,  ruckus.org,  uweb.txstate.edu.


 1. Simple Figure 8

 Is often used as an indicator knot to alert you when the end of your rope is coming. It also the first step in a figure 8 follow through. The basic shape of this knot is consistent through the family of 8’s.



2. Figure 8 on a Bight

Can be used to attach a line to an anchor via a carabineer. Let’s say  you’ve rigged an equalizing anchor, you can then use a figure 8 on a bight with a carabiner to connect your static line to the anchor.


3. Figure 8 Follow-Through
Can be used to tie two ropes together, as a simple anchor, or to back up a ‘no-knot’. Often we see the figure 8 follow through used in climbing/ rappelling when tying into a harness.


4. Directional Figure 8

The directional 8 creates a loop in a line that can be loaded in one direction. When tied properly it can be loaded in the direction that the loop points. When tied into a line, a directional 8 can serve as an attachment point. (For example if prussik loops are scarce when you need mechanical advantage (MA). Once loaded it will be difficult to untie and will not pass through an MA system. Practice tying this knot in both directions.


5. Water Knot (water bend)

Used primarily with flat tubular webbing for  building anchors and improvised seat harnesses. Once loaded, the water knot can be difficult to untie. Try rolling it between your palms, or getting it wet.



6. Alpine Butterfly

Used to create a loop in the middle of a line, and can be clipped into with a carabineer. The butterfly knot is multi-directional and can be weighted in any direction. This knot can also be used to tie-out a weak point in a rope



7. Square Knot

Can be used to tie two ropes together. Often it’s the last step when tying an improvised seat harness together. On the final wrap around your waist, take the two ends and tie a square knot. The square knot is helpful here because you can cinch it and take up excess slack.


8. Barrel Knot 

Is a way to tie to ropes together. Also known as a double fisherman’s knot, it is primarily used when tying the ends of a rope together to create a prussik loop.



9. Prussik Hitch

 Standard 3-wrap prussik can be used as a ratchet or brake in a mechanical advantage system. Prussiks act as grabbing or attachment points on a rope. A prussik can also be used to ascend a rope. The rule of thumb with the prussik hitch is to use a prussik loop that is one half the diameter of the rope your are attaching to. If the ratio is greater, your hitch may slip or fail.


10. Munter Hitch

A Munter hitch is great for lots of applications. It can be used for lowering objects or taking up tension. Once tied around an object (usually a carabineer) the friction created can capture and hold tension in a line, or enable the lowering of  a person or object. Be mindful of the rope on rope friction and the load. One feature of the Munter hitch is that the rope can be pulled from either end and it will still function properly. A Munter is often used in conjunction with the vector pull technique.


11. Clove Hitch

Is a quick way to secure an anchor. The fastest way to secure this hitch is to pre-tie it and slide it over the anchor. Conversely, it can also be tied around the object (tree, pole, etc.).  I’ve used this hitch the most when setting up a rain tarp.


12. Girth Hitch / Lark’s Foot

 If you start with a pre-tied loop (webbing or rope), the girth hitch or lark’s foot is another quick and simple anchor that leaves you with an attachment point. In a raft, a girth hitch can be used to anchor a thwart or tube. Depending on the friction of the anchor, the hitch may slide.



There you have it, 12 knots and hitches for 2012. Now you’ve seen them, so go and practice, practice, practice. When tensions are running high and adrenaline is pumping, the knot that you thought you knew might just slip your mind. Once you think you’ve mastered the tying method, try it with your eyes closed, behind your back, underwater, or all three. There are numerous online resources for knot-tying tutorials and practice.