Why is it advised (here at Outdoors) to tie a bowline knot with its ending on the inside ("Standard Bowline") and not at the outside ("Cowboy Bowline")? See pictures below.

If you're unlucky the end can get stuck, and you can't untie it.

Scenario: Tie a boat with a bowline knot around a pole. The end can get stuck between the line and the pole. With the wind pulling, forget the trip or cut it.

Also, I use different knots, but this is an official knot for tying a boat.

I couldn't find a pic with a pole and have no camera, but imagine a pole in the loop (of the inside bowline) to the left of the end. Then the end can be in between the loop and pole. Then imagine a tremendous amount of weight pulling the line.

Figure: Left is a standard Bowline; right is a Cowboy Bowline (source: wikimedia.org):

"Standard" and "Cowboy" Bowline variants

  • 1
    If a tremendous amount of weight is on the line so much that you can't pull the end out from between the loop and pole, can you untie it? Even if the end was on the outside? Sep 5, 2012 at 16:14
  • I was always taught to use a clove hitch to tie a boat to a pole. It's easier to adjust (such as when docking) and is tightened to the pole so it doesn't fall to the deck or into the water. That said, it can slip or bind on itself, so I would back it up with the cleats if used for an extended time.
    – BMitch
    Sep 5, 2012 at 22:08

4 Answers 4


The Ashley Book of Knots (published 1944) references the outside bowline as "inferior" but just says weakness nothing specific. In America the "outside" bowline is often called the "Dutch" bowline or Cowboy Bowline. So since, you ask, why is the bowline on Outdoor Stack Exchange tied with the end on the inside? because that is the classic bowline. End on the outside is a variant, like the Double Bowline, Water bowline, Yosemite Bowline, Bowline on a Bight, Spanish Bowline, or any of several others.

The general problem with the Dutch bowline is if something grabs, pulls or catches the tail end while its on the outside the knot will come undone easier. Under a shifting load with nothing snagging the end, it will last roughly half as long. Also, the Dutch Bowline is prone to capsizing (basically coming undone) if the dangling outside end is pulled the wrong direction, again it could just snag on something while the knot itself is pulled in another direction.

Please note, all of the above are arguments given by others. None of this has really been substantiated, but people will swear by it. I agree that there are several better knots to use in the example given, but addressing that wouldn't answer your question.

Bottom line: The end outside is not a regular bowline. Ask a question here on how to tie a cowboy bowline or Dutch Bowline and you will get instructions with the end on the outside.

  • 2
    Another significant difference between the classic bowline (ABOK #1010) and the Cowboy/Dutch/Left-handed bowline (ABOK #1034 1/2) is that the later (with the tail to the outside) is considered to be much more resistant to ring loading. This is where there is additional sideways force on the eye of the knot as opposed to straight down - similar to cross loading a carabiner. A normal bowline will easily capsize under these conditions; despite being more stable under normal load. see: An Analysis of the Structure of Bowlines
    – oasisbob
    Feb 6, 2017 at 8:22
  • 1
    -1, there is no good proof of said differences in the bowlines in this answer and if the author has a source for it, it is not given. Many tests have been done with many different results. The Dutch navy insisted on the 'Dutch' bowline as is had proven more reliable than the 'standard' one in their tests.
    – Willeke
    Apr 1, 2018 at 9:49
  • 1
    @Willeke: Ironically, a reference to your Dutch Navy statement would be appropriate.
    – mattnz
    Nov 20, 2022 at 2:15

A bowline is not recommended for tying a boat to a pole because it can work itself loose over time, or when bounced.

Instead, the recommendations are an anchor bend or a double bowline - and as an anchor bend can become impossibly tight over time, a double bowline might suit you best:

enter image description here

from Wikipedia

In saying that, if you must use a bowline, having the end inside is more secure than outside as there is less chance of the free end catching on something and releasing.

(interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the bowline knot is thought to have been first mentioned in John Smith's 1627 work A Seaman's Grammar)


In Hebrew, the bowline knot is translated as a rescue knot, so I assume the reason it is used is the fact that the chances of it untying unintentionally is low.

When having the knot end on the inside, the end of the knot needs to move despite the added friction from the object or person the end of the knot is against.
When using the end on the outside, it only has the friction of the knot head itself to keep it from coming undone, and depending on the condition at hand (type of rope, the amount of pull on the rope, etc...) it may come undone more easily than it's inside version.

In addition, some sailing clubs I know use a bowline knot to tie the boats to the dock, but usually they do not untie the knot to leave the dock, and just slip it on and off the cleats when docking and leaving, this however requires that you'll have something to slip the rope on, which is not available in all docks.

  • The reason it's the rescue not is it can be tied with one hand and the big loop does not cinch. The translation is well chosen.
    – Joshua
    Oct 20, 2023 at 14:19

To add information to an old exchange, in ring-pull and tail pull it looks like an outside bowline is superior, thanks to tests by youtube user Richard Delaney; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mf0wZRxNcQ0

  • 1
    Not conclusive, I have seen tests and results for both ways and neither way is better.
    – Willeke
    Oct 28, 2022 at 16:19

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