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Ropes used in mountain rescue serve a three-fold purpose:  

            1. As an aid in mountaineering

            2. As an aid in victim evacuation

            3. In a safety system.  

Presented below are basic working facts about how SAR Teams utilize rope.  The information presented is essential for full realization of the limitations and capabilities of the climbing ropes.  


SAR uses static rope made by Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI). The information provided below applies to PMI rope only. Climbing line used for dynamic leader climbing is designed to meet UIAA standards for 11mm international climbing lines.  


 Construction: Static Kernmantle design

Material:         100% Dupont 707 nylon

Stretch:           Less than 2% at 200 lbs.

Core:               Continuous, splice-less, parallel,
                              nylon fiber bundles.

Heat:               Melts at 480-500 o

                         Becomes sticky at 445 o

                         Yellows at 300 o after 5 hrs. exposure

Braid:               One under and one over





Weight Per
100 Feet

























 *Tested until core failure - sheath still intact  

This information is based on rope wrapped around a 4" diameter drum. Lower results will be seen at knots, i.e. a 7/16" rope reduces to approximately 5,000 lbs on a bowline knot.  

One Inch Tubular Webbing:

Approx. 4,000 lbs. tensile strength.  


Never walk on a rope. Stepping on a rope is a cardinal sin, usually calling for prompt and uncouth comments. Stepping on a rope will needlessly cause small particles of dirt and rock to be pushed into the rope fibers, causing internal wear that is extremely difficult to detect. Do not allow the rope to run over sharp or rough edges, especially if it's loaded. Never expose rope to any chemicals such as gasoline, thinners, oil, road flares, etc. This includes storing ropes in automobile trunks with oily rags or where fumes may accumulate.  

Store rope in a clean, dry, cool area whenever possible, and never store rope wet. Store the rope in a protective storage bag. This provides protection for the rope as well as a guarantee that the rope will not tangle when it is needed.  

Examine the rope periodically during use, and immediately after it has held a fall or been hit by falling objects. Any suspect rope shall be noted and removed from active use until it can be inspected by the team equipment officer. If a rope is at all suspect it should be retired. If puffs of inner fiber are visible along the rope, retire it immediately. On a climb, a butterfly knot can be used to temporarily isolate a damaged rope section. Do not leave the rope stretched or under tension for extended lengths of time. Remove all knots before storing the rope.  


During operation the rope will undoubtedly be dragged against rock faces, through dirt and over brush. Sharp edges could easily cut the best line if the conditions are correct and the rope is under tension. Whenever possible minimize the rope's exposure to sharp edges through the use of padding for static lines. Smooth surface protection or edge rollers should be utilized for moving lines of raising or lowering systems. Especially pad the area of the rope near the edge of a cliff when rappelling.  


Personal sections of 8mm rope can be washed at home in an automatic washer. Larger sections of 11mm rope should be cleaned using a large commercial machine. Double‑up and chain stitch the rope, and use a nylon safe detergent such as "Woolite"  Set the machine for "gentle action", warm wash and cool rinse. Rinse twice if any soap is left on the rope.  

The preferred method of drying is to hang the rope in a cool, shady place, however, it can be placed in a dryer on the "cool" or "air dry" setting. Keeping a rope clean is vital for safety and maximum rope life.  


Basically, a knot is a configuration in one or more ropes, which is used: 

  1. To tie the ends of two ropes together.

  2. To tie the end of a rope to an object.

  3. To tie the middle of a rope to an object.

  4. Special knots.  

Reliability,  ease of tying, and experience are the criteria in selecting the few basic knots presented herein. Although a great many more knots exist, many are unsuitable for rescue usage. Further study beyond the limited scope of this manual is recommended.  

The knots used must be learned well enough so that each knot can be tied correctly the first time, even under adverse conditions. Knots should be inspected frequently when subjected to long use and bad weather, especially since knots tied on nylon rope tend to slip due to the smoothness of the fibers. To counter this, all knots shall be tied off with an overhand knot.  

Remember, the success of every rescue operation can be dependent upon the reliability of each knot.  


Knots are based on the simple physics of friction and binding forces. The following general terms apply to knots and slings.  

