Good Knots and Lessons Learned

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This is nothing new, but I was just thinking about what lessons I have learned since I purchased my boat.

First and foremost, you have to look at buying a boat in terms of total cost of ownership. The purchase price is just the beginning. The good news is that if you take care of your boat, the ongoing expenses come down quite a bit after the first couple of years, but you will probably double your boat payment in extra stuff before that.

Learning to operate the boat wasn't always fun. Believe me, the first couple of times I had to launch or retrieve my boat at a busy ramp was daunting, to say the least. Especially when I was by myself. It reminded me of learning to play golf (which I have since given up permanently). All you really have to do is line-up, step-up, take a smooth swing and hit the ball. But after a day with a golf-pro, you are thinking about so many variables, there is no wonder you end up slicing the ball. The same is true for retrieving a boat. There are so many questions going through your head -- Is there room at the dock? Am I going to have to beach the boat? The wind is blowing 20mph, how do I get between those two boats at the dock without having an accident, especially when some jerk just threw a two-foot wake past the boat ramp? Luckily, with a little practice, these things become second nature. Someone gave me a simple piece of advice once, which in retrospect seems completely obvious -- head into the wind or current. This makes perfect sense, because since you steer the boat from the rear, you need some sort of wind or water flowing past the steerage in order to control the boat.

After operating a boat for a while, you learn to be prepared -- to anticipate problems, and take steps to avoid them. Getting out of the way of a drunk water-skier is a no-brainer. Its the little things that will get you in trouble. On one of my first fishing/camping trips with my new boat, I took my wife and dog with me on the lake. I learned a couple of important lessons on this day.

First lesson - make sure you walk the dog before you put it on the boat. Trust me, dealing with dog-poop on a boat becomes a whole new experience. My poor wife bore the brunt of that attack -- I noticed my dog (which is a 60lb German Shepherd) was looking quite uncomfortable. I thought it was just a little scared of being on the boat. At one point her uncomfortable look turned into a look of panic, so I stopped the boat just in time for her to have an explosion. Right on my wife's lap! At least she didn't soil the carpet. Good girl! My wife was in shock. She had to jump in the water to clean off! Afterwards, my dog looked much more content, but my wife was the one looking uncomfortable.

Second lesson - expect the unexpected. We were on Lake Buchanan, which is a pretty large lake, with decent size swells on the water. I was using my trolling motor to navigate around some rocky bluffs, while casting a crankbait against the shoreline. My wife was reading a book, and my dog was keenly eyeing my lure every time I cast it out. The sound of the rattling lure, and the whine of my reel as I made each cast eventually was more than my dog could stand. She was wearing her collar, and her short-leash so that I could control her if necessary (or so I thought). I made a long cast, and she decided that she would fetch the lure! So she leaped into the water to catch the lure! We were in a pretty deep part of the lake, with a moderate wind blowing -- not the kind of place you want to give up control of the boat, even for a minute. After calling her back to the boat, and hauling her on board, we had drifted dangerously close to the rocky shoreline. I went to start up my motor, to get us to a safe distance, when I noticed that my motor would not start! I looked down to try and figure out what was going on, when I noticed my kill-switch lanyard was gone! When my dog jumped overboard, the leash had snagged on the kill switch lanyard, and pulled it in after her! Of course, it sank straight to the bottom of the lake. Luckily, I had a pair of lockable pliers in my tackle box, so I pulled out the kill switch, and locked my pliers onto it so that I could start the motor. Just in time, too -- it was definitely getting too close for comfort. Needless to say, we went straight back to camp, and I made a little trip to the marina store. I bought two kill switch lanyards, and a few key-floats. I attached a key-float to each lanyard, and my boat keys, and put the extra lanyard under my seat. When I told the marina attendant what had happened, she looked at me like I was an idiot. She said, "You should wrap the lanyard around the throttle control when you are not driving, and clip it back onto itself". This seems obvious now, but at the time it was quite a revelation. I don't think I'm an idiot; I was just a little green at that time.

There are some accessories that come in handy. I spent some time rigging my boat out for night fishing. I installed a series of red LED lights up under my gunwale, with a switch on my console. At night, when I flip the switch, the front and rear decks are flooded with red light. The red light does not interfere with your night-vision, and there is plenty of light to tie on a lure. I installed the lights close to the deck, so that from a distance it would not confuse other boaters. The red and green night running lights on the bow of a boat, combined with a white light at the stern, are designed to let other boaters know whether you are coming or going. I also installed a white map-light under my console, so that I could get a better look at something if necessary. I installed two marine DC power adapters (cigarette lighter style), one for the starboard side, and one for the port side. I have a couple of submersible lamps that I can plug in, and drop overboard for serious night-fishing. This works extremely well.

Another great accessory is a keel-guard. This was somewhat expensive, but I saved money by installing it myself. It was not easy to install, and sealing it was not pleasant. But I have been very pleased with the results. It has opened up a whole new realm of opportunities, because it makes it very easy to beach the boat. This helps tremendously when launching my boat alone at a ramp that has no dock. I have also brought my wife and dog out to picnic on an island in the middle of the lake. The keel guard, plus a good trick another boater taught me, made that possible. The trick involves a long rode, and a few good knots.

