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                                                                                                         - Jim Simmons

What Knot? No Knot? Why Knot?

Whitewater paddlers and rescuers who are knot challenged often have difficulty applying their rescue knowledge in pressure packed situations. No matter the outdoor activity, knowledge and skill in using different knots comes in handy.  Below are fundamental knots that will be used more than others in rescue work.  

Paddlers who've previously had climbing experience will have an advantage over others who are knot challenged. Many of the whitewater rescue knots and rope applications were adopted from the mountaineering community when formal swiftwater rescue training began in the late '70's. Although all knots have a 'formal' name many are known by more than one name which can be confusing.

Characteristics of a Effective Knot
- it is commonly used, has minimal loss of rope strength, easily recognized, strong, easy to untie.
- it should be secure (should not slip if tensioned from a different direction or if it snags against something.
- the knot you choose should be the proper knot for the task to be done (right tool for the job especially important in rescue).

Rope Parts or Terminology
- standing part of the line= the main body of the rope that is under tension.
- running end (or working end)= free end of the rope that is to be knotted.
- bight= the part of the rope between the ends; a knot tied "in the bight" doesn't need the
ends when the rope is knotted.
- turn= leading the rope around a tree (or object) to create friction for belaying a swimmer.
- round turn= taking the end of the rope around an object a second time, or over itself.
- loop= the rope is bent so that the parts come together but does not cross itself.

*Refer to Figure 1 below.
                 **bear w/ in progress.

Frequently Used Rescue Knots with Rope:
- the figure 8 family which includes the following: figure 8 on a bight, figure 8 follow through, figure 8 bend, double eye figure 8, and inline (or directional) figure 8.
- double/triple fisherman knot (for forming a prusik loop).
- tensionless hitch (also called no name knot).
- munter friction hitch.
- prusik hitch.

These are Used Less Often:
- butterfly, clove hitch.
- bowline.

Commonly Used Knots To Join Ends of One Inch Tubular Webbing (or Super Tape)
- either a water knot or figure 8 follow-through knot.  An advantage of the figure 8 is that once stressed you can work the webbing loose, whereas with the water knot you'll likely have to cut it loose.

Knot Rules:
Knots should be dressed properly so that the rope lies neatly against itself without overlapping which stresses the rope. The main knot is then backed up with a second knot. Once these two steps are done the knot should be 'set' properly before being loaded. This is sometimes called cinching a knot to apply tension to take out slack and create friction in the knot so it is ready to do its job. "A knot not neat is a knot not needed."

Failure to properly dress a knot will reduce its strength and make it harder to untie. To untie a stubborn knot, look for an 'ear' or 'tab' that can be worked back and forth to loosen the knot. If that doesn't work grasp both sides of the knot and twist in opposite directions. It may take some 'grunting' and groaning to get it undone.
A) if using 6mm size--for making a finished loop of 24 inches, tied with a double fisherman's knot, and with at least 2-3 inches of tail left over, it takes 5 1/2 feet of cord. For a 30-32 inch finished length, it will take 6 1/2 feet of cord.
B) if using 5mm size--it will take a few inches less to make the same lengths as described above.
C) as an alternative to using a triple fisherman knot for tying prusicks with stiffer cord, such as dyneema, use a 'trace' figure '8' knot instead. Be sure to set it well.
*See the link, ANIMATED KNOTS by Grog, for descriptions and animations (note--the butterfly knot is not shown). Click on and practice your knots to be ready for an upcoming rescue workshop. Carry a link of rope in your vehicle and when there is opportunity practice knots that give you trouble. They'll soon become second nature.

JS--1/7/'08; revised 11/'10. Jim Jones contributed to this discussion.
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