Chapter 4: Basic Seamanship Techniques

Different types of  Rope

The seaman’s life is not always as exciting as novels and adventure films would have us believe. And yet, the seaman’s tasks are vitally important to navigation. For water rescue purposes, “seamanship” means the knowledge involved in handling and storing ropes, tying knots and performing practical tasks such as mooring and anchoring.

On a boat, we rarely use the word “rope” but rather “lines” to describe all of the ropes and cords used in navigation.  Moreover, each line has a specific name, such as the painter, halyard or fender line. Lines can be stranded or braided.  A stranded cord consists of fibers twisted in one direction to form a rope yarn which, when twisted again in the opposite direction, creates the strand.  Three strands are then twisted again in the same direction as the fibers to create the final rope.  This alternating torsion causes the line to tighten on itself and thus prevents it from unraveling.  A braided line comprises a core of braided or stranded threads covered with a sheath.  The center or core of the line gives it strength, and the sheath performs more of a protective and aesthetic function.

Figure 2.15 — Stranded Rope

Stranded Rope

Figure 2.16 — Braided Rope

Braided Rope

Stranded Rope Braided Rope
Stiff Flexible and smooth (slips through pulley easily)
Less resistant if worn Less resistant if core is damaged
Becomes rigid and shrinks if submerged
for long
Remains flexible
Defects are readily apparent Difficult to detect defects
Knots hold firmly Some knots easily come untied

Four materials are commonly used to manufacture rope: nylon, manilla, polypropylene and polyester. Each of these materials has its advantages and disadvantages, and therefore suits a specific use.

  Polypropylene Nylon Polyester Manilla


Med. to High high Low
Strength Satisfactory Excellent Good Poor
Elasticity Good Excellent None None
Buoyancy Good None None None
Weight Heavy Average Light Average
Abrasion resistance Poor Good Excellent Satisfactory
Rot resistance Excellent Excellent Excellent Poor
Sun resistance Satisfactory Good Good Satisfactory
Shock resistance Satisfactory Excellent Good Poor
Standard uses

Painter lines
Floating lines
Fender lines

Anchor lines

Painter lines

Painter lines
Fender line

Main features Buoyancy
Elasticity Strength (strength reduced on contact with water)

Rope Storage

The effects of  water, salt, sand and sun on rope fibers cause wear and tear, thereby reducing their strength.  All ropes and lines must be protected from wear and tear and checked on a regular basis.  Ropes that are not used regularly should be uncoiled from time to time to prevent them from losing their flexibility.  When storing ropes and cords, hang them in a dry place after proper coiling.

Rope Storage

Another method is to form a loop, after coiling the line, and pass one end of the line through the loop, after wrapping it around the coil.

Rope Loop

Basic Knots for Boaters

Knots come in a wide variety and entire books have been written about them.  Boaters need to know a few key knots suited to different tasks: to secure the boat to a hitch, to moor, to tow, etc. The important thing is to know the proper and easy-to-use knots for the job at hand. Several other knots are useful to boaters and depending on your type of vessel you may need to know even more about knots.

Square Knot

The square knot (or sailor’s knot) is used to temporarily connect two ropes of the same diameter. It is used when the line is under constant but not extreme tension.

Square Knot

Figure Eight Knot

The figure of eight knot is useful as a stop knot to prevent a line from slipping through a pulley, for example.  It is preferred to a half-hitch when a larger stop knot is needed.  It is also easier to untie and tightens less.

Figure Eight Knot

Bowline Knot

The bowline knot is used to tie a temporary loop in the end of a rope that will not tighten.  It can be easily untied even if  placed under extreme tension.

Bowline Knot

Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is used to temporarily attach a rope to a pole, a pier or any other object.

Clove Hitch


Mooring involves holding the boat at the dock without necessarily immobilizing it.  Since water, waves and tides cause boats to move, the vessel must have some freedom of movement while remaining secured to the dock.

Mooring can be done by fastening lines to a bitt (small vertical bar) or a ring. The bowline knot or clove hitch can be used to moor to a ring, and the bowline knot, to moor to a bitt.  The boat, even an inflatable boat, must be equipped with fenders to cushion its landing at the dock.

Mooring with Lugs

Properly used, the lug can be an effective substitute
for a knot. The advantage of this type of fastener is its
resistance to the rubbing that occurs between the cord
and the lug.  The technique is simple but must be used
carefully to prevent the cord from becoming stuck. Turn
the free end of the cord clockwise around the base of
the lug; then, make figure eights, over and under each
flange. End with a half-hitch on one of the flanges. If
properly done, the line can be untied by pushing the
loose end through the half-hitch.


Choosing an anchorage  means choosing where to cast anchor.  Several considerations affect the choice of an anchorage.

  • Is the anchorage clear of water-going traffic?
  • Is the anchorage sheltered from the weather (wind, strong currents, etc.) and will it remain that way?
  • What is the weather forecast?
  • What is the bottom like?
  • Is it suitable for properly securing the type of anchor aboard the vessel?
  • Is the tide rising or falling?  The length of the line must be determined by estimating water level variations.

To drop anchor, proceed as follows:

  1. Ready the anchor, chain and rope on the deck of the vessel.  Ensure that the line is not tangled and that the free end is properly secured to the boat.
  2. Maneuver the vessel directly above the location chosen for dropping anchor.
  3. Cast the anchor overboard and allow the line to sink until the anchor touches bottom. Drop anchor at the bow of the boat to counterbalance most of the weight, which is in the stern.
  4. Allow the boat to drift with the tide or current until the length of the line is five to seven times the depth of the water, depending on sea conditions.
  5. Fasten the line to the lug on the deck of the vessel, and ensure that the line will not wear by  rubbing against the boat.  The line should be protected from excessive wear and tear.
  6. Locate at least two fixed markers to check the vessel’s position from time to time to ensure that the vessel is not drifting.

To lift anchor, proceed as follows:

  • Prepare to get underway (engage motor, secure equipment)
  • Lift the anchor line, pulling the vessel directly above the anchor.
  • Clear the anchor and hoist.
  • Properly secure the anchor, chain and line.

You may consider dropping anchor as a safety precaution for your pleasure craft:

  • In poor weather (with a risk of very bad weather ahead);
  • If your vessel breaks down (or control is lost).

Danforth, Brydon or stocked anchors are used  most often. The stocked anchor works for all types of bottoms, but is rather cumbersome.  For that reason, vessels usually carry Danforth or Brydon anchors. They are also effective for all types of bottoms, but better for sandy, shell- covered or pebbly bottoms.

Danforth Anchor

Danforth Anchor

Brydon Anchor

Brydon Anchor

Stocked Anchor

Stocked Anchor

To anchor effectively and safely, always remember to fasten a chain between the line and the anchor.  With the movement of waves, the boat will tend to rise and fall. When the chain is used, it absorbs the effects of the waves.  However, if the anchor is fastened directly to the boat by a rope, the motion of the waves will move the anchor. As a result, the boat will tend to travel because the anchor is traveling. A simple chain between the line and the anchor  will avoid this problem.

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