Don't know any knots? Just tie lots!
Knots are important. Knots can even be a matter for debate amongst sailors. I once heard, "if you don't know any knots just tie lots," which I now like to repeat at every opportunity. This is a strategy but maybe not the best strategy. The problem with this is that not all knots are created equal. Learning the knot and getting it right every time is no good if that particular knot is not up to the task which you have chosen for it. I've decided not to teach knots here but to suggest appropriate knots for those new to sailing. I have included some excellent videos from animatedknots.com. It's the best...no, seriously, I'm not joking. In some situations there may be many knots that will be secure. In this situation, choosing your knot is purely style. Yet when the security of your boat, your mast or your life depends on the right knot you should know some facts about what a knot is capable of. This article is my opinion which is based on experience, both as a climber and a sailor, and some research. It might be as close to fact as I can achieve. I believe everyone should know how to: create a loop, tie a stopper, bend two ropes together and hitch a rope to an object. Here's my suggestions of the best knots to do this.
Tie a stopper
The figure 8 is probably the most universal stopper knot. However, according to animatedknots.com, "it can be undone easily. This is, occasionally, a vice. The figure 8 can fall undone and then has to be retied." So, I need to keep checking my 8 or choose a different knot. The double overhand is a good alternative that is a little more complicated but more secure.
A hitch is great for securing your sailboat to a dock ring, post or cleat. I recommend learning the round turn and two half hitches. The benefit of a round turn is that you can hold a large load while tying two quick and simple half hitches. Add extra hitches and leave plenty of tail to make this knot more secure. I would never use this hitch to secure my sailboat for a long time. It's best for a situation that's temporary.
The bowline is in a lot of situations. I probably use this know the most of any I know. However, you should know that it comes undone easily. It's good for handles, you can use it to tie your sailboat to the dock, spinnaker halyard to the spinnaker. I could go on. Did I say it's not super secure? Leave lots of tail and tighten it properly, otherwise you might find it lets you down.
This is a tough one. I recently learned that a flat overhand knot can be really secure and I'm testing it out. I knot how to tie a square knot, sheet bend and double fishersman's knot. All have different purposes. If you're keen I would recommend learning the sheet bend because it's great for joining rope that's of unequal thickness OR I find even equal thickness. However, I'm leaning towards the flat overhand as the knot of choice bending ropes together. Leave lots of tail and dress your knot though for the most secure flat overhand.
There it is. A run down of my recommended beginner knots. If you have comments or suggestions please let me know. Thanks to animatedknots.com for their excellent videos and information!