KNOT OF THE YEAR AWARD: The Obscure But Ultimately Very Useful Halyard Knot

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Halyard knot

That’s right, sports fans: it’s awards season! In the always hard-fought Cordage Utility category the ballots have been counted and the surprise winner this year is the mysterious halyard knot. Unknown to many sailors, the halyard knot is nonetheless an elegant compact knot that is particularly handy to know about if you need to bend a line on to some sort of shackle or clip (a halyard shackle being the eponymous example) on a more-or-less permanent basis, but are too lazy (or ignorant) to be bothered with actually splicing the line on to said bit of hardware.

The knot most people use in these situations is, of course, the perennial and ubiquitous bowline, which is not quite ideal in this application, as it is bulkier than it needs to be (a drawback, for instance, when you have to hoist a halyard shackle up close to masthead sheave) and involves a fixed bight or loop of line that necessarily must be larger than necessary.

Halyard knot schematic

The halyard knot is very easy to tie. Pass a line through the shackle in question, take two full turns around the standing part, then slip the bitter end up through the turns alongside the standing part. The result is a low-profile slip knot that will snug down tight and neatly against the shackle.

The halyard knot is very secure and is very unlikely to come undone after it has been loaded up. Unlike a bowline, however, it is not that easy to untie once it has been in service for a while. In the end, when you want to get your shackle back, you may have to cut it off. At a minimum you’ll need a nice marlinspike to pick it apart.

In bestowing this year’s award, Horatio P. Nimblefingers, head knot judge, stated: “Though it is always preferable to splice a halyard to its shackle, particularly when using high-modulus line, the sad fact is many so-called experienced sailors don’t know how to splice multi-braid rope. And those that do know may sometimes find themselves in situations where splicing a line to shackle is not practical or feasible. In those instances where a knot is, or must, be used, our judging panel agreed unanimously that the halyard knot is by far the most qualified candidate. It is attractive, easily executed, and easy to remember. In short, it is everything we like to see in knot.”

The halyard knot, renowned for its shy, retiring habits and character, declined to appear at the awards ceremony and afterwards could not be reached for comment. Accepting the award in its place was the more flamboyant hangman’s knot, which declared: “That’s my buddy Hal! He’s a real winner, but he hates to admit it. What he is at heart is a utilitarian minimalist.””

16 Responses
  1. Nick Kats

    Thanks Charlie, I’ll try this. I use 3 ply treated polypropylene & splice it on, easy rope to splice, no prob. Have seen comments that halyards should be braid – why is that?

  2. Charlie

    Hey Nick: Wow! I’ve never heard of anyone using polypro halyards. Multi-braid rope is recommended for halyards because it doesn’t stretch as much as three-strand. Many people now use fancy high-modulus (super low-stretch) multi-braid. Three-strand rope, as a rule, stretches more simply because of its structure. This is why it is recommended for anchor rode and ducklings. These are lines you want to be stretchy. Polypro as a material is not very stretchy. It is slippery, and though it is easy to splice in a three-strand rope, I’d worry about the splices slipping loose. Polypro is also very prone to UV damage. So keep an eye on your halyards and be sure to replace them as soon as they seem brittle at all.

  3. Skip Meisch

    Any three strand running through fair leads or over sheaves will, by its nature, start to un-twist due to the “threading” nature of its three strand design. This un-twisting WILL cause the rope to knot up and foul.

  4. Max

    All the Halyards on a French built Endurance 35 we owned used this knot but on braided halyards, I remember thinking it was unusual when we bought her or at least in England, but they all worked very well and where space between the sheeve and sail is limited the short length compared to a splice was an advantage.

  5. Randall Reeves

    Ha. Learned that knot on the Northwest Passage this summer, where it was referred to as a half blood knot. Well described here, both for its unrelenting grip and retiring nature. As noted, I too had used a Bowline for such applications previously, which worked, but was … a mismatch for the job.

  6. Charlie

    @Dan: No, that’s not quite the same knot, but similar. I believe that one is called a halyard hitch. I like that Jeanneau has appropriated it as their own!

    @Skip: Yes, I believe that is true

  7. Tim Gift

    I’ll have to try this one. If I don’t splice, I use a buntline hitch for halyards. Also compact and not likely to come lose.

  8. Grog

    True Charlie, true. But, this knot already had enough names. It didn’t need another one – especially as it is really a “Hitch” and the Halyard Hitch already exists. – Grog

  9. suzanne g.

    Seems to be the exact knot that we were looking for a definition for whi,e installing our new flag pole. Hitch I have heard of but not a Halyard, thanks for the great drawing as well. I won’t be correcting any es knot terms, I don’t know a knot from a half nekson, ha ha.

  10. Erick Veldhuis

    I am afraid the head knot judge overlooked one of the greatest advantages of using this knot: it can save a sailors wllet a great deal of money!!

    The nicest thing knowing this knot is the following, which I have done for decades: when buying a new halyard get a comfortable few yards extra …. and then cut this knot off every year or so to create a new a wearing/clamping part on the ropeclutchesin the cockpit. This way your halyard will really last forever, the mantle is used over a much greater area, will not wear out in one place and you have a chance to practice this knot every year. Moreover the shackle cannot get inside the block and damage things there.

    Have a great (sailing) day! 😉

  11. eyesoars

    Nick Kats: Halyards should be braid because you don’t (generally) want them to stretch (as Charlie says above).

  12. Joe Corrigan

    Very timely as I was replacing a halyard with line given to me that was double brad. Splicing was not a chore I looked forward to. I wanted a clean connection to the snap shackle and you provided the answer. Thank you

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