The "Running End" is the free end of the rope that is not attached to any other rope or system. The "Standing Part" is the fastened part or the whole rope other than the running end. A "Bight" is a turn which does not cross itself. A " Loop " is a turn which crosses over itself.  

"A Half-Hitch" is a loop which turns around a shaft, or piece of rope, so as to lock itself. These are depicted in figure-1. Each specific knot is discussed below.  

Square Knot  

This knot is used to tie the ends of equal diameter rope together. It should not be used for joining climbing ropes where tension varies considerably. This is typically used for utility connections or for securing bandages for splints etc. See figure-2.  

Overhand knot  

This is the simplest knot to tie. It's used as a temporary stop on an unlashed rope or to supply a better handhold for climbing a single line. The overhand is also used to secure the free ends of the rope in most other knots. See figure-3.  

Overhand Follow through (Water Knot)  

This knot is used for tying the ends of flat or tubular webbing together. It is feasible to use this knot to join rope together, however, since a figure-8 follow through is superior, it will be used for joining rope. See figure-4.  

Figure of Eight  

This knot is used on the ends of ropes to prevent them from slipping through a pulley or descending device. It is bulkier than the overhand knot, but forms more gentle turns in the rope. See figure-5.  

Figure of Eight Follow through  

This knot is used to tie ropes of equal diameter together. It's also used to tie the end of a climbing rope in a sit harness. To use this knot to secure a sit harness into a climbing line, first tie the figure 8, pass the running end through the harness attachment, then complete the figure 8 follow through. This provides the most secure harness tie in for climbing applications. See figure-6.  

Figure of Eight on a Bight  

This knot is used to make a loop at the end or in the middle of a rope. It's easier to tie than a butterfly knot and is stronger than a bowline. It can be used as an anchor knot or in any system used by this team. Both ends of the rope leaving the knot should be in the same direction when the knot is loaded. Note that it is possible to tie this knot incorrectly, thus reducing its strength by 8 - 10 percent. See figure-7.  


The bowline can be used to secure an end man on a belay, or used as an anchor knot. It's easy to tie, but must be tied off to insure it won't loosen when the rope is slack. When looping a rope around a boulder or a tree to create an anchor, the bowline knot should be utilized. Note that it is possible to tie this knot incorrectly, thus reducing its strength by one-half!  See figure-8.

 Bowline on a Bight  

This is a very useful anchor knot. It can be used with offset sized loops to form a self-equalizing anchor. This may also be used to secure the middle of the rope when both ends of the rope are required for the system being used. Be careful when tying  this knot as it can easily be tied into a slip knot. See figure-9.  

Bowline on a Coil  

This knot is used to secure a climber into a climbing line when the climber is not wearing a climbing harness. This technique has the advantage that there is nothing to fail between the climbing rope and the climber as is the case when tying into a climbing harness. Falling on this knot is more irritating than falling in a sit harness. The knot should be tied snugly around the smallest section of the abdomen. This knot should be used to attach a belay when rappelling or jumaring. See figure-10.  

Ballatine Bowline  

The ballatine bowline is one of two middleman knots authorized for use by this team. The knots are interchangeable, but the rescuer should be familiar with both knots so that he can identify both as safe and accepted knots. This is used to tie a loop in the middle of a rope or to isolate a damaged section. When loaded, the two ends of the rope leaving the knot are to be in opposite directions. The loop of the knot may be loaded in any direction including 90 degrees with respect to the rope. See figure-11.  

Butterfly Knot

The Butterfly knot is one of two middleman knots authorized for use by this team. The knots are interchangeable but the rescuer should be familiar with both knots so that he can identify both as safe and accepted knots. This is used to tie a loop in the middle of a rope or to isolate a damaged section. When loaded the two ends of the rope leaving the knot are to be in opposite directions. The loop of the knot may be loaded in any direction including 90 degrees with respect to the rope. See figure-12.  

Double Fisherman

This knot is used to make a prussik. It's the only knot that doesn't need an overhand to secure it against slippage. Once loaded, it's difficult to untie which makes this an inferior knot with respect to the figure 8 follow through for joining ropes for systems operations. See figure-13.  


