How to Tie a Bowline
by Tim Ferguson

I enjoy teaching kids how to tie a bowline. I enjoy teaching anyone how to tie a bowline.

I grew up confused about tying bowlines. I used to attend Brownie Scout meetings because Mom was the Head Brownie. That's where I learned the bowline story.

"A rabbit comes up out of the hole, runs around the tree, sees a hunter, and dives back into the hole."

Got it? I didn't. The rabbit had a way of falling sideways out of the hole.

Later on, at Boy Scout camp, I had a teacher who was a Navy veteran. He would tie bowlines instantly and laugh at our amazement. This lead me to ask, "How did he do that?"

Here's how.

Make a loop slightly larger than the finished loop you want. Put the whipped end on top.

The tree crew that taught me climbing whipped rope ends with black plastic electrical tape.

Pinch the cross with your thumb going through the top of the loop. This is the hard part. You do this and you can tie bowlines with the best.

Bend your wrist down.

Rotate your wrist upward.

Straighten the short end.

The hard part is done in a second.

Kids get the same attitude about knots that they get about mathematics. "That's hard, I can't do that." I try to convince them that making the loop is the hardest part. It is the hardest part. Why? Because anyone can put the rope around the back...

...and down through the hole.

Normally my other hand would be on the far side of the knot pulling the whole thing tight.

Want to see it again?

A little theater helps. I tell someone they have fallen into a deep hole. They aren't hurt but I can't pull them out until they tie the knot under their arms. The idea of rescuing yourself makes learning to tie a bowline seem as important as it is.

I was a camp counselor one summer for disabled kids. My tree climbing ropes and saddle were a big hit. If you are stuck in a wheel chair, being hauled twenty feet up a tree is a big change.

The other counselors called my class "sitting under a tree with a rope." A kid I'll call Lee, loved it. He would have spent all day every day going up and down the tree. He very much wanted a piece of rope. It made sense to me. Rope is great stuff. I cut 5 feet off the end of a retired climbing rope for him. He didn't have much dexterity but he was fascinated.

The last day of camp, I was loading foot lockers into parents' cars when I heard shrieks coming from a cabin. I wasn't sure it was an emergency, but I didn't waste any time getting there.

Inside the cabin, Lee was holding up an end of his rope in triumph. The other end was tied with a bowline around the arm of his wheelchair.

Tim Ferguson
Thetford, VT