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What Is A Running Bowline Knot – How To Use It

There are thousands of knots and many of them can be used for various different jobs! Today I want to answer your question, what is a running bowline knot?

First of all I want to make sure you are pronouncing it correctly, its not pronounced as you may think!  Bowline pronunciation

The quick answer is it is a knot with a loop and can be made anywhere in the rope, but usually near the end. The rest of the rope is able to run through the knot, creating a noose of any size as long as your rope!


How Does A Tied Running Bowline Knot Look?

 what is a running bowline knot

How Do I Tie A Running Bowline Knot?

A simple way to help remember how to tie this knot is a short saying, think of the loop as a “rabbits hole” and the rope end coming off the loop as a “tree” and the end of the rope you are holding in your hand as the “rabbit”.

The rabbit comes up the hole, around the tree and back down the hole! Then pull the knot tight and you are finished!

Of course, simply telling somebody how to tie a knot only goes so far and it is much better to show them or provide a video tutorial.

Are They Easy To Tie And Untie?

As with many questions there is a short answer and a long complicated answer. The short answer is yes! They are easy to tie and untie. It can be done with your eyes closed and easily untied with one hand!

The long answer is it’s not the easiest knot to learn how to tie. Also, there is one way to easily take it apart “breaking the back” is what it’s called. It is loosening the back of the knot before untying it. Without doing this the knot stays snug and it is somewhat difficult to untie.

A little practice and it will become easy! I have made thousands of these knots and a trick I have learned is to get plenty of slack in the rope, it will really help!

What Is A Running Bowline Knot Used For?

This is our primary knot when rigging tree branches and is used to fasten a rope to a tree we want to cut down.

The running bowline knot is basically a lasso around the tree or branch and the tighter we pull the harder the rope bites into the tree.

When we have obstacles beneath the tree we are taking down we need to use a rope to lower the branches so they don’t damage anything on the way down. A rope also allows us to control where the branch lands by letting it fall fast or slow, because usually they are swinging back and forth on the way down!

The process to cut and lower a branch is straightforward. We run the rope through a strong branch crotch higher in the tree than the branch that is being cut, then the running bowline knot is tied about 3 feet from where I will cut.

Make the knot and work it snugly against the branch, start cutting and when the branch begins to fall the lasso part of the knot will get tight against the wood and shouldn’t slip. The heavier the branch the tighter it cinches!

This same knot is used to fell a tree. First loop the rope around the tree, then make the running bowline knot. This knot is easily able to be loosened and taken apart even after pulling the rope with a truck!

Now sometimes the knot ends up on the underside of the log after the tree is down, that can be difficult to untie unless we either move the log or if it’s a large tree we can begin cutting the tree until we are able to roll the log of the knot!

This same knot can also be used to fasten the rope to equipment to pull trees that are leaning the wrong way. It doesn’t matter how hard we pull or how tight the knot is, just “break the back” on the knot and it easily comes apart. The speed and ease to untie even after a heavy load is awesome and time-saving!

Another reason Arborists often use the running bowline knot is because we often can’t easily reach the place we want to tie the knot. We may be climbing around the tree and sometimes need to toss the rope around a branch which we want to tie the rope to. Then grab the tail of the rope while its swinging back and forth so we have both ends of the rope. Then make the knot and pull the rope until its tight!

When we want to use a rope to help pull a tree we are cutting down we use fiberglass extension handles with a hook and rope holder on it. Then we push the rope around the tree or branch and pull it back down. After its pulled down and both sides of the rope are in my hands I can make the running bowline knot and pull on the rope which runs the knot up to where the rope circles the tree.

Another option to get a rope around a tree or branch that is very high is to use a throwing ball or throw weight. It is a small weight pouch with a thin lightweight rope attached to it. Simply throw this weight through a branch crotch and let the weight pull the rope back to the ground. Then tie your larger rope to the small rope and pull on the small rope which will pull larger rope up the tree and back to you. Untie the small rope and make your running bowline knot in the large and pull it up the tree, now you have a rope knotted around the tree where you wanted it without having to climb it!

The running bowline knot has been used for centuries by sailors whenever a noose was needed. Now it is a favorite in the Arborist business for its reliability and strength.

A knot tying kit with ropes and detailed instructions is an easy way to practice at home. Practice makes perfect and after a few days of practice you will be able to make this knot with your eyes closed!

Ideas To Use This Knot Around The House

Just the other day I hung a rope swing for the children to play with! I was able to throw the rope over the branch then make my running bowline knot from the ground. Then I pulled the rope tight and the noose ran up the rope until it was tight around the branch.

Now this is a sturdy knot but eventually the tree branch will grow around the rope, so I will need to move the rope after a year or two to keep the tree healthy.

You can use it to tie a box shut or to keep a stack of papers or other materials secure.

Pretty much any rope or string you want to tie, this knot can be used for your first knot or when you need to go completely around the object you are tying to and want the rope to stay tight against it.

Have fun trying this knot next time you need a knot in a rope!

Your Arborist Friend: Justin

6 thoughts on “What Is A Running Bowline Knot – How To Use It”

  1. You have done a great job explaining how to tie and use this knot!
    I personally don’t know how to tie very many knots but can get by with what I do know.
    This running bowline knot seems like an effective knot to use in your business.
    Do you use a regular bowline knot? It is basically tied the same except it doesn’t wrap around the other part of the rope, no noose. It works great to put a loop in the rope and is easy to untie even after a load has been on the rope.
    I do know knots in a rope will make it weaker. Do you know what percentage of the rope’s strength is retained while using this running bowline knot? Just curious because you mentioned tying the rope to a truck to pull a tree over.

    • I am happy to help others with their questions!
      A regular bowline knot is not as popular for us, most times we want the rope to stay tight against the branch so we use the running bowline.
      The rope strength question is a great one! The running bowline is one of the best knots at retaining rope strength. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% to 70% of its strength remains with this knot.
      That may seem low but any knot creates a hard bend and pinches the rope the tighter you pull.

  2. I found this article at an interesting time. I am getting back into boating so practicing my knots will come in handy. Do you have a not tying book you could recommend. I would like to have a non-electric reference when offshore. Thank you for sharing.

    • It is definitely a good idea to have a backup plan, like a book or map while offshore. In case their is no cell phone service or your phone battery would die.
      That being said, this book would be a great choice for your guide.

  3. This is a really interesting article! I’m so glad there are videos now on tying knots. I remember being a cub scout and having to try to make a knot by looking at crude drawings! LOL I live on 4 acres and this will come in handy for sure! I wish I knew this a few years ago.
    Thanks for such a great article!

    • I wish I would have been in a cub scout group when I was growing up! They sure teach many useful things that help make our lives easier.
      I use rope for other tasks besides work and there are other important knots besides a running bowline knot!


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