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Essential Knots for Filmmaking: Bowline

  • March 2, 2015
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Essential Knots for Filmmaking: Bowline

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I thought it would be fun to take you back to my grip days and what I learned back when I was starting out and how it now applies to me as a cinematographer. I have to say that understanding the power of knots is incredibly important, whether you are a grip, electric, camera or a DP. I have been in so many places where if I did not know the correct knot, I would have either not been able to get the shot safely myself, make it safe for others, or lose time by asking someone else to do it.

I am going to take you through the four most essential knots in filmmaking and we start with the number one used knot in the movie business: the bowline.

History of the Bowline Knot:

The bowline knot is known as one of the four main maritime knots. It is called the “bowline” because it is used to tie the end of a square sail to the bow of a ship to keep the sail from being taken by the wind.

two bowline knots used to secure jib sheets to the jib on a boat
two bowline knots used to secure jib sheets to the jib on a boat

The bowline is also used as a rescue knot for getting people who have fallen off a cliff, or in a hole or any other tough spot. What are the uses of the bowline knot for filmmaking? You can use it to tie onto 12×12 frames, 6×6 frames, or tie it to anything that you want to secure. Safety is always priority on a set, and this knot is reliable. This knot is strong for holding, yet fast to untie. Here’s how you make the bowline:

Step One:

Lay one part of the rope in your left hand. The rope side in my right hand will be highlighted red.

Notice the red arrow pointing to one part of the rope in the left hand.
Notice the red arrow pointing to one part of the rope in the left hand.

Step Two:

Take the rope in your other hand, and cross it over the other side to create an X.

Notice the rope in my right hand was placed over the rope in the left hand to create an X.
Notice the rope in my right hand was placed over the rope in the left hand to create an X.

Step Three:

Take the rope on top (rope on right side) and loop it into the “rabbit hole.”

The rope highlighted red indicates the right rope side, which goes over the left rope side and comes up through the hole.
The rope highlighted red indicates the right rope side, which goes over the left rope side and comes up through the hole.

Here is what it looks like after the rope has gone through the hole:

View of what the knot looks like after the rope went through the hole
View of what the knot looks like after the rope went through the hole

Step Four:

Take the side that was just popped through the hole, and take it under the other piece of rope on the other side.

Notice the piece of rope that popped through the hole is indicated by red. It is taken under the other side of rope.
Notice the piece of rope that popped through the hole is indicated by red. It is taken under the other side of rope.

Step Five:

Take the rope and make it go back into the hole.

Notice the rope goes through the hole indicated with yellow.
Notice the rope goes through the hole indicated with yellow.

Now you have your finished bowline knot.

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The great thing about this knot is that it is really strong. You can pull on the knot, have a lot of tension on it, and it won’t loosen.

Here I am pulling the knot with a lot of force. It doesn’t give in.
Here I am pulling the knot with a lot of force. It doesn’t give in.

Another great thing about this knot is that it is easy to take apart. Just pull where indicated on the image below and the knot will come apart.

Pull where indicated by red arrows to take the knot apart.
Pull where indicated by red arrows to take the knot apart.

The bowline is a simple and effective knot to use. It is strong, yet easy to untie, which saves you time.

Read Essential Knots for Filmmaking: Clove Hitch

Read Essential Knots for Filmmaking: Figure 8

Read Essential Knots for Filmmaking: Sheepshank


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