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We are experiencing technical issues with our emergency phone line. In the event of an emergency, please contact 01443 508676.

Supported by Trinity House

Mooring merchants

Master some nautical knots and learn about international trade as we become meeting place merchants.

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You’ll need

  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Ropes, string, chord or similar
  • Poles, sticks, pencils or similar
  • Foodstuffs and materials from around the world
  • Blindfolds or scarves (optional)

Before you begin 

  • There are three basic mooring knots that are central to this activity: the bowline, the clove hitch and the round turn and two half hitches.
  • Check the condition of any ropes, string or cord that you’ll be using, as well as the sturdiness of the objects that you’ll be tying to.
  • This activity is in two parts:
    • The first part will give those taking part everything they need to work towards stage 3 of the Nautical Skills Staged Activity Badge.
    • The second part is an expansion for those wanting to work towards their Scouts Global Issues Activity Badge as well. This requires some foodstuffs or materials imported from around the world, as well as some extra helpers. Products used could include cocoa beans from Nigeria, coffee beans from Brazil or tea leaves from China. These should be prepared in advance and concealed in boxes with holes in the top, so that a person can reach in and touch them. Ideally, boxes shouldn’t contain more than two different products, to keep things moving along swiftly. Remember to consider allergies, intolerances and other hazards before running this part of the activity with the group.

Don’t worry if you can’t get items that specifically state they’re from these regions, as it’s the conversation that matters. The best items will be ones that you can chat about and ones that are great for sensory exploration.

  • Cocoa beans, cacao nibs, cocoa powder or chocolate. The top producers in the world today are The Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia and Nigeria.
  • Coffee beans, ground coffee or instant coffee. Top producers in the world today are Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
  • Tea bags or loose leaf tea. Top producers in the world today are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
  • Soya beans. One of the most-traded commodities in the world, these are used to make a variety of food items and agricultural products. The biggest producers of soya beans are the USA, Brazil, Argentina, China and India.
  • Ice. This is a historic example. In the 19th and early 20th century, ice was harvested in parts of North America and Norway. The ice trade helped produce things like chilled drinks and ice cream.
  • Silk. A modern example with a rich history. The top producers in the world today are China, India, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Brazil.
  • Corn. Mainly used as animal feed, this is also one of the most-traded commodities in the world. The biggest producers of corn are the USA, China, Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine.
  • Aluminium. An important base metal and one of the most-traded commodities in the world. The biggest producers are China, India, Russia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.


Run the activity 

  1. Give out the rope, string or cord that you’ll be using for knot-tying, as well as an object to tie the knot to, like a pole or stick.
  1. Have everyone sit where they can see the person leading the activity and any reference materials, like Scout Adventures’ Simple knots guide. It may be that people have to share resources and sit in small groups.
  1. Everyone should practise the clove hitch (rope-end or loops), bowline and round turn with two half hitches. The person leading the activity and other capable leaders should demonstrate.
  1. Now, set up between four and six activity stations around the meeting place, each representing a different part of the world. These should be made up of tables and chairs, each with a box containing a product from the country represented. Assign a helper to each station.
  1. Split into groups. There should be the same number of groups as there are activity stations.
  2. Explain that each group is going to be a merchant ship, sailing between trading ports. They should move around the world, represented by the activity area, and moor to each of the ‘countries’ (activity stations) using one of the knots they just learned. This could be tied around a table or chair leg. Each person in each group should take turns to moor and cast off the boat each time they make land.
  1. While moored at each country, the merchants in each group should reach into the box to feel what’s inside. They could also try to smell the contents of the box, if blindfolded. From this, they need to guess what the item or items are and what country they’re moored in.
  1. When the groups have moored at each country and discussed each product and how it’s traded with the helper, gather everyone together again. See how everyone found it mooring their ‘ship’ to the countries, and have them think about what it might be like tying the knots for real while floating.
  1. Start a discussion on international trade. See what everyone thinks about where goods come from and how ethical this process is. Find out if anyone has any ideas of how to be a ‘good consumer’, and how one might behave.
  2. Before they leave, encourage everyone to think more about where their belongings come from. They could look at the labels on the clothes they’re wearing right now, or have a look through their bedrooms at home.

Here are some conversation starters about international trade and the relationship between production and consumption. Encouraging conversation about where everyone’s belongings or food come from can help them to achieve their Scouts Global Issues Activity Badge.

  • Do we all know what international trade means? It’s when a company in one country sells goods to, or buys goods from, another country.
  • Do you think you could picture the person who produced, farmed or harvested this item?
  • Do you know what it means when an item is ‘Fairtrade certified’?
  • We’ve been moving mere metres around the meeting place to explore food and materials that have travelled across the world. Where do you think is the furthest one of your items of clothing or food you’ve eaten today has travelled?
  • Getting to grips with knots today has been a really important, though somewhat small, part of travelling by boat. What does everyone think about transporting goods across the ocean on ships, or even using boats to help harvest or extract goods from the ocean, like seafood and oil?
  • Can we even imagine what life is like for people who live on international trade routes or for those who work at sea like fisherman or offshore drilling workers?
  • What do we think the benefits and drawbacks of international trade are?
  • Historically, navigating the seas on behalf of international trade was pretty dangerous. Do we think there are still dangers associated with international trade? What might these be?
  • Is it possible to be an ethical consumer? Think of some habits we could change that might help.


Learning the important knots for securing your boat and casting off will be useful for all sorts of nautical activities. Why might it be important to tie up your boat with knots like these, that tighten as they’re pulled on?

In the second part of this activity, where everyone set sail around the meeting place and moored at different countries, there was the opportunity for everyone to chat a little about where things are produced and how they’re brought to us. Historically, travelling across the sea has been a big part of international trade.

Those leading the activity should have a think about how conversations during this activity can help tie the two themes together. The ‘International trade conversation starters’ dropdown list has a few tips to help everyone explore their own attitudes towards the topic and their place as a citizen of the world.


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.


Remember to check for allergies, eating problems, fasting or dietary requirements and adjust the recipe as needed. Make sure you’ve suitable areas for storing and preparing food and avoid cross contamination of different foods. Take a look at our guidance on food safety and hygiene.

  • If some of the group are finding it too easy, try challenging them to tie a knot blindfolded or at greater speed.
  • If you’ve still got plenty of time and have helped those who need it, the quick learners and more experienced among the group can take their knot knowledge a little further and try learning the cleat hitch.

The type of rope used will make learning to tie and understand the knots easier or harder. Thicker rope can make it easier to understand the structure of the knot you’re trying to tie.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Take a look at our adventures to help plan a boating trip where everyone can try out the knots they just learned.

Encourage those that have existing skills or get the hang of knots quickly to help everyone else out.