The Richmond portrays a sea going ship’s company of sailors and Marines. As such, requirements for rope work are something that we must master to perform our duties aboard host vessels, as well for the education of the publick. This course presents a basic understanding. All ratings and ranks, exclusive of the obvious billets, viz. Chaplin, must master the following rope work:

Reef knot  -- Eye splice -- Wall knot  -- Carrick Bend
Bowline -- Short splice -- Crown knot -- Two-half hitches
Clove hitch -- Grommet -- Sheepshank -- Belaying
Sheet bend -- Figure-8 knot -- Whipping – Coiling

You are invited to view the following Internet site for graphical presentations of how to make the above rope works:  Select from the alphabet letter index listing the first letter of the rope work you wish to view.

Marlinspike Seamanship – Common Terms

Marlinspike seamanship has to do with line (rope) and the methods of working it, such as knotting, splicing, seizing, rigging, and tackles.  During the process of manufacture and procurement the word rope is applied to all sizes and types.  Later, in use, the terms line, rope, cordage, small stuff, painters, and &c. are applied according to function.  Some examples are: mooring lines, manropes, seizing stuff, and sea-painter.

Rope making is essentially a series of twisting operations.  The only process, which does not involve twisting, is the blending and preparation of the fibers into roping or sliver.  Thereafter, rope is put together in three twisting operations.  The roping is twisted from left to right to spin the yarn.

The yarns are twisted from right to left to form the strand.  The strands are then twisted from left to right to lay the rope.  This is the standard procedure and the result is known as "right-laid” rope.  When the process is reversed, a "left-laid" rope is produced.  These ropes may be twisted into a cable.  But always the principle of opposite twists is observed.

Opposing twists give a rope stability.  They must be kept in the same way in which they were made if the rope is to stay in good condition.  "Keep your rope in balance" is the rule for long rope life.  Add twist when it has been taken out; take out twist when extra twist has been added.

Types And Uses of Rope or Line

Fiber line is so called because it is made from plant fibers.  It includes Manila, sisal, hemp, cotton, and flax.  Manila hemp, sisal hemp, and the hemp from the American hemp plant should not be confused though they are all sometimes called hemp.

Manila is made from the abaca plant.  It is smooth, pliable, tough, strong, and light tan in color.  It is reserved for places where strength, ease of handling, and safety are important, as in boat falls and mooring lines. 

Sisal comes from the agave plant and is similar to Manila but is lighter in colour.  When made with American hemp it usually contains dark portions.  It is the usual substitute for Manila for towing and mooring.

Hemp is made from the hemp plant.  American hemp is used for making lines. 

Cotton and flax lines are made of ordinary cotton and linen respectively.  Cotton line is used for such things as the taffrail log, lead lines, and signal halyards.  Flax line is used for boat lead lines.  These lines frequently are braided instead of laid.

The size of the fiber line, except small stuff, is specified by circumference in inches.  A 6-inch Manila line is made of Manila and is 6 inches around.  The length of fiber line is given in fathoms.  Thus a 100-fathom coil of line would be a section of line 600 feet long.

Small cordage is usually known on shipboard as small stuff.  It is designated either by the number of threads that it contains, such as "12-thread stuff," "15-thread stuff"; or as "ratline stuff," "seizing stuff," or "marline."

Working with Fiber Line

Splicing is a method of permanently joining the ends of two lines or of bending a line back on itself so as to form a permanent loop.  If properly done, it does not weaken the line; and a splice between two lines runs over a sheave or other object much easier than a knot does.

There are various forms of splices: the long splice, short splice, and eye splice.

For a short splice, both ends of line are unlaid for about a foot and the strands are interlaced, as shown below. Beginning with any one strand, it is tucked from left to right, the lay of the line being opened by a marlinespike, wooden fid, or some other pointed instrument.  The other two strands are similarly tucked, but from right to left.  Threads are then cut away from the ends of each tucked strand until they are two-thirds their original size, and they are then again tucked.  After this, the strands are similarly cut away until they are one-third their original size, and a third and last tuck is taken.  This produces a neat, tapered splice.

In splicing 4-strand line, the first strand is tucked under two parts of the first tucking only.

An eye splice is done by the same method, except that the line is first brought back upon itself enough to give the desired size of eye, and the strands are then tucked into the body of the line (below).

For a long splice (below) the ends are unlaid farther than for a short splice and are then similarly interlaced.

However, the procedure from then on is different and is as follows:

A strand of one piece is unlaid for quite a distance, and the corresponding strand of the other piece is laid in the opening.  The remaining ends of the two strands are twisted together for convenience, the line is turned end for end, and the first operation repeated with two other corresponding strands.

