Ask Sail: Shackles Versus Bowlines

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Q: I’ve sailed and raced on a number of boats over the years. I feel like aboard most of the boats I’ve sailed, we’ve just attached the jib sheets to the sail with a pair of bowlines. However, aboard a few the owners have used shackles. What are the pros and cons of the two approaches?

— Tracy Patrick, Madison, WI

BRIAN HANCOCK REPLIES

Most raceboats are moving away from shackles and their like for a number of reasons, the principal being weight, since a stainless shackle weighs more than a knot. It may not weigh much more, but it all starts to add up. Similarly, in many other applications aboard raceboats and cruisers things are now being lashed with a light dyneema or something similar. These new lines are very strong for their size and, again, very light. Another advantage of attaching sheets with a bowline is the soft connection. Unlike a shackle, which can bang someone on the head or ding your mast, a bowline is fairly soft. Lastly, tying a knot is, of course, much cheaper than buying a pair of new shackles.

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