Reef knot

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The reef knot or square knot is an ancient and simple binding knot used to secure a rope or line around an object. Although the reef knot is often seen used for tying two ropes together, it is not recommended for this purpose due to potential instability of the knot.

A reef knot is formed by tying a left-handed overhand knot and then a right-handed overhand knot, or vice versa. A common mnemonic for this procedure is "right over left, left over right", which is often appended with the rhyming suffix "... makes a knot both tidy and tight". Two consecutive overhands of the same handedness will make a granny knot. The working ends of the reef knot must emerge both at the top or both at the bottom, otherwise a thief knot results.



The name "reef knot" dates from at least 1794[1] and originates from its common use to reef sails,[2] that is to tie part of the sail down to decrease its effective surface area in strong winds. To release the knot a sailor could collapse it with a pull of one hand; the sail's weight would make the collapsed knot come apart. It is specifically this behavior which makes the knot unsafe for connecting two ropes together.[3]

The name "square knot" is found in Dana's 1841 maritime compendium A Seaman's Friend, which also gives "reef knot" as an alternate name.[4][5]


The reef knot is used to tie the two ends of a single line together such that they will secure something, for example a bundle of objects, that is unlikely to move much. In addition to being used by sailors for reefing and furling sails, it is also one of the key knots of macrame textiles.[6]

The knot lies flat when made with cloth and has been used for tying bandages for millennia. As a binding knot it was known to the ancient Greeks as the Hercules knot (Herakleotikon hamma) and is still used extensively in medicine.[7] In his Natural History, Pliny relates the belief that wounds heal more quickly when bound with a "Hercules knot".[8]

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