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How to Tie Knots for Emergency Rescues, Disaster Situations, and First Aid

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4 Knots for First Aid and Water Survival

Learning how to tie knots adds to emergency preparedness. Emergencies and disasters happen. That’s the reality. Although we try to prevent them, they still creep up on us and wreak havoc. Sure, disaster preparedness is important. But what have you done to prepare yourself for the worst? Whether the catastrophe is man-made or natural, emergency situations and disasters can be mitigated if we know how to address the most basic human needs. Of course, we don’t want to be in such a situation—but if we were, are we ready?

There are numerous skills and knowledge sets that can be useful in times of crisis. First aid, basic life support, disaster management, and the like are all too important to set aside. But the truth is not everyone has adequate training.

There is one skill that is often neglected but has proven to be useful in disaster situations – knot tying. Yes, the simple skill of tying knots can save lives. Okay, it sounds like I’m glorifying this skill, but the fact is that rescuers all over the world learn how to tie knots. The relentless practice of rope twisting and tying can save lives when done properly. But what's more amazing is that anyone can do this.

Here are some useful knots when you're all tied up in an emergency.

1. The Bowline

The bowline is considered the king of all knots. First, it’s easy to make. Second, it does not slip (or jam). Lastly, it can be used in many situations, from pulling someone out of the water to safely bringing down people from upper levels to the ground.

How to Tie a Bowline

  1. Take the right end of the rope and curl it over itself to make a small loop.
  2. Insert the right end of the rope through the initial loop, making a larger loop.
  3. Continue around the back of the rope just before the first small loop.
  4. After going around the back of the rope, pass the end into the small loop again.
  5. Tighten the knot.

As a kid, I learned to tie this knot using the “rabbit tale.” Make a loop (step 1) this is called the rabbit hole. The rabbit goes out of the hole (step 2). It goes around the tree (step 3) and then goes back into the hole (step 4). There are many variations of this tale, but the principle is the same.

Uses of the Bowline

The bowline is a versatile knot and is used in many scenarios. Here are some applications:

  • Pulling victims out of the water
  • Act as a lifeline to rescuers and/or victims during a rescue
  • Can be used to lower or raise victims

2. The Prusik Loop

The Prusik loop or knot is another versatile knot used in many instances, from mountaineering to emergency rescues. What’s unique about this knot is its ability to slip and slip at the person’s will. As a sliding or friction hitch, it relies on the presence of a load or pressure to slip or move. Simply put, if you tug on it, it will remain in position. But if you loosen the pull, it will release and move.

How to Tie a Prusik Knot

  1. You will need two lengths of rope, one will be the anchor while the other will be used for the knot/loop.
  2. Lay the anchor rope on a flat surface.
  3. Tie both ends of the other rope to make a loop.
  4. Place the loop underneath the anchor line.
  5. Pull one side of the loop over and underneath the anchor line – do this three times.
  6. On the last turn, tighten the knot around and through the other end of the loop.

Uses of the Prusik Loop

  • Can be used as support for carrying loads
  • Used to ascend and descend if no other equipment is available
  • Helps anchor victim for support

3. The Double Fisherman’s Knot

The fisherman’s knot is a joining knot. This means it is used to secure two ropes together to make one longer rope. This comes in handy when a single rope is insufficient in length. Using this knot lowers the risk that the two ropes with disengage.

How to Tie a Double Fisherman’s Knot

  1. Place two ropes parallel to one another.
  2. Using one rope, make a loop by passing it over the second rope and then under both ropes. Do this twice (that’s why it’s called double fisherman’s knot).
  3. From underneath the two ropes, insert it into the loop you just made.
  4. Do the same with the other rope.
  5. Pull both ropes to tighten the knot.

The double fisherman’s knot is a stronger version of the fisherman’s knot. The extra wrap around the other rope gives it additional strength.

