Life Saving Rope Skills

The bowline (rhymes with “colon”) is reputedly the most important knot in the world. It is listed in the Ashley Book of Knots. The bowline is sometimes called the King of Knots because it has the best qualities of knots — ease of tying and untying. If ever you’re in a crevasse or deep water and someone throws you a lifeline, the bowline is the one knot you need to know. It is The Rolling Hitch is grossly underestimated in its survival skills value. Knowing this knot speeds up some of the most frequently-encountered survival activities, like preparing a shelter or securing gear.

The bowline knot is a lifeline

To haul you out of the water or any other predicament, your life saving knot needs to be easy to tie, and it should not slip. That is, it needs to form a loop around your body that will not cinch down and suffocate you while you’re pulled out, with your entire body weight on the knot. The bowline is perfect for this, and you need to know the quick and easy way to tie it.

Most videos on the Internet show you how to tie the bowline using the old “rabbit hole and tree” thing, but you need to know how to tie it the way sailors do. There’s a reason sailors tie the bowline the way I demonstrate in this video, and that reason is…. real life. When you’re actually living out real life and you have to tie the bowline, this is the way you do it. It’s fast, easy, and effective in every way that matters to you.

Sure, if you’re trying to teach someone how to tie the bowline, it’s easier to teach them using the rabbit hole and tree method. But if you’re using the bowline, you’re better off knowing how to tie it the way it’s shown here.


The “real” way to tie the bowline is the way sailors actually do it on the job. I know because I used to work on a shrimp boat, and we tied bowlines more than any other knot. It is structurally identical to the Sheet Bend. The only difference is that the Sheet Bend joins two ropes, and the Bowline forms a loop in a single rope.

The rolling hitch secures cover

I most often use the rolling hitch to secure a tarp, hang a hammock, or draw a tautline for a shelter (in fact, it is also called the tautline hitch). It’s the perfect way to pull a line tight between two object. For example, if I need to pull a line between two trees and hang a tarp over it to form an A-frame shelter, the rolling hitch is the knot I’ll use to pull and hold the line taut. Also, if I need to secure a load in my pickup truck, I’ll use the rolling hitch. When I arrive at my destination, I can easily loosen the line and release the load without cutting — and wasting — a single inch of rope or paracord. (I often mention paracord because it really is the best kind of rope or line to have in a survival situation. Be sure to get the “550” kind that is actually mil-spec. It matters).

Rolling Hitch

Use the Anchor Hitch (or Bend) to tie your rope off at one end

If you want to secure your rope to a branch, use the anchor bend, shown in the video below, which also illustrates how easy it is to tighten and loosen a load with the rolling hitch:



8 thoughts on “Life Saving Rope Skills”

  1. Excellent video explanation’s of how to tie these very important knots. The rolling hitch is worth it’s weight in paracord!

    1. Man, it really is! It speeds up your setup time tremendously, same when you break camp, and you don’t have to even think about cutting and wasting any paracord.

  2. We used to call your rolling hitch a tautline hitch in the Scouts. Used it for tightening a tent’s guylines. One of many things the Scouts taught that was useful in Nam.
    Have you ever used a sheepshank? It can be used for shortening a rope and can be used where you can’t return to one end of the rope but can save most of it by shaking it loose.

    1. My experience with the sheepshank is that it fails repeatedly under loads when using slippery synthetics. To shorten a line I use the Alpine Butterfly Loop instead.

  3. For the techies – as long as there hasn’t been an EMP and you have alt means to power your devices in case of disaster – a great little app for your devices – 3DKnots –… or Columbia Sportswear’s free app WhatKnot…

    (two good crank charging devices to have – Ambient Weather WR-111A Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Digital Radio, Flashlight, Cell Phone Charger with NOAA Certified Weather Alert & Cables… or K-TOR Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator Portable Power Supply 10 Watts 120 Volts Made in the USA…

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  5. I LOVE your website. I’ve looked for contact info, but haven’t seen any, so I’m putting my question here. Do you have a website or article discussing possible ideas for bug out locations for people who do not have money for isolated property or a monthly storage unit? For instance, we live in a suburban area south east of Seattle. My husband works close to Seattle. I am prepared for the house, but clueless as to what to do if we need to leave our house. I’ve thought about a storage unit for housing extra items and possible shelter, but it’s $100 a month for a small unit within hiking distance for my family. We just don’t have that. Any suggestions? (we do not have family anywhere near here).

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