Highwayman's Knot

Also known as a ladder knot

When we purchased our "last boat" (Aloha 32 designed by Mark Ellis), I was pleased that a drop-down stern ladder was standard equipment, but I wondered how I could use it if I fell overboard with no one around.

So, for all you sailors, here's one of those fun-and-useful knots with which to practice and experiment this summer. The idea is to tie the ladder up with a "slip" knot. If the line loops to about 30 cm above the water, it can be released by a swimmer.

[Highwayman's Knot]

A Quick-release Mooring Knot:

First, your need a length of slippery line (thin braided nylon) to tie between your rail and the bottom of your ladder. With the ladder down, tie one end securely to the bottom rung and tie the other end to a railing near this knot when the ladder is up (you will adjust the length later).

# 1   Pull up the ladder (a loop forms between the ladder and boat) to a stern rail. Pull a small bight (loop) in the line under and around the stern rail (ring in #1). Pull the standing part of the line (tied to the ladder) through the first bight to create a second small bight. Hold this bight with one hand.

# 2   With your other hand, pull the free part of the line up and through the second bight making a third bight. Pull the bight through until it's about and 8-10 cm. long.

# 3   Tighten the knot until the ladder is held snugly against the railing. A bit of practice is required to make the knot tight enough to hold but not so tight as to bind when released.

To release the ladder, yank sharply on the line holding the knot. Be sure your aren't directly under the ladder!

Finally adjust the length of the loop so it is above the water but within reach of a swimmer. A side benefit is that your ladder line won't foul the prop and is easy to use if you forget to secure the ladder before you leave (yes, you will forget).

The Tumble Hitch is a possible improvement on this hitch. The main difference is the standing part remains passive during tying. You finish the hitch with the free end of the rope instead of standing part, making it easier to tie.

How I learned the Highman's Knot:

I didn't catch David's last name when we met him on Aubrey Island, but he arrived in an Aloha sailboat. Little more than that is needed to get boaters talking on a nice day in the Thousand Islands. David showed us an interesting knot he had learned in England, used to tie a boat to a mooring ring. When ready to leave, the crew could release the line from on board the boat. This looks like the perfect temporary knot for a quick getaway if you're short-handed.

I had found the perfect ladder release knot. David did admit that his first attempt to leave a dock using this knot was total disaster, because the knot wouldn't release! After some practice, I discovered it works best with braid (not twist), and with new line rather than old. It will only release if you tie it properly and yank quite sharply to pull the knot apart. (More knots; Video of a quick Bowline)