Cruising Tips: Free a Line from a Prop

Eventually everyone wraps a line around a prop. I was told this on my first-ever job as a captain—leading teenagers on liveaboard dive-training trips in the Leeward Islands—and bragged about being the only skipper not to have done so.
Author:
Publish date:

Scuba gear is useful when freeing a wrapped propeller

Scuba gear is useful when freeing a wrapped propeller

SEAMANSHIP

All Wrapped Up

Eventually, everyone wraps a line around a prop. I was told this on my first-ever job as a captain—leading teenagers on liveaboard dive-training trips in the Leeward Islands—and bragged about being the only skipper not to have done so. On the last day of the last trip, motorsailing a catamaran up the east coast of St. Martin, my arrogance finally caught up with me. I saw a fish pot disappear between the hulls and before I could cut the throttle we had wrapped the starboard propeller. And yes, it has happened since.

Most of the time your engine will give you hints as to what is going on. There may be heavy clunking, extreme vibration or a complete engine shutdown. In all cases, you should shut the engine down immediately, stop what you are doing, and think. Many sailboats have folding or feathering props, and in some instances, the prop may not be wrapped, but instead is not properly oriented. The boat, when put in gear, will vibrate badly at all engine speeds. If this happens and you do not think you have hit anything, try shifting into forward and reverse, back and forth, to try and get the prop to unstick itself.

If the prop is wrapped, try and maneuver the boat to a safe place under sail. Anchor if you can. Issue a security call on the VHF so that any nearby traffic understands your situation. Only dive overboard if you have a mask and fins, the water is clear enough to see, and the wave action is calm. If you’re at sea in a swell, wearing an old bike or hockey helmet is a good idea. Do not jump overboard unless you are attached to the boat and someone is watching you.

Whatever the conditions, you’ll need a good knife and some patience. Wear gloves, and watch out for barnacles. They can cause nasty infections if they cut you. Once you cut away the line, gently test the engine and running gear to ensure no damage was done. A severely wrapped prop can bend a prop shaft, so do not assume all is well.

Related

IMG_0173

Electronic “Flares” for Cruisers

The United States Coast Guard requires that all boats operating in coastal waters or on the high seas carry a selection of visual distress signals. Almost invariably, such signals include the pyrotechnic type, either handheld or fired from a flare pistol, but surely there are ...read more

M2-HOOK-TOP-AND-CHAIN-1

Gear: M2 Chain Hook from Mantus

Stay Hooked Chain hooks on anchor snubber lines tend to fall off when you least want them to. Not so this latest example from Mantus. The M2 Chain Hook is secured to the chain by a simple elastic strap, so it won’t come off when the snubber loosens. Made from corrosion-resistant ...read more

shutterstock_349918991

Successful Surf Landings with Wheels

“Ready to take the dink ashore?” Never had those words invoked as much anxiety as when my husband, Jeff, and I first moved to the Pacific Coast. Why? Because we had exactly zero experience with dinghy surf landings, and the possibility of being flipped upside down along with our ...read more

Sail2010_597

How to: Find Good Values on Charter Vacations

So, you want to find a great deal on your next charter vacation? Sure, you can scour the internet, hope for Black Friday deals or ask friends. But an even better way to find good prices on charter boats is to go to a boat show. Not only do charter companies like The Moorings, ...read more

leadphoto

Know How: Dinghy Modification

The rigmarole of stretching a cover over a dinghy in choppy water prior to hoisting it on davits can become a very wet business if you’re not careful. Leaning right over either end, trying to stretch a cover over the bow and stern pods can quite easily result in a head-first dip ...read more

25980

Catnapped Aboard a Racing Multihull

It was after midnight when I realized my daysail with Tony Bullimore aboard his giant record-breaking catamaran, Team Legato, was not going to plan. The big cat was en route for a December dash from England across the Bay of Biscay to Barcelona and the start of a drag race ...read more