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Barrel Hitch: A Comprehensive Guide to Secure Lifting

The Barrel Hitch is a versatile knot used by many professions and hobbyists to securely lift and move cylindrical objects, such as barrels, buckets, and other containers. It is a simple yet effective method that optimizes the lifting power of ropes to minimize accidents or damage when transporting items. The knot secures tightly around the object and relies on its shape to provide a safe, balanced, and even lift.

To master the Barrel Hitch knot, one needs to understand how to form an overhand knot and a bowline knot, as these two knots play key roles in creating the necessary foundation of this hitch. By knowing how to efficiently execute the Barrel Hitch, individuals can expect to improve their capability in handling and moving large, round objects with increased ease and safety.

Barrel Hitch

Various industries, from shipping to rescue operations, rely on the benefits offered by the Barrel Hitch knot. Its simple design and reliable function make it an invaluable tool for individuals across different fields. Even in casual situations like home organization or recreational activities, learning and employing the Barrel Hitch knot can prove to be a practical and useful skill.

Understanding Barrel Hitch

Purpose of Barrel Hitch

The Barrel Hitch is an essential knot for lifting barrels or containers in their upright position, particularly when they have liquid inside. This hitch is formed by creating a “sling” around an object, which then supports it from both sides and underneath. Apart from its use in hoisting cargo aboard ships, the Barrel Hitch is also useful in various industrial and outdoor applications.

Unlike the Barrel Sling, which lays the barrel on its side, the Barrel Hitch keeps it vertical. One advantage of using a Barrel Hitch is its ability to lift containers with open tops. For the knot to work effectively and maintain stability, the encircling rope must be placed well above the center of gravity, but still far enough below the top to prevent slipping off1.

Origin in Ashley Book of Knots

The Barrel Hitch traces its roots back to the Ashley Book of Knots, which is an encyclopedic reference book authored by Clifford W. Ashley in 1944. This book contains over 3,800 different knots, complete with illustrations and detailed instructions for tying them. The Barrel Hitch, specifically, is listed within this comprehensive guide2, highlighting its history and importance in knot-tying.

In conclusion, understanding the Barrel Hitch is essential for those in the maritime industry or anyone requiring a reliable and secure method of hoisting and lifting barrels and containers. The knot’s unique design and practical use make it an indispensable tool in various applications.


  1. NetKnots
  2. Wikipedia: Barrel Hitch

Components and Knots

Overhand Knot

An overhand knot is a straightforward and easy-to-tie knot essential in a barrel hitch. This is a basic stopper knot, used to prevent the rope from sliding out of a constrictor. To tie the overhand knot, make a loop with the rope and pass the working end through the loop. Pull both ends to tighten. The overhand knot is usually formed on top of the barrel as part of a barrel hitch.

Bowline Knot

The bowline knot is another crucial part of tying a barrel hitch. This type of knot creates a secure loop at the end of the rope that doesn’t tighten under load. To tie a bowline knot, hold the rope in a downward loop, pass the working end up through the loop from the bottom, around the standing line, then back down through the loop. The bowline knot is often employed to join the working ends of the rope after forming the barrel hitch.

Cow Hitch

The cow hitch is an alternative knot that may be used instead of a barrel hitch when lifting barrels or similar objects. This knot creates two opposing loops around the object. To tie a cow hitch, make a loop on the working end of the rope, then wrap the working end around and back through the loop. Then, tighten on the object. The cow hitch can be utilized to carry barrels or other cylindrical objects by passing a bight of rope through the top loops and lifting.

Bale Sling Hitch

In addition to the overhand, bowline, and cow hitch, there is the alternative bale sling hitch option. The bale sling hitch serves a similar purpose as the barrel hitch, used for lifting or carrying objects with a sling. It is similar in design to the cow hitch, by forming a loop around the object, then creating an additional loop on the sling’s working end. This knot works best with objects like bales or sacks, as it grips tightly without causing damage.

Application and Use

Lifting and Hoisting

The Barrel Hitch is a versatile knot, often used for lifting and hoisting various objects, particularly cylindrical containers like barrels, buckets, and cans. The knot securely supports the object, distributing the weight evenly and ensuring its upright position during lifting. This technique is especially useful when hoisting containers filled with liquid or loose contents, as the Barrel Hitch holds the container above its center of gravity, minimizing the risk of spilling container contents.

While lifting, it is crucial to avoid any sudden jerking movements that could cause the knot to slip or the contents to spill. To achieve secure lifting, the rope or webbing is wrapped around the object, forming a sling that embraces the object from both sides and underneath. The Barrel Sling, a variation of the Barrel Hitch, can be used to lay the barrel on its side, which is helpful for suspending cylindrical objects like coal-filled buckets.

