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How To Tie A Reef Knot

The reef knot is an ancient knot. It’s often used to attach a rope or line around an object. It can also be used to join two ropes of similar size. It’s a relatively simple and reliable knot. It’s also known as the square knot and the Hercules knot. It has a wide variety of uses, including being an alternative to the granny knot when tying shoelaces. 

How To Tie The Reef Knot

The basis of the reef knot is actually an overhand knot, which you likely use to tie your shoelaces each day. 

1. Hold an end of the rope in each hand

Reef Knot 1

2. Make an X, crossing the two ends

Reef Knot 2

3. Bring the left end over the right end and tuck under creating an overhand knot

Reef Knot 3

4. Bring the right end over the left and tuck under creating a second overhand knot 

Reef Knot 4

5. To tighten the knot, hold a standing and tag end in each hand and pull. 

Reef Knot 5

Tips on Tying The Knot

When the knot is finished, both tag ends should be on the same side. If they aren’t, you might have made a thief knot instead, which is less secure than the reef knot. The knot is secured by the friction from the ropes.It doesn’t work well with nylon rope because it doesn’t supply enough friction. You can add a half hitch to each end of the rope for added security. 

For a more in-depth tutorial and additional information on the reef knot, check out our video!

Variations On Tying the Knot

One variation of the knot is a half square knot. This is often used in macrame, and is tied with four pieces of yarn. To tie the knot, lay four pieces of yarn side by side. Take the rightmost strand and pass it over the two middle strands. Bring it under the left strand. Take the strand on the left and pass it under the two middle stands, then through the loop formed by the stand on the right. Pull on the edge strands to tighten. 

The double square knot is similar, but it uses 8 pieces of rope or yarn. Work with four pieces in the middle, and two pieces on each side. The two rightmost strands will go over the four middle stands and beneath the two left stands. Then the left two stands pass underneath the four middle strands and through the loop formed by the two stands on the right. Hold all four outer stands and pull tight. 

The granny knot can easily be tied instead of the reef knot. A reef knot is tied by going left over right, and then right over left. A granny knot is tied by going left over right, and then left over right again. The granny knot is less secure and is rarely used intentionally. 

Advantages of this Knot

The biggest advantage of this knot is it being easy to tie. You can easily tie it in the dark or rain when visibility is very low. It can be tied very quickly. It has an incredibly wide range of uses, from macrame and jewelry making to sailing. It’s easy to untie as well, and doesn’t jam often. 

Disadvantages of the knot

The reef knot is relatively weak compared to many other knots. It’s strength rating is 45%. It is ideal for light duty applications, but it shouldn’t be used in lifesaving situations. Unfortunately, using this knot for inappropriate applications has resulted in more deaths than any other knot.

One of the issues is that it is often used as a bend. The knot is not designed to function as a reliable bend. The other issue is it’s often mis-tied into a granny knot, which is much less secure. Lastly, the knot is unsuitable for smooth ropes and likely to come undone when tied with nylon or similar materials. 

History of the Knot

The reef knot itself is 4,000 years old or more. It was used by the ancient Greeks, who called it a Hercules knot. It was believed that when bandages were tied with the knot, the wound would heal faster, according to Pliny’s Natural History.

It’s still a favored knot for tying triangular bandages. The first known mention of it being called the reef knot is 1794, because it was used to reef sails. This ties part of the sail down to keep it from catching in strong winds.

One advantage of the knot was that a seasoned sailor could release it with one hand using the weight of the sail to aid in untying the knot.In 1841, Dana’s maritime compendium A Seaman’s Friend coined the term square knot in reference to the reef knot. 

In more recent years, the knot has found favor with the boy scouts and the U.S. military. It’s taught in boy scouts, and features in knot tying competitions. The U.S. Army is said to use this knot for tying combat boots. It has no loops to snag, and the ends can easily be tucked into the top of the boot. 

Uses For The Reef Knot

Survival Situations

The reef knot should not be used in rescue operations because it isn’t a load-bearing knot. However, it is an excellent knot for tying bandages and sutures. 


The reef knot’s namesake comes from being used in sailing. Sails are made with reef points, which provides lengths of cord to cinch the sails to tighten them. The reef knot is simple to tie and release, making it perfect for this application. 


A reef knot can be used in many cases when you want to cinch something tight. Rope belts, and tying parcels with twine are a few examples. It’s used to tie the belt, or obi, in martial arts uniforms known as keikogi. It’s also a great way to tie shoelaces. Since it doesn’t leave the characteristic loops, it’s ideal for shorter laces or situations that require laces to be tucked into the shoe for safety. 

The reef knot is used in macrame to create textiles. It’s also used to create paracord and friendship bracelets. The knot is also very useful in making beaded jewelry. It’s usually used to secure two ends of leather, elastic cord, or yarn. 

Related Knots

Granny knot: Easy to tie but inferior to reef knot

Sheet bend: More secure as a bend, can be used with different size ropes

Surgeon’s knot: Square knot with a twist, often used to tie sutures and in fishing