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Supported by Trinity House

Mooring merchants

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

You will 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.


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.


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. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.


Check for allergies before you begin and read the guidance on food safety. Make sure you have suitable areas for storing and preparing food and avoid cross contamination of different foods.