How to Tie Knots Like a Navy SEAL

by August 24, 2009 08/24/09
Urban Rappel Equipment

For the next few weeks, we’ll depart from our usual “Knot of the Week” to bring you a series on the knots taught to Navy SEAL candidates at BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training).

During the first phase of BUD/s, students are taught five knots which they’re required to tie one at a time underwater, each on a single breath hold.

Each knot is tied on a trunk line, or stationary rope, secured to the bottom of a 15 foot pool. We’ll have a special video presentation during the last week of the series, combining all the knots and showing them tied underwater. The first of these knots, which we’ll teach today, is the Bowline.

Bowline » Loops

(Strength: 2/Secure: 2/Stability: 4/Difficulty: 3)

Please refer to our Knot of the Week introduction post for a description of what these ratings mean.

Before we continue any further we’d like to clear the air on how to properly pronounce the Bowline. This knot comes from the need for attaching sails to the bow of a ship for stabilization, and is pronounced “bow” like a ship’s bow, not “bow” like bow and arrow.

The Bowline was originally used for the purpose intended above, but has progressed to include a host of other uses. Today, you’d most likely see a Bowline used for mooring a small boat to a pier or in rescue applications when a fixed loop is needed that won’t close around a waist or foot.

In rescue applications we highly suggest, due the somewhat unstable nature of the bowline, that a half hitch is added to the knot at the very end to further secure it. If the bowline is not kept under load, it can easily come untied which is why we recommend the extra half hitch  (We’ll explain below).


  • Mooring a small boat to a pier
  • Emergency applications where a fixed loop is needed
  • Joining two ropes bowline to bowline (there are better ways to join ropes though)

Tying Instructions:

  1. Create a bight in the rope, forming a “q” shape
  2. Ensure that the “q” is made overlapping the standing part of the line
  3. Your working end will be wrapped around whatever you’re tying on to
  4. Create a loop and feed the working end through the underside of the “q”
  5. Bring the working end around the back of the standing line
  6. Continue passing the working end back through the “q” running parallel with the loop
  7. To tighten, pull the loop and working end with one hand, and the standing line with the other
  8. For increased security, create a overhand knot in the loop with the working end
  9. Pull the working end to tighten and finish the Bowline

View the gallery or YouTube video below and follow along with the steps above!


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Bryan Black
Bryan Black

Brian, I've heard it both ways and tend to side with the school of thought that the original word came from the line attached to a boat/ship's bow to moor it. In that sense, I've never heard a ship's bow sounded out like many pronounce bo-lin. I catch a lot of flack for my pronunciation, but will stand by it and always offer an explanation. Thanks for the comment.

Brian White
Brian White

Considering that you were in the US Navy, and studied journalism, I would think you would want your readers to know the correct pronunciation of "bowline". I am retired from the Navy, was a Gunner's Mate, Scuba Diver, and EOD apprentice, and have never heard a Navy or civilian sailor pronounce it any way but BO-LIN. Very good instructions on how to tie it, though.


I remember learning the bowline knot when I was learning to rock climb in high school. We used it to tie a safety line around our waist. The only way to tie it was one-handed (the other hand was a bit busy!)... It was also one of the required knots we had to learn in Navy bootcamp.


I've never heard it pronounced other than "bo-lin" either. When I was in the Navy, that was how we pronounced it. Other odd words include "forecastle" pronounced as "foc'sl", "boatswain" pronounced "bosun" and so on...

ITS Admin
ITS Admin

Thanks Scott, glad you like what we're doing.

I'm the opposite, and cringe when I hear "Bo-lin" LOL!



Good video - like the half-hitch trick. I've never heard it pronounced anything but "Bo-lin" though...


I remember also learning how to tie the Bowline one handed in Boy Scouts. That might also be a good addition to this post. Plus once you practice it enough you can tie it in a matter of a few seconds.


I think there is a typo in step three of the tying instructions. Shouldn't it say "...will now be..." instead of "...will not be..."?

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