Suspension Bondage Is Dangerous

We love suspension bondage and we’re excited to share it with you. We want to be very clear, however, about the risks involved.

1. Suspension bondage involves unavoidable risk. Like rock climbing, suspension is a risky activity. Good preparation and training can reduce your risk, but even if you do everything right there is still a chance that you may be injured or killed, or that you may injure or kill another person.

2. We don’t have all the answers. Unlike rock climbing, suspension bondage has no professional standards bodies and no expert consensus about best practices. This book is based on years of study, practice, and consultation with outside experts. Nonetheless, you should be aware that suspension is still a developing field, and our understanding of the best way to do things is still evolving.

3. You can’t learn suspension from a book. The only safe way to learn suspension is to work with a qualified instructor or mentor. This book is a valuable adjunct to expert instruction, but not a substitute for it. Without a skilled teacher to guide and evaluate you, you cannot learn suspension without placing your partner in tremendous danger.

4. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Suspension is fun and exciting, and you will likely be tempted to rush ahead and try activities that you aren’t yet ready for. We can’t stress enough the importance of proceeding slowly and methodically, and always working within your skill level.

5. Always use good judgment. Your best defense against mishap is your own common sense and good judgment. Always be mindful of what you’re doing, and err on the side of caution.

Your partner is placing tremendous faith in your competence and judgment. If you are careless or overly ambitious, they are likely to pay a heavy price for your foolishness. Make sure that you are worthy of their trust.

Suspended Animation accepts no responsibility for any injury or death which may occur as a result of the activities described in this book. By reading this book, you agree to take full responsibility for your actions and their consequences.


Working With Knots

Learning how to tie knots is a lot easier if you understand some standard terminology and techniques. We’ve tried to use standard names whenever possible, but be aware that many knots have several common names.

Parts of a knot

Standing end
Working end

When tying a knot, the working end of the rope is the end that is forming the knot. The standing end is the other end of the rope, which is usually stationary during the tying process.

The working end that is left over after a knot has been tied is called the tail. An overly short tail can cause a knot to fail—most knots should have 2-3 inches of tail.

A bight is any U-shaped bend in the rope, especially the bend in the center of a doubled rope.

A twist is a simple loop made by twisting a bight around itself.

Snugging a knot

A figure 8 knot before being snugged (top) and after (bottom).

The process of pulling a knot tight is referred to as snugging the knot. In some cases, it’s important to snug a knot in a particular way in order to ensure that the final product is stable and secure.

Dressing a knot

The same figure 8 knot well dressed (top) and poorly dressed (bottom).

Especially when working with doubled rope, it’s easy to end up with messy knots. The process of neatly laying out a knot is referred to as dressing the knot.

Although a well dressed knot is not necessarily any stronger or more secure than a poorly dressed one, it is easier to inspect.

It’s good form to dress all your knots tidily, to reduce the odds of any serious errors going unnoticed.

Slippery knots

A slippery knot has been modified to be faster and easier to untie, and less likely to jam. In many cases, this is done by changing one of its component half hitches. Instead of pulling the whole rope through the half hitch, pull a bight through instead. When it’s time to untie the knot, pulling on the end of the rope will pop the bight free and undo the knot.

Because of its tendency to jam, two half hitches is often tied slippery. The first half hitch is the most likely to jam, so it’s the one that is usually made slippery.

The first half hitch in two half hitches, tied normally (top) and slippery (bottom).

The second half hitch in two half hitches. In the slippery case (bottom), the half hitch is tied in the bight from the first half hitch.

Locking a knot

Two half hitches tied normally (left) and locked (right).

For extra security, certain knots can be locked. To lock a knot that has been tied in a doubled rope, pass the standing end of the rope through the bight. A locked knot is much more secure: no matter what happens, the knot can’t come undone.

We don’t lock some of our knots because the locking process is slow and it also slows down the untying process. You should, however, lock your critical vertical lines.

Geeky detail: close inspection will reveal that locking a knot essentially just places a lark’s head around the existing knot. We prefer locked knots to plain lark’s heads in most cases because of strength: a plain lark’s head weakens the rope more than a knot like two half hitches.



A square knot before (top) and after (bottom) capsizing.

Many knots have a tendency to capsize (i.e., change shape) when loaded in ways they weren’t designed to resist. A capsized knot may jam or even fail catastrophically.


In addition to holding securely, it’s important that your knots can be quickly and easily untied. This isn’t just a matter of convenience: in an emergency, you need to be able to quickly free your partner from bondage.

Certain knots are particularly prone to jamming, particularly when subjected to heavy or abrupt loading, or when tied in certain types of rope.

Two half hitches and the figure 8 are two excellent knots that are prone to jamming under certain circumstances. Don’t be afraid to use them, but be aware of their limitations and use them appropriately. The bowline, on the other hand, is almost completely immune to jamming in normal use.


Certain knots have a tendency to cinch, or tighten, when placed under load. In some cases, cinching can be beneficial: because it cinches, the lark’s head will tend to stay put instead of sliding. On the other hand, cinching knots should never be tied directly on a person because they can become uncomfortable or even dangerous when they tighten. The basic column tie is specifically designed not to cinch, and is a great choice for tying on people.

Further reference

The knots in this chapter should cover pretty much any rigging situation you’re likely to encounter. You may, however, want to go further with your study of knots. If so, here are some good starting points:

  • Ashley’s Book Of Knots (ABOK) is the definitive reference work. It’s big and expensive and short on instruction, but it’s exhaustive, with several thousand knots. Knots often have many common names, so the ABOK number is a good way to unambiguously identify a knot.
  • Des Pawson’s Knots: The Complete Visual Guide is much smaller, but much more useful for the average rigger.
  • There are numerous websites dedicated to knots. We particularly like Animated Knots by Grog.