Wanna Get Knotty? Survival Knot Series: The Bowline

Survival Knot Series: The Bowline

The incessant reference to all of these “fiscal cliffs” in the past several weeks makes me think about a very important survival knot that everyone should know. If I could only teach one survival rescue knot, it would be the bowline.

The bowline is designed to create a very secure non-slipping loop at the end of a rope. This loop can be tied around your waist in the event you need to be hoisted up from the bottom of a “physical” cliff. I wish I knew a knot that could save us from the fiscal kind.  You’re on your own with that one.

Besides rescue, the bowline knot has many other practical survival functions. Two bowlines can be used to tie two ropes together. It can be used to create a loop in the end of a rope for a snare noose. It can also be used to tie off a boat or canoe when at shore. It is a great survival knot to learn. In addition, the bowline is one of the few knots I know that can be tied using only one hand. It’s not hard to imagine that one arm might be injured if you’ve fallen to the bottom of a cliff. Or, you might be holding onto the cliff with one hand. Being able to tie a one-handed survival rescue knot then becomes a matter of life and death.

To tie the bowline, you need only remember the following pneumonic: “The rabbit runs out of his hole, around the tree and back into his hole.”

Below is a step-by-step tutorial showing how to tie the bowline using this pneumonic.

Start by running the rescue line around your waist.

STEP 1: Create “the rabbit hole” and “the tree” by making a loop in the long end of the rope. Notice the right and wrong way to make the loop.


STEP 2: Now take “the rabbit” and make him come out of “his hole” …


STEP 3: Around “the tree”


STEP 4: And back in “his hole”


STEP 5: Pull to tighten.


Now, once you’ve mastered this knot using both hands, it’s time to try it one handed.  Good luck!

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



  1. Taylor McKinnis says:

    It is not 100% necessary, but after tying the bowline I like to tie the free end to the loop using a double overhand knot because when not under heavy tension and depending on what kind of rope you use, the bowline has a tendency to slip out and come untied.

  2. I can do this one handed since I was a Boy Scout!

  3. Jack russel says:

    You should allso learn to do figure 8 knot in case you really wanna make a secure knot

  4. The bowline is a boss knot. I use it to flip tank(military) hulls when we don’t have a crane available. One of my favorite and most used knots.

  5. The bowline is no doubt the most versatile knot of them all. When working as a power lineman, not a day went by that I didn’t use this knot. The bowline on a bite is also a very good knot to know. It can turn an ordinary straight line into a block and tackle or a bosins chair in an emergency. These two knots can save your life.

  6. Bo'Skarr says:

    As a junior volunteer firefighter, I have learned to do this knot around myself with one hand.
    You should add at least one safety with the remaining rope on the inside of the loop.

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