7 Knots Every Firefighter Must Master

There are 7 knots ever firefighter must master early in their career. If you haven’t yet attended a fire academy, I assure you will be required to learn them. 

This is one of many skills that new firefighters need to learn in the early days of their training to become qualified. Those that are new to the profession will be eager to get their hands on all kinds of fire equipment and learn about fire prevention and suppression.

In this guide, I will explain what these 7 knots are and their importance within the fire service. I will also talk about some of the other related lessons you will learn about knot creation to ensure that each of these 7 knots is perfect. From there, I also want to look at how you can train yourself to make improvements.

7 Knots Every Firefighter Must Master

  • Overhand Safety Knot
  • The Half Hitch
  • The Bowline Knot
  • The Clove Hitch
  • Figure 8 On A Bight
  • The Becket Bend Knot
  • The Water Knot

Why is knot tying such an essential skill within the fire service?

If you are going to use ropes in the fire service (and I promise you will), you are going to need to know how to tie them correctly for a safe operation. This means learning a wide range of knots for different applications.

You may end up working in rope rescue unit where a strong rope and pulley system could save lives.

On a more general level, you will have to be proficient with ropes that need to be tied correctly in an emergency, your safety ropes and your utility ropes. The right training and practice in the most essential knots are vital.

The 7 most common knots you will use are ones that you will be tested on in order to receive your firefighter 1 and 2 certification.  They are:

#1 The Overhand Safety Knot

Let’s start with the simplest and most important of the knots.

The overhand safety knot is used to create a secure end to a line that will stop fraying or any other potential damage. The process is simple. You make a loop at the end of the rope, pull the end through and then tighten it.

You might look at this and say, “but that’s how I always tie a knot at the end of something”.

There is a good chance that you have used this knot for years without knowing that it had a name. However, that doesn’t mean that you can be complacent about learning it.

There are still high standards to abide by. Once you master this, you can move onto the double overhand knot.

#2 The Half Hitch

This next knot is another one that you will have been using for your whole life without thinking about it. Now it has a name and a purpose.

Recruits are encouraged to look at this knot a little like tying an overhand knot around an object instead of creating that secure end.

You take the rope, pass it through a ring or other loop on an object, pass the end around the rope and back through the loop that you created. Then just tighten it up to hitch your rope to the ring.

This is a simple way to secure a rope to loops and will be used often when working with all kinds of equipment in the duties.

The trick here is to make sure that it is secure and clean without being too tight or too difficult to adjust. The written instructions can make it seem more complicated than it really is so take a look at the video.

#3 The Bowline Knot

You might be familiar with the bowline knot if you have experience with fishing or other maritime pastimes. You may have used it in the past with no idea what it was actually called.

A bowline creates a loop on the end of a rope in a secure manner. The correct process is essential here to ensure that it is secure but also easy to adjust as needed.

If you have ever heard stories about knot-tying with rabbits and trees and wondered what that was all about – this is that knot. The video below should make things a little easier to follow without the need for this metaphor.

This knot is important because it is used so often during rope rescue operations and fire suppression.

Creating a loop in a rope gives you the chance to raise other items, or perhaps even people, to safety. It is a practical knot for basic firefighter roles but later becomes even more essential in marine firefighting work, rope rescue or any other search and rescue capacity.

#4 The Clove Hitch

The Clove hitch is an essential knot to master because it can be used in so many situations.

This is a quick hold knot and has a simple process that lets you attach a rope to pole, railing or other support so that it stays in place.

It is one of the simplest to master because of the lack of motion. As you can see from the video below, all you need to do is bring the rope over the railing a few times and tuck it under one of the last wraps to secure it in place.

However, one thing that you do need to be aware of here is that this knot isn’t that secure as it can tend to slip. It is a temporary solution to keep the rope in a secure place.

It is not a good idea to use this if you plan on putting any strain on the knot because there isn’t the strength. You will need a different knot to act as a tie off, such as the figure 8 below.

#5 Figure 8 On A Bight

There are two things that you need to know about the figure 8 knot. The first is how to tie it as a stopper knot.

These are knots that can prevent a rope from traveling too far through a pulley system or from unraveling.

The former is essential for rope access work where you need to lift items and people on inclines. If the rope were to slip, you now have the stopper as a security measure.

