KNOT OF THE YEAR AWARD: The Obscure But Ultimately Very Useful Halyard Knot

19 Jan

Halyard knot

That’s right, sports fans: it’s awards season! In the always hard-fought Cordage Utility category the ballots have been counted and the surprise winner this year is the mysterious halyard knot. Unknown to many sailors, the halyard knot is nonetheless an elegant compact knot that is particularly handy to know about if you need to bend a line on to some sort of shackle or clip (a halyard shackle being the eponymous example) on a more-or-less permanent basis, but are too lazy (or ignorant) to be bothered with actually splicing the line on to said bit of hardware.

The knot most people use in these situations is, of course, the perennial and ubiquitous bowline, which is not quite ideal in this application, as it is bulkier than it needs to be (a drawback, for instance, when you have to hoist a halyard shackle up close to masthead sheave) and involves a fixed bight or loop of line that necessarily must be larger than necessary.

Halyard knot schematic

The halyard knot is very easy to tie. Pass a line through the shackle in question, take two full turns around the standing part, then slip the bitter end up through the turns alongside the standing part. The result is a low-profile slip knot that will snug down tight and neatly against the shackle.

The halyard knot is very secure and is very unlikely to come undone after it has been loaded up. Unlike a bowline, however, it is not that easy to untie once it has been in service for a while. In the end, when you want to get your shackle back, you may have to cut it off. At a minimum you’ll need a nice marlinspike to pick it apart.

In bestowing this year’s award, Horatio P. Nimblefingers, head knot judge, stated: “Though it is always preferable to splice a halyard to its shackle, particularly when using high-modulus line, the sad fact is many so-called experienced sailors don’t know how to splice multi-braid rope. And those that do know may sometimes find themselves in situations where splicing a line to shackle is not practical or feasible. In those instances where a knot is, or must, be used, our judging panel agreed unanimously that the halyard knot is by far the most qualified candidate. It is attractive, easily executed, and easy to remember. In short, it is everything we like to see in knot.”

The halyard knot, renowned for its shy, retiring habits and character, declined to appear at the awards ceremony and afterwards could not be reached for comment. Accepting the award in its place was the more flamboyant hangman’s knot, which declared: “That’s my buddy Hal! He’s a real winner, but he hates to admit it. What he is at heart is a utilitarian minimalist.””

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain


  1. Jim Connors

    Lighten up everyone. This is a great knot, easy to use, and quick when in a hurry. The article was well written and humorous. Following the text and the illustrations makes this easy for anyone to tie. And Erick Veldhuis’s comment about cutting and retying that knot annually to change the wear locations on the halyard is a great idea. Thanks, Erick, I will do this when I get back in the water.
    Jim C

  2. Stephen Judd

    The complaint about the diagram is well warranted. It does not clearly show which piece of the line is in front and which behind. For a knot diagram, that’s a deadly failing.

  3. Pingback: The Obscure But Ultimately Very Useful Halyard Knot | My Desultory Blog

  4. Erick Veldhuis

    Now the nicest thing knowing this knot is the following, which I have done for decades: when buying a new halyard get a comfortable few yards extra …. and then cut this knot off every year or so to create a new a wearing/clamping part on the ropeclutches. This way your halyard will last really forever and the mantle is used over a much greater area and you have a chance to practice this knot every year. BTW… it is by far the best halyard knot, no mistake about it. Therefore, it sounds like a great name to me. Have a great (sailing) day! ;-)

  5. Wayne Coutts

    Surely it’s a light hearted article not cause for a debate
    I’d suggest some people might do better to take up sailing. Good grief the comments give the impression that some people may need to get a hobby and or a life

  6. Irakly Shanidze

    This is not a poacher’s knot, although it is very similar. In the poacher’s knot turns go upward, and in this knot they go downward from a loop.
    What it is, it’s an unfinished halyard knot tied on itself, rather than on a spar. To finish it, the bitter end has to come back under the first turn, but in this present configuration it is clearly unnecessary. Very clever indeed.

  7. Grog

    I provided three previous comments but you only published one. Let me try again. The knot you show here is usually known as the Poacher’s Knot:
    (Ashley Book of Knots #409, p65).
    The knot is also sometimes known – though incorrectly – by various other names, e.g., Barrel or Scaffold.
    I see no reason to give it a new name.
    Thank you – Grog

  8. Grog

    Let me try a second time:

    I see this as an unfortunate name and award: knots that attach rope to an object should be known as “hitches”. We claim no originality or ownership, but a “Halyard Hitch” is already described and fairly widely used:
    Also the illustration here is hard to follow – however good this knot might be. – Grog

  9. Anon

    I used this helpful knot yesterday when I replaced my burgee halyard at my spreader. I knoted the line to the snap shackles that connect to the burgee cringle.

  10. Martin Cleaver

    Looks like the illustration is misleading. The second picture especially has the crossings bottom left back to front. No half hitches there.

  11. Matt

    By tucking the bitter end back through, you are locking the half hitches so they can’t work out over time. The knot is no stronger than the pair of half hitches, just less likely to loose.

    I tend to agree with you regards to the fisherman’s bend, but on that bend, the bitter end is at 90 degrees to the load and runs risk of working lose as well if the load is intermittent

    Now, the buntline hitch. Since the final tuck is up against the shackle, I think you are right that it is the superior of the 3. That’s not coming lose …

  12. Michael

    in what way is this superior to the ancient, and venerable, buntline hitch? It’s not even clear to me that this is superior to two half hitches! It is bulkier, and harder to set properly, as well as being harder to untie. And if it is meant to be long lasting, why not use a fisherman’s bend? I don’t get it.

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