Before I tell you the trick, I need to explain the knots. It's helpful to know a few good knots. However, it does you no good unless you can quickly tie the right knot when necessary. I taught myself while watching TV by tying knots over and over again on a scrap piece of rope. Eventually, I got to where I could tie a few useful knots with my hands tied behind my back -- just kidding, that would be something though, wouldn't it! I can tie them quickly without looking, and this has helped me on numerous occasions. I wont tell you how to tie them -- a Google search turned up over 2.5 Million web pages that will show you. If you found my page, you can probably figure it out pretty quick. One good resource is Knot Knowledge, which has easy to understand instructions and illustrations. Another good resources is the US Powerboating Course. I will describe the knots, and what they might be useful for. You can figure out which knot to use, and look up the details yourself.

One of the most useful every day knots is a bowline. A bowline knot is easy to tie, and more importantly, it is easy to untie. It is a loop knot that doesn't cinch up, and it can be tied mostly with one hand. It is easy to tie around another object, such as a bow ring, or a drift sock. I have read that it should not be used under heavy load, and that you should leave a tag end that is about twelve times the diameter of the rope. If you are paranoid, consider tying a figure eight knot on the tag end, to keep it from slipping out. I have a small boat (17' Skeeter), and I have used it as part of a system to secure my boat to land without problems. The method I will describe to you takes most of the strain off of the line anyways; it is used primarily to stabilize the boat. Incidentally, a line tied to the bow of a boat is called a 'bow line'. Do not confuse this with a 'bowline knot', which is a type of knot that makes a loop.

Before I go any further, I need to tell you that I am not a certified boat captain, so if you are concerned about the safety of this method, or anything else I might tell you, I defer to the nearest authority. My knowledge comes mostly from experience, and I am learning new things all the time.

Another couple of knots I use in this method are the 'In Line Figure 8 Loop', (a loop that can be tied in line with a rope, even when the tag ends are not free), and the Tautline Hitch (also called a 'Rolling Hitch', it is a knot that can be fastened back onto the standing end of a rope, with easy adjustment, and locking ability).

The first time I used this trick, it was to secure my boat for over-night camping. I was camping at Black Rock Park on Lake Buchanan. I managed to get a decent camp-site, close to the water. I wanted to beach the boat where I could have easy access to it, that way I could take the boat at my leisure, without having to launch and retrieve the boat. Lake Buchanan has a rough sand made up of decomposed granite. Its interesting that they call it Black Rock Park, when the rock is mostly red granite. The sand is fairly abrasive, but it lends well to beaching. I was having trouble securing the boat -- I was worried about an approaching thundershower, so I wanted to make sure I didn't anchor the stern down in such a way as to flood the boat.

This other camper, who had also beached his boat was watching me with some amusement, as I struggled to secure my boat. Finally, he offered me some advice. There was a sandbar about 50 feet off the shoreline. He told me to run up to the sandbar at idle speed with the motor trimmed up, then turn off the motor before the keel runs aground. Once aground, he told me to trim down my motor, so that the skeg would dig into the sand. After this, I tied a bowline knot at one end of a 100' rode, securing it to the bow ring of my boat. I walked the line around an upright tree on the shore. I tied an in line figure 8 loop about halfway between the boat and the tree, on the standing end of the line, with the loop facing toward shore. I ran the tag end through the loop, then walked back toward shore to take out the slack in the line. This acted as a pulley, allowing me to double my pulling force on the front of the boat. I pulled the line as tight as I could go to swing the bow of my boat around, in line with the rope. Finally, I secured the tag end to the standing end using a taughtline hitch. This kept a good tension on the line, so it kept the boat from swinging out in the wind, and working its way free. It worked so well in fact, that I had to chase off some children who were using the tight bow line as a swing set.

The bow line was used primarily to keep the bow of the boat from swinging around in the wind. The keel of the boat rested on the sand. The motor skeg held the stern of the boat in place. This worked exceptionally well, even though we had quite a deluge from that passing summer storm.

The water facing camp-sites at Black Rock park face toward the South. Ideally, you would want to beach the boat facing South, because most Summer storms come up from the South East. Its better to have waves hitting the bow of your boat rather than the stern. I did get a small amount of water in my bilge, but I think it was mostly from the rain, because I did not see any waves breaking over the transom.

I have since used derivatives of this method on several occasions. If you are trying to beach on a desert island, with no trees, you could run the line through a mushroom or dansforth anchor, then bury the anchor in about two feet of sand. If you feel the anchor slipping when you cinch up the line, bury it more deeply.

Another useful knot is the Butterfly Knot, which creates a loop that can be tied without access to the ends of the rope. The loop stands straight out from the line, and is useful for making a lean-to out of a tarp and two trees. If you have a long enough rope, you can tie a butterfly knot that aligns with each grommet in the tarp. You create a frame by staking out the bottom corners of a square that extends at a 45 degree angle from the ground to the tree trunk. Secure the ends of the rope to the two trees, 45 degrees up from the corners of the rope square. Now, use bungy cords to attach the tarp grommets to the butterfly knot loops you created. I have used this to keep firewood dry in a rainstorm, and it works well. The bungy cords absorb the shock from the wind, and the water runs off the tarp well away from the wood.

that's enough from me for now. If you have any stories about using knots in interesting ways, please post a comment.

About me

  • I'm Scott Gaspard
  • From Austin, Texas, United States
  • I really like to fish. I go every chance I can. You can pretty much bet that at any given moment, I'm using whatever spare cycles I have to plan my next trip.
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