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I've followed every YouTube video and illustrated guide I can find but I can't seem to consistently tie bowline knots that don't turn themselves into a larks head causing the bight I'm trying to make to cinch.

I'm trying to tie them to the end of a length of paracord for a ridgeline, so I start by holding the leading end of the rope. Then:

  1. I make a bight a few inches beneath the leading end so that it overlaps the standing end.
  2. I bring the leading end behind the top of the bight and through it towards myself
  3. I push the leading end over the bottom of the bight
  4. I push the leading end behind the standing end of the cord
  5. I bring the leading end around the standing end and back through the first bight, beneath the length of my initial passing (the smaller loop)
  6. I try to tighten the knot by pulling on the standing end, which then cinches around the column I'm pulling against (my finger).

Is the knot not getting set properly, or rolling over itself, when I'm putting tension on the cord? I can't tell which step I'm doing incorrectly.

Apologies if I'm using any terminology incorrectly, I'm still getting into knots if my predicament wasn't a clear indicator of that.

  • Funnily enough, I was practicing bowlines today as I’m quite weak on them and have an assessment later in the week. Two things I would offer; 1. Check out animatedknots.com for help on tying, and 2. Don’t kill yourself (literally and metaphorically) struggling with a bowline when you can substitute it for a knot you’re more familiar with. Usually a figure eight will suffice, for example. – Darren Jul 12 at 22:21
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The bowline is an interesting example of a knot which fails if dressed wrongly - even if it has been tied correctly.

If you tighten a bowline by pulling on the working end, or by pulling the loop apart, it can invert to a running noose.

Tighten it by pulling the standing end to avoid this.

Here is a loose bowline:

loosely tied bowline knot

Pulling the working end (and the right-hand side of the loop) starts to invert the knot:

enter image description here

Continuing to pull brings a bight of the standing end through the knot, forming a noose:

enter image description here

Tightening by pulling on the standing end (and either/both sides of the loop) gives a properly dressed bowline:

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • I upvoted because I think this is where I go wrong. However, some example pictures would make the answer better. – Darren Jul 13 at 17:05
  • This is exactly what I was doing. I'd also like to add that once I did it this way it made it very clear which of the loops was supposed to tighten, I didn't think that was an issue for me until I saw it work properly. – starscream_disco_party Jul 13 at 18:43
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    Now i understand what the OP's problem was. I hope you don't mind, i added the missing info to my answer. – Martin F Jul 13 at 20:22
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Here are four variations on the bowline, in words and graphics. Note that all four of them are here left not fully dressed (not tightened).

In each case, the standing part should be pulled, or at least held firm, to tighten the knot.

If, instead, you pull on the working end without holding the standing part -- and this seems to be your problem -- the knot can capsize into a noose.

Also note that, in each case, the initial loop and the desired bowline loop must both go in the same direction. The four knots all have loops going counter-clockwise from the standing part. (If you prefer the initial loop to go clockwise, also make the desired bowline loop go clockwise.)

The first two both start with a loop with the working part over the standing part.

enter image description here

The working end must come up through the loop,

enter image description here

go under (or behind) the standing part, then back down through the loop.

enter image description here

I call this a "British" bowline, where the tail ends "inside" the resulting loop.

A variation, from the same beginning loop, has the working end come up through the loop and around the standing part on the opposite side before going back down through the loop.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

I call this a "Dutch" bowline, where the tail ends "outside" the resulting loop.

The second two bowlines both start with a loop with the working part under the standing part and simply result in "upside-down" bowlines.

enter image description here

The working end must go down through the loop,

enter image description here

go over (or in front of) the standing part, then back up through the loop.

enter image description here

Again this "British" bowline has its tail "inside" the resulting loop.

The "Dutch" variation, from the same beginning loop, has the working end go down through the loop and behind the standing part on the opposite side, come across the front of the standing part, before coming back up through the loop.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Again the tail ends "outside" the resulting loop.


Addendum

If your initial loop is clockwise, so too should be the main loop.

enter image description here enter image description here

If your initial and main loops go in different directions, you still get a bowline if you're careful, but the result will be rather twisted. The final images show a "twisted bowline": a clockwise initial loop with a counter-clockwise main loop that has to twist back on itself!

enter image description here enter image description here

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  • What happens if you tie them with the loop outwards rather than inwards? That’s where I usually go wrong. – Darren Jul 13 at 7:30
  • Thanks for all the details and clarification! – starscream_disco_party Jul 13 at 18:43
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    After seeing @aucuparia's answer, i now understand what the OP's problem was and i added the missing info to my answer. – Martin F Jul 13 at 20:23
  • @Darren - I've also added an answer to (what i think is) your question! – Martin F Jul 13 at 21:29
  • @MartinF very good. I can’t give you a second upvote unfortunately. – Darren Jul 13 at 21:30

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