The remaining strands of each part are left at the original position.  This leaves pairs of strands at three positions along the line.  Each of the strands is halved, two of these halves at each position are tied together with an overhand knot, and the remaining two halves are tucked over one and under one of the full remaining strands of the line.  After all strands have been tucked, the loose ends are all trimmed off smooth.  By this method a splice is secured which will run over a sheave easily and which is hardly noticeable.

Seizing (pronounced "seezing") is the lashing of two parts of line by continuous turns of small stuff.  A clove or other type of hitch then secures the seizing. When two crossing parts of line are bound, the seizing is called a throat seizing.

Seizings are used to assist in holding a line loop around a thimble, retaining a loop in the center of a line, holding the short end of a hitch or bend to the main body of the line, or fastening two sister hooks together.

Coiling down line

The ends of running rigging not in use or led out for use should never be left in any but one of the coiled conditions: coiled, flemished, or faked down.  This makes them neat and seamanlike, prevents fouling, and prepares them for immediate use.  If line must be ready for emergency use, it is coiled down.  If the entire length must be run out fairly rapidly, it is faked down.  If it is not expected that the line will be needed on short notice, it is flemished down for greater neatness.

Worming, parceling, and serving

Line, which is to be exposed to the weather or to exceptionally hard usage, is protected by worming, parceling, and serving.

Worming consists of following the lay of the line between the strands with tarred small stuff.  This keeps moisture from penetrating to the interior of the line and at the same time fills out the round of line, giving a smooth surface for the parceling and serving.

Parceling consists of wrapping the line spirally with long strips of canvas, following the lay of the line overlapping like the shingles on a roof, to shed moisture.

Serving consists of wrapping small stuff snugly over the parceling, each turn being hove as taut as possible so that the procedure makes a stiff protecting cover for the line.  A serving mallet is used passing the turns; in serving, each turn is hove taut by the leverage of the handle, as illustrated.  Remember: Worm and parcel with the lay, Turn and serve the other way.


Knots, Bends, and Hitches

There are four general classes of knots based on the uses of the knots.  Only the simpler and most common knots will be discussed in this course.  Diagrams of the knots follow the classifications. The basic knots are:

Knots in the end of a single line

These knots are used in fastening a line upon itself or around some other object.  Some of these are:

1.  Overhand knot: Used in making other knots; never used alone.

2.  Bowline: A temporary eye in the end of a line.  It will not slip or jam.

3.  Bowline on a bight: Used to sling a man over the side.  It will not slip and constrict him.

4.  Figure eight: Used to prevent the end of a line from unreeving through a block or eyebolt.

5.  Blackwall hitch: Used to secure a line to a hook quickly.

Knots for bending two lines together

These knots are those that are used for joining two lines.

1.   Square or reef: For tying reef points and bending lines together.

2.   Granny knot: Usually a mistake for a square knot.  It will slip under strain.

3.   Sheet or becket bend (single): Used for bending line to becket and for bending lines of different sizes together.

4.   Sheet or becket bend (double): Same uses as the sheet or becket bend (single).

5.   Two bowlines: A safe and convenient way of bending two hawsers together.

Knots for securing a line to a ring or spar

These knots are called hitches or bends

1.    Fisherman's bend: Used to secure a rope to a buoy or a hawser to the ring of an anchor.

2.    Rolling hitch: Used to bend a line to a spar or to the standing part of another line.

3.    Round turn and two half bitches: Used to secure the end of a line made around any object.

4.    Half hitch or two half hitches: Used to secure a line temporarily around any object.

5.    Clove or ratline hitch: Convenient for making a line fast to a spar, the standing part of another line, or a bollard.

6.    Stopper on a line: Used to check a running line.

7.    Catspaw: Used to secure a line to a hook.

Knots worked in the end of a line

These knots are fancy knots which are used to give a finish to the end of a line, prevent unreeving, or for ornamental purposes.

(A) Overhand Knot

(B) Figure eight knot
(showing manner of tying and pulled taught)


·  A knot is made, never tied.

·  A hitch is taken or made fast.

·  A splice is put in.

·  Putting two lines together is bending.

·  A tangled line is cleared by overhauling it.

·  A line is coiled down, never up.

·  A knot that is fouled or loosens is capsized.



Whipping the end of a line

This course material was edited by Russell Tucker to restrict content to the AWI era from an abridged version, courtesy of Dan Cashin, noted Knotter from Tuckerton Seaport, N. J.

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