Search and Rescue

Basic Knots - Part 2

by Tom Russo


In the last thrilling chapter I presented the basic overhand, double overhand and figure 8 knots. In this part we'll combine those simple knots to join two ropes together, make loops in lines, and attach ropes to posts or other ropes.

The Double Overhand Bend

This bend is one you'll encounter often. It is used to join the ends of a prussic loop, for example. To join two ropes with a double overhand bend, tie an double overhand knot in one line (line "A") around the standing part of the other line (line "B"):

Now tie an overhand knot in the line "B" around the standing part of line "A":

Dress up each knot and pull on both standing parts. When you're done the two "X"s should mesh together, and on the other side the four loops will look like a barrel:

The double overhand bend is also known as a "double fisherman's knot." Some people appear to be in the habit of abbreviating its name to "fisherman's knot," but this usage is not standard except among climbers, and should be avoided. Although it is a bend, it is not correct to call this knot a "fisherman's bend" because unfortunately the nomenclature of knots is rooted in maritime use, and the name "fisherman's bend" is already used for another knot which is not even a bend, but rather a hitch used for attaching a rope to an anchor ring. You will probably never encounter it.

The Overhand Bend

This bend is not widely used in SAR, but is a useful way to join two ropes which may or may not be of the same diameter and you should be familiar with it. It is also known as a "fisherman's knot" --- you can use it to join fly line to a leader, for example

To tie the overhand bend, follow the directions as for the double overhand bend, but use an overhand knot instead of a double overhand knot.

The Sheet Bend

Not often used by the SAR folk we'll deal with, the sheet bend can also be used to join two ropes; there are some teams on the web that advertise this as their preferred bend, but AMRC uses the figure 8 bend and the double overhand bend, so that's what we do. When tied with one piece of rope and a line with an eye sewn in it it is sometimes called a "Becket bend."

Here is a simple sheet bend:

This is the double sheet bend, which is somewhat stronger:

The Water Knot (or "Ring Bend")

The water knot is used to join two pieces of webbing. It is best described as a rewoven overhand knot:
Tie an overhand knot in the first rope or piece webbing:

Weave the second piece along the path of the first, so that the end of each ends next to the standing part of the other:

Dress it up tight, and remember to back it up. Use an overhand knot as backup; what you will have is a water knot backed up with a split overhand bend.

The overhand loop (overhand on a bight)

A simple way of forming a loop in a line is to form an overhand on a bight. Grasp a bight and treat it as if the entire collection of rope were a single line. Tie an overhand knot in this:

A disadvantage of the overhand loop is that it is difficult to untie after a load has been applied to the loop.

The figure 8 loop (Figure 8 on a bight)

A better knot to use for forming a loop in a line is the figure 8 on a bight. Grasp a bight and treat it as if the entire collection of rope were a single line. Tie a figure 8 knot in this:

And don't forget to back it up:

The Prussic 3-wrap

This is used to fasten a length of 8mm cord to an 11mm rope. It can be used as part of a belay system, a Z system, or just a tie-in point to attach your harness to a safety rope. The hitch is quite simple to form, but be careful to dress it up properly or it will not perform as required. It is best not to let the double overhand bend which joins the ends of the loop be at the center of the loop when you're done.

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