The figure-eight stopper is created by making a loop, twisting it a half-turn and then pulling it back through the loop to create that secure mass.

The other thing that you need to know about this knot is how to secure it on a bight. This is important when working with mid-attachment points.

The bight is a bend in the rope that you can use to attach another rope, and in turn another piece of equipment. These attachment points are helpful when transporting items down a ladder. The process can sound complicated at first, but this video should help.

#6 The Becket Bend/Sheet Bend Knot

This one is a little more complicated because you need two pieces of rope to make this work.

Take your thickest piece of rope and create a bend, or a bight, so there is a strong U bend.

Then, take your thinner rope and pass the end through the bend and then around both arms of the bight. The end of the thin rope then passes under itself and back out level with its other arm.

Pull the arms tight to secure the knot. Again, this can all sound complicated written out like this, but visual diagrams and videos help.

This knot is an important tool for firefighters that need to be creative in a crisis. There is no guarantee that the length of rope in your possession is going to be long enough for your needs in a given situation, but there are sure to be other crew members with rope as well.

Therefore, you can use this bend knot to secure the two lengths together for something much longer. Once you perfect this knot, you will find that it is a secure tool that works with all kinds of rope, cord and webbing.

#7 The Water Knot

Finally, I want to talk about the water knot. This is the last one that you will need to demonstrate for your firefighter 1 and 2 certification.

This is also another knot that you can use to tie two ropes together.

This time, this knot is recommended if you are using two pieces of tougher webbing or nylon and need a secure fastening. This one takes some practice to perfect because of the tension of the knots and length of the excess.

Create a loose overhand knot near the end of the line. Then take your other line and feed it through the knot, tracing the same movements so that the two pieces end up tied together. There will be some excess material which can be used for readjusting the knot at a later point.

You can secure this further with overhand knots as additional safety knots.

This water knot is primarily used for webbing in climbing applications. It can secure pieces together and help when you need to use the material to repel down a slope.

Again, you can take a look at the video below for a clearer idea of how this knot works.

“Dressing” the knot

Don’t forget that you won’t just be assessed on the way that you tie these knots.

Displaying knowledge of the process or quick speed isn’t going to be enough. There are strict rules on how the knots should look and how they should function when tied. Speed is pointless if it leads to complications later on.

Other firefighters that come back to rope won’t appreciate it if they find that the rope is untidy and difficult to untie. The Seattle Fire Department sums this up perfectly in their own guide to knots.

They talk about the myth that knot strength is the most important factor. All knots require just the right amount of tension and a clean approach to the way that the rope is presented.

You may wonder why that matters so much in an emergency. It all comes down to the need for everyone to be able to work with that rope. Those in command need to be able to inspect it with ease to ensure it is safe.

Other crew members will need to be able to adjust it and untie it quickly and efficiently. A rushed, over-tightened knot could be a big problem in a disaster.

How can you make sure that you can tie these perfectly?

If you have limited experience with knot tying, you may find that these first 7 knots are a little complicated at first. They will look more like a tangled mess than anything functional.

You may also find that this is an accurate description of the knots that you end up creating. However, you can improve if you practice, get to know the knots step by step and understand their purpose.

If you know why you are tying the knot and the end goal, it might help you achieve a better appreciation for the different methods. A step-by-step, more methodical approach means that you can understand some of the terminology involved.

Do you know what a bight is? Do you know the difference between the running end and the standing end?

With time, this can all come together to create a wide arsenal of skills. The more you practice the better you will be.

Some firefighters that have been through this training talk about practicing blindfolded or in the dark to get a better feel for the rope. This way you aren’t entirely dependent on sight for the best result in a crisis.

Also, this helps with touch checks when inspecting the knots and ropes of other crew members.

Finally, these 7 knots are just the starting point. Don’t assume that this is the limit when it comes to essential knot tying skills within the fire service. These 7 knots that every firefighter must master are the basics necessary for rope rescue.

You need to be able to handle far more than this because there are so many different applications. These knots are just the starting point for your basic training. Master these and you can then move onto the other, more advanced knots.

Other resources you may be interested in:

Confined Space 101: A Simple Guide for Rescuers

Low Angle vs. High Angle Rope Rescue: A Guide for Rescuers

Rope Rescue 101: The Anatomy of Rescue Rope

What Is A Z-drag and How Does It Work?