Essential Knots for Dinghy Sailing

There are a lot of knots you can learn.  And the vast majority of them are very useful, each having it’s own time and place (situation) for it to be used.  The following is a list of useful knots for dinghy sailing as required for the Phase II class of yacht that is used by Evan’s Bay Yacht and Motor Boat Club for it’s Learn to Sail program.  Hence some useful / essential knots of other classes have been missed.

The Most Important

If I had to name just 2 knots at the most important it would have to be the Figure of Eight and Bowline.

Figure 8

Figure 8The Figure 8 (or “Figure of eight”) is used as a stopper knot. It’s nice feature is that you can always untie them no matter how tight they become.

Animated Knots by Grog: Figure 8

Usage Locations: Mainsheet tail, Cunningham (downhaul) tail, Jib Cunningham, Barberhaul/Tweaker tail, Kick (Vang) tail, Traveler/Bridal tail.


Bowline used to secure the jib sheets to the jib
Bowline used to secure the jib sheets to the jib

The Bowline is used for attaching a rope to an object, often used at the beginning of a pulley system. It’s nice feature is that it holds under load but is very easy to under when there isn’t any load on it.

Animated Knots by Grog: Bowline

Usage Locations: Jib sheet, Kick (Vang), Cunningham (Downhaul), Jib Cunningham, Mainsheet, Traveler/Bridal,

The Very useful

Obviously those 2 knots are not going to cover all situations.  The following I class as “Very Useful”.  It’s a good thing to know how to tie them and where to use them.

Half Hitch

Half Hitch securing the forestay
Half Hitch securing the forestay

The Half Hitch classically used to tie off the end of a rope to keep it tight.

Animated Knots by Grog: Half Hitch

Usage Locations: Forestay

Fishermans Knot

Fishermans Knot securing the 2 jib sheets together
Fishermans Knot securing the 2 jib sheets together

This knot is magic for tying two ropes together that aren’t nesscesarily going to be under load.  It’ll stay done up when it’s not under load and is easy to break apart later.
Reef Knot
The Reef Knot is is used for tying two ropes together that are usually under load.

Usage Locations: Tying the jib sheets together

Cleat Hitch

Animated Knots by Grog: Halyard Cleat Hitch

Usage Locations: Securing the Jib and Main Halyards

Gasket coil

The gasket coil is the classic way we use to coil up the jib and main halyards to keep them tidy, just incase when we are out there that we need to low the sails.  It also makes derigging the boat less painful if the halyards don’t look like spagehti.

Animated Knots by Grog: Gasket coil

Usage Locations: Keeping the Jib and Main Halyards

Other useful knots for boating

These knots are worth know too.

Double Overhand

Double Overhand
Double Overhand

Like the Figure 8 the Double Overhand is excellent as a stopper knot, however it’s not so easy to untie.  Keep it for ropes and control lines that you don’t have to untie often (if at all).  Don’t use this knot on your mainsheet, in an emergency you may need to use your main sheet as a tow line, so it’s best to use the Figure 8 knot instead.

Animated Knots by Grog: Double Overhand

Usage Locations: Kick (Vang), Barberhauler/Tweaker, Cunningham, Outhaul, and other control lines (note: do not use on your mainsheet)


Animated Knots by Grog: Boating Knots

Tacking By Example

TackingTacking is the turn of the boat so that the sails change side of the boat and during the turn you end up facing where the wind is coming from.

GybeWhile a gybe (jibe) is also where the sails change side of the boat but during the turn you face away from where the wind is coming from.

 How to tack by Shirley Robertson (Royal Yachting Association)

 Tacking with Jon Emmett (Wiley Nautical)

A playlist of examples

Key points – The Triggers

1. Prepare for the tack

Once you see or have the need to tack get ready…

  • Check you have the mainsheet and tiller extension in a dagger/microphone grip
  • Take your back foot (foot closest to the back of the boat) out from under the toe/hiking strap and prepare to place it across the boat opposite your front foot.
  • Figure out where you are going to stop your turn.  Try looking over your front should at a point 90 degrees from where you are currently heading.

2. Initiate the Tack

Push the tiller (by pushing your hand holding the tiller extension towards the end of the tiller).  The following actions will start to happen automatically after a little practise.

3.  Move across the boat

Wait until the boom moves to your current side of the boat then move across the boat with your back foot being placed opposite your front foot.  This will keep you facing forward and more importantly mean you’ll sit down directly opposite were you were.  So no shuffling forward required to get out of the way of the tiller when you can’t move it enough to steer properly.

4. Straighten up / Stop the turning

This is vital and your trigger for this when the boat nears heading towards that point you selected when you prepared yourself for the tack (see no. 1. Prepare for the Tack).  Your awareness of this is vital, if you don’t stop turning you’ll end up going in a circle and it’ll be really hard to get to go where you want to.  As you move across the boat start looking for your point that you have chosen to guide you to straight up.  Once you have straightened up and are seated again you can reorganise your hands to swap over the mainsheet and tiller extension.  And you’ve just done a successful tack.  High five, keep your eyes on where you are going though.


  1. To straight up after you have crossed the boat pull and twist the tiller extension, as it will assist bring the tiller back to the middle/neutral position.
  2. Keep a hold of the tiller extension, no matter what.  If you do have to let something – better it be the mainsheet rather than the tiller extension.  I’d prefer you were going the right way slowly rather than the wrong way fast.
  3. At the end of the tack if you are not in the right place to hike out straight away and the boat goes on to a big heel ease the mainsheet.

Points of Sail – Your chance to shape the future

It’s not so much knowing what the various points of sail are, but knowing what’s involved in changing from one to the other.

The points of sail are a description of your heading (direction) in relation to the direction the wind is coming from / blowing

Points of SailThe typical clock representation doesn’t do much to persuading the mind to think about what is involved in changing from one point of sail to another.  It does connect the mind to a picture of what the boat should look like if you were to head off from where you in are that direction, a target if you like to aim for.

Your chance to shape the future

Here is your chance, for the boat in the following diagram that is sailing in a circle, print it off, and fill it in by adding the sails for each boat and labelling the points of sail that are shown on it.

Points of Sail - Base DiagramFor extra marks add a description of the sail changes from boat to boat.  And to double your marks mark on it where the tack and the gybe take place.

Feel free to scan or take a photo of your work and send it to me if you’d like to know how well you have done.