7 Essential Knots

Posted by Brian Leister on

7 Essential Knots Every Rigger Should Master

Proficiency in the use of ropes is a critical skill for entertainment riggers. A rigger’s rope is one of their most useful and personal tools. The most common task for which we use rope is hauling and lowering points up to and down from the steel. In this video, we have highlighted seven essential knots which every rigger should master.

Before we discuss the attributes of our seven essential knots, let’s get familiar with some terminology we will be presenting:

A knot can mean a lot of things, but there are some specific terms which indicate the different purposes between them. A bend refers to any knot used to join two ropes or ends of the same rope together. A hitch is a method of firmly attached a rope to an object. Without the object, the hitch would simply fall apart.

All knots, hitches, & bends will reduce the breaking strength of the rope. There is a vast collection of testing data accessible online, regarding this subject. The most consistent observation we can make from this data is that it is inconsistent. There are too many variables which can affect the efficiency of knots for us to confidently list the individual strength for each knot. It is considered best practice to assume a 50% loss of strength for all knots.

The Alpine Butterfly made the cut because it is a fixed loop, which can be tied anywhere along the rope. Unlike the dozens of alternatives, the alpine butterfly is capable of multi-directional loading, without the risk of capsizing or failure. It is also easy to learn, inspect, and untie after loading. Here are some practical uses for the Alpine Butterfly:

Temporarily isolate a damaged section of rope

Handhold or footloop to aid in climbing

Friction point in a trucker’s hitch

Above the bowline, to separate your rigging hardware

The Barrel Knot (aka Double Overhand)  is a stopper knot. Stopper knots are useful as a tactile warning to alert us when we are nearing the end of our rope. It is also a great way to prevent your rope from running through other hardware, such as pulleys. Having a tightly fitted stopper knot on the end of your rope will also help maintain the relative position of the sheath (outer cover) and the core (inner material). Without a stopper or seized ends, these two components of the rope can become misaligned and leave the rope unbalanced. My personal favorite stopper is the Oysterman, but we chose the Barrel knot for this list because it is the foundation of several other knots which are also useful. If you can master the barrel, then it will take minimal effort and time to learn its variations.

The Barrel on a Bight is one of these variations. Here, the rope is folded toward itself, which is called the bight, and a Barrel knot is tied back onto the rope. This technique is very useful in situations where headroom is limited. Perhaps you need to pull rope through a pulley system and must get the end as close as possible to the anchorage. The Barrel on a Bight will afford you the most clearance possible. Another great feature of this knot is that, when properly tightened, it will keep your carabiner from getting cross-loaded in the loop. This knot can be very difficult to untie after heavy loading, especially with smaller diameter ropes. It is very important to properly tighten and dress this knot before use. The best method is to attach the carabiner, or whichever object you have in the loop, to a structure and apply tension to the tail, then the standing end. To account for slippage, keep the tail to minimum of 6 inches.

The Bowline is an ancient knot, used to create a fixed loop in the rope. There are dozens of variations of the bowline and many ways to add additional security to it. The bowline is an ideal knot for pulling points up to and from the beam for entertainment rigging. It keeps a low-profile, is easy to tie and untie, and relatively secure under load. The bowline is not fit for cyclical loading, where tension is applied and removed repeatedly, as the knot can start to unravel. It should be untied and retied between uses. For extended use, there are many ways to add additional security to the bowline, such as tying a stopper knot in the tail or applying what is called a Yosemite finish, which takes the tail back through the knot. In this picture, we show how the bowline is used to attach a rigging assembly for hauling. The bowline is kept short for visual clarity. In practical application, the loop would be much longer and designated by the up-rigger. The up-rigger must pull the knot over the beam and step into it, to hold the rigging in place, while they wrap the steel over the beam and complete the attachment. Once that is done, they lower the rigging into place. At this point, the knot must be accessible, so the rope can be removed and taken to the next location. Because the bowline must be untied between each point, it may not be practical to add additional steps for additional security. The Bowline should not be used in life-safety applications, to support a person, as there are much stronger, more secure alternatives for these applications. The tail of the bowline should be kept to 6 to 10 inches. Long enough to prevent unraveling but not so long that it gets in the way of operations.

The Clove Hitch is another widely used method for creating simple and strong attachment to rounded objects and structure. The most common application is the use of thin sash cord (tie-line) to secure cabling to a truss. It can also be tied around hoist chain, below the hook, to make it easier for the rigger to attach and detach the hook from an established rigging point. In the video we have demonstrated how the clove hitch can unravel from movement of the rope or the object it is tied to. To mitigate this effect, it is recommended to tie an additional half-hitch (simple overhand knot) on top of the clove hitch. This adds additional security, but as with all applications, it is always necessary to monitor the integrity of knots and maintain a safe hazard zone in overhead applications. The Clove Hitch offers a great ease of use. It can easily be adjusted and untied and will never jam. It is often used in counterweight systems, where it is secured with the addition of a series half-hitches (single overhand knots) and sometimes with the tail taped back to the standing end of the rope. The Clove Hitch should not be used in life-safety applications, to support a person, as there are much stronger, more secure alternatives for these applications.


The Double Fisherman’s Bend is a very secure method for attaching two ropes together. There are simpler, but less secure bends for joining ropes, which may be more practical when safety is not at stake. We chose the Double Fisherman’s Bends because it is based on the Barrel Knot, which is simple and easy to verify correct technique. It is also very secure for uses which involve life-safety applications, when used with the appropriate type of ropes for such applications. In addition to extending the length of a working rope, it can also be used to join two ends of the same rope, effectively creating a sling, for temporary use. A common application for this uses smaller diameter cord to create an endless loop, which is then wrapped around a larger diameter rope to create a variety of slide and grip hitches; the most commonly known of which is the Prusik Hitch.


The Figure of 8 on a Bight is another knot with a family of variations. Learning the most basic version of this technique can lead to expanding that knowledge to a wide variety of uses. The Figure 8 on a Bight is ideal for applications where the rope will be subjected to cyclical loading. It is the go-to method for tying into anchorages for work at height methods, involving suspension of people, such as rope access work. It is stronger and more secure than the bowline. It can be difficult to untie, when using thinner diameter rope, especially after being loaded with the weight of a person. However, this can be alleviated by rolling the knot around, or whacking against the ground a few times. Just be cautious, as the rope could bounce back and give you a whack too. There are some key points to remember when using this knot. Such as, sizing the loop according to your intended use. Make it smaller than you expect, when you need the headroom, as it will elongate under load. Keep the tail between 6 to 10 inches. When being used with climbing equipment, make sure the tail is not long enough to be mistaken for the climbing side, to prevent accidental loading. To retain the most efficiency (strength) of the rope, check the knot for crossings. Start at the loop and trace the strands of rope all the way around to the other side. They should be parallel the entire way with no areas where the strands cross each other. Dress the knot thoroughly before use. It should be firm.

If you do not already have your own rope, we encourage you to get yourself a piece to practice with. Just like learning a new language, proper rope techniques require practice. Don’t expect to be able to apply these techniques after just a few times trying them out. If you can correctly tie a knot 100 times, then you may be ready to use it in the field, but you should still have a competent person check your work. After 1,000 times, it should be ingrained in your muscle memory. Once you feel you have mastered it, practice it blindfolded or with your opposite hand.

The ropes used in these examples is 11mm (7/16”) kernmantle rope. The diameter and type of rope used for rigging applications will vary.

Check out the video tutorial on our YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/SZqwNvztfcA



Brian Leister

Columbus McKinnon Corporation

Industry Product Trainer – Rock Lititz


mobile: 407-928-9608

office: 630-315-7769






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