Save Your Fingers

hand-fingersMuch has been written and most boaters know that you never put a finger, foot, hand or any other body part between a boat and any structure like a dock, pier, piling or another boat to prevent the two from hitting.

But, I haven’t seen anything written about the danger of knots and fingers.

When pulling in to a marina for a pump out one day, a willing service dock attendant offered to assist with our docking. We always look after our own lines, but I was told that this attendant had been trained in tying knots. “Do you know how to tie a figure eight cleat hitch?” I asked her. “Yes” was her reply.

As we came into the dock, I handed her the stern line from the platform and asked her to tie a figure eight cleat hitch. She squatted down and fumbled her way through tying the line to the floating dock cleat but…..

she tied it in such a way that her fingers were in the knot! Captains would never put the boat in gear until he/she got the “fingers clear” signal; but boats are heavy and the momentum, wind and/or current can be very strong and they don’t obey instructions.

In our case, it wasn’t very windy and Doug didn’t put the boat in gear. She managed to free her fingers just in time before the momentum of our moving boat pulled against the knot. “Are you okay?” I asked her. “Yes” she timidly replied as she shook her fingers in the air. I am sure she was in pain and I was relieved that her fingers weren’t broken or worse.

Lesson Learned

Don’t assume dock helpers or even dock attendants know—even if they say they do!

In this case, she knew how to tie the Figure 8 Cleat Hitch but not when it had the weight of a moving boat on it. There is a difference between classroom and actually doing it at the dock. Doug always taught his Sea Scouts to tie knots in all conditions. To pass the test, they had to tie all 6 knots in 30 seconds. Then, they had to tie all 6 knots while treading water in the pool. The boys learned the big difference between tying knots in their meeting room and tying knots in real life situations.

cleathitch11It is best to be in control of your lines, and be able to dock without helpers. If you do need a helper, give clear instructions and only involve them with secondary lines that won’t affect your docking.

Teach all of your crew to tie knots without having their fingers in the knot—especially one that could have a lot of force applied to it, like a moving boat. Momentum, wind and current are strong and a boat is heavy. Someday, you or your crew could be taking the line for a nervous boater, who may prematurely, unintentionally or accidently put the motor in gear before you have the line tied.


Practice tying knots without your fingers getting caught in the knot. Practice until you can tie all 6 knots fast and confidently in real life situations.

Brenda Dawson

See:  Tying and Using Knots e-Lesson

Making Ropes Into Lines

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