Transporting Cargo

The Barrel Hitch is widely used in transporting cargo, particularly on ships, where the knot allows for easy and secure suspending of various objects and containers. Additionally, the Barrel Hitch can be used in conjunction with other knots like the Bale Sling Hitch to create a system that allows for easy transport and handling of bulk items both on land and at sea.

When tying a Barrel Hitch, it is essential to consider the size, material, and shape of the object being hoisted and transported. Ensure that the knot is tight and secure and that the sling is positioned appropriately to prevent slippage during the transportation process.

Overall, the Barrel Hitch and its variations are useful and practical knots for lifting, hoisting, and transporting various objects and cargo while maintaining the security and integrity of the contents. With proper technique and attention to detail, the Barrel Hitch can be an effective tool in a wide range of applications.

Safety Considerations

Proper Tension and Balance

When tying a Barrel Hitch knot, it is essential to maintain proper tension and balance. Ensure the rope is tight around the barrel, and the working ends are secured with a Bowline Knot to prevent slipping. It is crucial to evenly distribute tension along the rope to maintain balance and prevent the barrel from tilting. Additionally, when lifting a container filled with liquid, the Barrel Hitch can be used, ensuring that the top is open to avoid spillage and accidents.

Warning Signs and Precautions

In order to ensure safety while using a Barrel Hitch knot, it is necessary to recognize warning signs and take necessary precautions. Watch for signs of the knot slipping, which could indicate that it is improperly tied or lacks the tension needed to secure the load. If the barrel begins to tilt or wobble while lifting, it is advised to stop the operation immediately and re-tie the knot to maintain stability.

Some precautions to consider include:

  • Avoid transporting barrels with damaged or slippery surfaces, as these may cause the hitch to slip off.
  • Use ropes that are sturdy and have a high weight-bearing capacity to support the load.
  • Regularly inspect the knot for signs of wear and tear, and replace ropes as needed to ensure continual safety.

By following these guidelines and regularly checking the Barrel Hitch knot’s stability, users can help prevent accidents and ensure a secure and safe operation when transporting barrels or other containers.

Learning Barrel Hitch

Step-by-Step Instructions

Learning to tie a Barrel Hitch is straightforward. Begin by standing the barrel on top of a rope. Wrap each end of the rope around the barrel in a vertical direction. Tie a loose overhand knot over the top of the barrel. Open the knot, and spread it until it’s wide enough to surround the opening of the barrel. Secure the working ends with a Bowline Knot1. This knot is efficient in lifting barrels, buckets, and other containers.

Animated Demonstrations

If you prefer visual guidance, there are animated knot demonstrations available, showcasing step-by-step animations on how to tie a Barrel Hitch knot. These animations help users follow along easily, making it simpler for beginners to grasp the technique.

Video Tutorials

In addition to illustrations and animations, a variety of video tutorials are available online to guide you through the process of tying a Barrel Hitch. Video tutorials provide real-life demonstrations on handling rope and maintaining tension while tying the knot. Watching an expert tie the knot can boost your confidence and reinforce your understanding of the technique.



Frequently Asked Questions

How do you tie a barrel hitch?

To tie a barrel hitch, first, stand your barrel on a rope and wrap each end vertically around the barrel. Then, tie a loose overhand knot over the top of the barrel. Spread the knot until it’s wide enough to surround the barrel’s opening and adjust it to embrace its top third for secure lifting. Lastly, tie a Bowline Knot with the ends of the rope to join together and lift the barrel (source).

What are the main uses for a barrel hitch?

The main use of a barrel hitch is for lifting and moving heavy cylindrical objects like barrels, drums, and canisters. It securely holds the object in place during transportation, ensuring it won’t slip or fall while being lifted or moved.

What are the steps to untie a barrel hitch?

To untie a barrel hitch, lower the object safely to the ground, then release the Bowline Knot at the top where the ropes join. Next, slide the overhand knot off the top of the object and unwrap the rope from around its sides. Finally, untie the overhand knot, and the barrel hitch is completely untied.

What type of rope is best for a barrel hitch?

A strong and flexible rope is best for a barrel hitch. Synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester are recommended, as they provide excellent strength, durability, and resistance to abrasion and moisture.

How much weight can a barrel hitch support?

The weight a barrel hitch can support largely depends on the strength of the rope used. It’s crucial to choose a rope with a working load limit that can handle the weight of the object being lifted. Always consult the rope manufacturer’s guidelines for specific information on maximum load capacity.

Are there any alternatives to the barrel hitch for similar tasks?

An alternative to the barrel hitch for lifting cylindrical objects is the Girth Hitch Barrel Sling. This method involves wrapping a sling or rope around the object in a girth hitch configuration, which evenly distributes the load and provides a more secure grip. Another alternative is using a specifically designed barrel lifting clamp or device for specialized tasks.