Uses of the Double Fisherman’s Knot

  • Joining two ropes together
  • Extending rope length by fastening two ropes together

This is ideal for ropes of the same diameter. However, if the ropes have different sizes, a Sheetband is your best option.

4. The Square Knot

This is probably one of the most widely known knots. From boy scouts to paramedics, this knot is truly widely used. It is also called the reef knot used to secure sails on ships. The simplicity of the square knot makes it easy to learn and easy to tie. Likewise, its ease of untying makes it really popular.

How to Tie a Square Knot

  1. Take one end in each hand.
  2. Cross over the right end and wrap it around the left end. Now the right end is on the left side.
  3. Take the end on the left side and cross it over and wrap it around the end on the right.
  4. Tighten the knot.

Many remember this knot using these mnemonics: right over left, left over right. The knot can also be done starting with the leftover right pattern. If you need a stronger knot than a square knot, you may opt for the surgeon’s knot. It’s practically the same as the square knot, but it uses several turns on the first “right over left.”

Uses of the Square Knot

  • Although this is initially used to tie two ropes together, it is not recommended as it can disengage easily.
  • Used in first aid bandages because it’s easy to tie and easy to release
  • It can tie items together if fastening them does not require too much security

Good Luck and Stay Safe!

It is important to practice these knots so they can be second nature to you. During emergencies and disasters, time is of the essence. Learning how to tie knots is a skill worth knowing. So pick up some rope and start twisting and turning.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on July 03, 2013:

Hi there Outbound Dan,

It's nice of you to drop by. I know what you mean. Sometimes I find myself just tying knots to keep my hands busy. The faster I do it, the better. of course, quality counts.

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on July 03, 2013:

As an outdoor guy I love knots! Also, I'm a member of a rope rescue team so I kind of have to be up on my rope skills. Tying is a perishable skills though, so practice them often.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 23, 2012:

Hi Ian,

Never been a scout but fortunately I learned this early on. It pays to practice to remember the knots. During emergency rescues and disaster situations knowing how to tie proper knots is essential.

Ian V. on August 17, 2012:

Great tips and videos. I was a scout in grade school and we learned these knots. But I forgot all about then until now.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on June 11, 2012:

hi wrenfrost56. I'm glad you found this hub useful.

wrenfrost56 from U.K. on June 11, 2012:

This is a really useful hub, well described with clear pictures, ace. :)

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on June 10, 2012:

Hello Danette Watt. You're right, The right using the right knot matters a lot. I've never been a scout but I got the chance to learn this important skill early on.

Danette Watt from Illinois on June 09, 2012:

My husband and 2 boys are all Eagle scouts and can tie all sorts of knots. That's something I've wanted to learn as well b/c I see the value in not only knowing how to tie a know but also which knot to use in which situation. Good hub with good info, thanks for sharing.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on June 07, 2012:

Nice to see you again Melis Ann. Unfortunately I did not experience scouting as I grew up. But I got into mountaineering and rappelling early on. regardless where we learn to tie knots, it's a skill worth knowing. Thanks for sharing the hub. Have a great day ahead.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on June 07, 2012:

Hi there shara63. I'm glad you found the hub useful. Many don't even know how to tie a simple square knot. In emergency situations every bit of knowledge and skill counts. Thanks for dropping by.

Melis Ann from Mom On A Health Hunt on June 06, 2012:

Reminds me of my days in Girl Scouting. Great refresher and resource for tying all sorts of knots. SHARED!

Farhat from Delhi on June 06, 2012:

very useful hub..specially for the adventure lovers..i'm sure will help in their excursions all through!

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on June 06, 2012:

Hello krosch. I too used to climb but gone are the days. :) I decided to shre these simple and basic knots so that people can use them during emergencies and disasters. The more info one has, the greater chance of survival. I appreciate your visit and the kinds words. See you around.

krosch on June 05, 2012:

A very useful set of knots and good instructions on how to tie them. Thanks for putting up a great hub. I am a huge fan of knowing a variety of knots myself being a rock climber.