Why Were Sailing Knots Used For Measuring Speed?

Sailing knots is a term used to measure the speed of the wind on a boat. But like many things in sailing, the term sailing knots has an exciting legacy.

In ancient times, to measure the speed of the boat, the sailors would use a rope, and they would tie the rope into knots so they could count how many knots they were traveling when they counted the knots from the bow to the stern of the boat. The counting of the knots would help the sailors to determine the speed they were going and how fast they were traveling.

One knot began to equal one nautical mile. So if a sailboat traveled at 15 knots, it traveled at 15 nautical miles in one hour.

Sailing Knots Are Used For Measuring Speed For Sail Boats

Sailing knots are used to measure speed for sailboats and other boats. One knot equals about one nautical mile or 1.15078 miles or 1.852 kilometers on land.

There are some interesting historical reasons why sailors use the term knot instead of a mile or speed.

The Historical Reason We Use The Term Sailing Knots

The term the sailing knot goes back to the ancient mariners who used knots to gauge how fast their boat was going by throwing a piece of wood over the vessel’s bow; they counted the amount of time that lapsed between wood passing from the stern of the boat to the bow. This counting the boat’s speed became known as the Dutchman’s log.

By the 16th century, the sailors were using a similar method, but this time were using a rope with knots. The sailors would tie a rope with knots at intervals and then count the number of knots that passed from the ship’s sterns to the bow. The number of knots would help them to calculate the speed the ship was sailing.

A knot then came to mean one nautical mile per hour. So a ship traveling at 15 knots per hour could then travel 15 nautical miles per hour.

We use the term sailing knots because it was how the sailors during the 17th century measured some speed for their boats. They used the rope method as they had the ropes available; by tying the ropes in knots, the sailors could count those knots and know the speed the ship was sailing.

Internationally Agreeing On The Nautical Mile Measurements

For a long time, the sailors’ system was not very precise. They used the knots to measure their speed and look at the nautical maps to tell the approximate distance. You can imagine many different ships would have had other methods of measuring the knots, speeds, and even miles.

The knot measurement of a nautical mile became the standard, but no one could agree on the exact distance of a nautical knot. Each nation has different ideas of precisely what the nautical mile and measurement should be.

It was not until 1929 that the international nautical mile was standardized at 6076 feet or 1,851 meters. But this was not adopted by the United States until 1954. The United Kingdom did not adopt the standard nautical mile until 1970.

Nautical Miles Vs. Knots Explained

As we learn from history, the way the sailors originally calculated the knots was rudimentary. There was a lot of confusion about the difference between a nautical mile and a knot. Even though they may seem similar, they are two different things.

The Nautical Mile Measures The Distance

A nautical mile measures the distance a sailboat travels through the water. A nautical mile is slightly longer than a regular mile. That is because the nautical mile is based upon the earth’s longitude and latitude coordinates, with one nautical mile equal to one minute of latitude. One nautical mile is 1.15078 miles or 1.852 kilometers on land.

When sailing using the latitude and longitude coordinates is more practical for long-distance sailing than for any other type of measurement. Because the earth is round, using the latitude and longitude is a more accurate measurement.

A nautical mile only tells the distance that a ship has gone. It does not tell you how fast that boat is going or how high the wind blows.

The Sailing Knot Measures Speed

A sailing knot is used to measure speed. One knot equals one nautical mile. Knots are used to calculate the speed of the wind.

If you were sailing, you would hear sailors talk about things as the wind is 10 knots or the wind is 15 knots. A knot is for the wind or how fast or heavy the wind may be; how fast or heavy the wind blows will determine how fast your sailboat can go.

The term sailing knot is all about speed. The nautical mile is about the distance. But the nautical mile and the knot are interlinked; the natural mile will tell you the distance you are going and the knot how fast your sailboat is traveling.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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Why Were Sailing Knots Used For Measuring Speed?