This is a friction brake knot used as a safety device in rappelling, litter evacuation, or ascending a rope. It grips the climbing line securely when under tension, but slips when pressure is released. The prussik is considered a "soft" ascender since the rope being ascended is not being impinged by a "hard" metallic device. The prussik may be used to replace the Gibbs ascender in systems work as a provisionary option. Prussiks used on the team should be comprised of 7mm line, which is issued by the team equipment officer. The prussik must be attached to a larger diameter rope to work properly. Extreme care should be used when using the prussiks to not allow the prussik to move quickly with tension on the system line as this can cause a large amount of heat which would both damage the prussik and the climbing line. There have been reports of prussiks knots that have burnt through main lines. See figure-14. A three-wrap prussik may be used to increase the amount of resistance generated by the prussik. Three-wrap prussiks are preferred in all system applications of the prussik The triple wrapped prussik is somewhat easier to move when tension is released due to the size of the wraps.  

Taut Line Hitch  

The taut line hitch is a utility knot commonly used by Boy Scouts to tension guy ropes to stabilize tent poles. This is used to adjust the edge protection location used in system operations. See figure-15.   

Munter Hitch  

This knot can be used as an emergency belay or friction knot when there are no other mechanical devices available. To use the munter knot as a belay, tie the munter knot around and an object. Releasing tension on the abrading rope sections allows the rope to move freely. Increasing the tension prevents the rope from moving. In an emergency the object used could be a carabiner, an ice axe, or even a tree. See figure-16.  

Girth Hitch  

This is a good anchor knot, especially with webbing. Be sure it locks back on itself. The girth hitch is usually tied with a climbing runner (5 ft of 1 inch tubular webbing tied in a continuous loop using an overhand follow through). The rescuer should verify that the over-hand knot of the runner is not against the object to which the girth hitch is being tied. See figure-17.  

Parisian Baudrier  

Used to tie a chest harness. Chest harnesses are useful for jumaring and climbing. If a fall occurs during a climb the chest harness will help prevent the climber from inverting on the belay rope. See figure-18.  

Mariner's Knot  

This knot is normally tied with a tubular webbing rabbit runner, and is used in any system where tension must be released in order to free up another piece of hardware.  

This knot requires two locking carabiners, one non-locking carabiner, and a 36" rabbit runner (48" is better). The knot is started by securing one end of the rabbit runner to one of the locking biners. The rabbit runner is then directed through the other biner at a distance of 5 to 6 inches away from the first biner. The runner then is taken back through the first biner. This wrapping continues until there is less than 12 inches of runner remaining. The complement of the runner is then frapped around the outside of the wrappings already created. This should start very close to one of the locking biners working its way toward the other locking biner. All but 2 inches of the original wrappings should be covered by the outside frapping. The frappings should be snug as to create friction. As a final step the non-locking biner should be secured to the free end of the rabbit runner and pushed through the center of the original wrappings. The knot should be stored tied with the non-locking biner attached to both locking biners. When in use, obviously the non-locking biner must be disconnected from one of the locking biners. The mariner's knot also acts a shock absorber for shock loaded systems. See figure-19.  

Swiss Seat

This is used as a sit harness. It can be used in a cliff hanger situation if no other harness is available. A rescuer may need to use this if he is caught in the field with only minimal gear and a rappel is required. The swiss seat should be tied snugly as the webbing will stretch when weight is applied. To tie the swiss seat, one should find the middle of a 15 - 20 ft section of webbing and pass it between the legs from the backside. The two free ends are then brought over the hips, through the front loop and back over the same. The ends are then crossed in the lumbar back area and then brought through the front loop this time continuing in one direction. This looping should continue until all the webbing is used. The two ends of the webbing should be snugly secured using a overhand follow through over the side of either hip. See figure-20.  


This device is used as a sit harness. It's usually made from webbing using a overhand follow-through. This sit harness is inferior to the swiss seat except that it may be simpler and quicker to place on a frightened subject dependent upon the situation. See figure-21.  

   Knots Continued

Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue  |  Fillmore Mountain Rescue  |  Team 1
Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 296 |  Fillmore, CA  93016
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2005 Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue, Fillmore Mountain Rescue, Team 1

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site updated by Fillmore SAR Member Jude Egold