Skip to main content

Know how: Learning the Ropes

Your ropes and lines are a very important part of your boat’s inventory. Mark Corke offers some advice on cleaning and care.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

Overworked and often overlooked ropes and lines need as much care as other onboard equipment. Rope is expensive, so it makes good sense to get the best and longest use possible out of it. Without proper care, any rope is more subject to failure. Remember that your dream is attached to your mooring or dock with just a few lengths of nylon.

Dirt and salt shorten the life of ropes; both are abrasive and will wear away at the fibers, weakening the rope making it stiff and unpleasant to handle. Salt is hydrophilic, so a rope that contains a lot of salt will always feel damp to the touch and will attract even more dirt. To prolong the life of your onboard ropes, clean them at the end of the season. Wash them, dry them, and hang them up in a dry place—not in a damp locker—during the off-season. Most ropes on the average cruising boat are made from either nylon or polyester (Dacron) and are easy to care for. If you have any high-tech ropes, consult with the manufacturer before subjecting them to a dunking in the washing machine.

Tip: To further prolong the life of your ropes, make sure that anything the rope is likely to come into contact with is in good condition. Blocks, sheaves and winches should be free of sharp edges. Tape all cotter pins and other objects that could snag ropes and lines.

NOTE: There was some heated debate here at BW as to whether the correct term is "ropes" or "lines." The verdict? Unless it's performing a specific job, it's a rope. So there.

This jumble of rope came off a small daysailer and is about half of the total inventory of ropes and lines used aboard. The amount of rope used on a larger boat represents a considerable investment.

Check each rope for chafe and general wear and tear, and untie all knots. This braided rope is well worn and will probably be discarded.

I like to wash my ropes in string bags. Use a bag that can be closed tightly to prevent the ropes from becoming tangled in the washing machine. Small zippered lingerie bags are ideal; for large rope, use a pillowcase.

Wash in cool water, and set the machine for an extra rinse cycle if possible. Use a little mild detergent—about a third of the normal amount for a load of this size.

Ropes can be air-dried or dried in a machine on low heat. Remove the ropes from the bags first to cut down on drying time.

One or two ropes can be washed in a bucket. Change the water frequently after the soapy wash until all traces of detergent have vanished.

Chafe Protection

Protecting ropes from wear caused by chafe is probably one of the best things that you can do to extend their lifespan. For permanent mooring pennants, a length of canvas stitched to the rope works well.

Another favorite for chafe protection is a length of plastic pipe slipped over the rope. This is simple and cheap but prevents the rope from bending and can cause hard spots.

Modern chocks are often undersized and may have sharp edges that can shred a rope in a matter of hours. Three-strand nylon rope has good stretch and is ideal for mooring lines and anchor rodes.

Related

01-LEAD-DSC_1255

BoatWorks: The Rig and the Crane-Barge

During the three months my little ship lay in Belfast, Maine, I had three friends. The first was a schooner bum I’d met sailing in Florida who now worked for the shipyard next door to where I had just bought my boat, Teal, a 1963 Tripp 29, sight unseen. He would hook me up with ...read more

01-LEAD-18-Running-before-strong-winds-en-route-to-Molokai

Cruising: Hawaiian Island Hop

We didn’t get off on the right foot sailing into Hawaii. It was our own fault, of course. We should have known better. It’s never a good idea to assume that just because procedures were a certain way one year, they will be the same the next. It was an especially bad idea given ...read more

DUFOUR_470.JM-LIOT-15

Boat Review: Dufour 470

Annapolis may be the sailing capital of America, but if you looked around the United States Sailboat Show last fall, you would have no choice but to conclude most sailboats are now built in Europe. The Dufour 470 is a good example of a modern French performance cruiser. DESIGN & ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_6563

Close Encounters: Captain Sarah Schelbert

I met Captain Sarah Schelbert back in 2019 while on the boat trip from hell aboard a seaworthy but poorly run Triton 28 in the western Caribbean. I was trying to help the owner sail his boat back to Florida from the Rio Dulce, in Guatemala. Outbound from the river basin, we had ...read more

02-Voice-of-the-Oceans---sailboat-Kat-11

Raising Their Voices

Many of us who are cruising sailors have been sailing mid-ocean or walking along a perfect beach in the middle of seemingly nowhere, only to be appalled at the amount of plastic trash we find. Few of us, however, have taken that disheartening reality and turned it into a ...read more

IC37racingonSunday-Photo-by-Paul-Todd

IC37 North American Championship

This past weekend saw 20 IC37s off Newport, Rhode Island engage in fast and furious one-design racing with the win going to Peter McClennen’s Gamecock. “It’s huge,” said McClennen of the win. “I think of the one-designs of this club going back to the New York 30 [built in ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_2056

South Pacific Storm Prep

Having set ourselves the task of transforming our recently purchased Open 66 ex-Vendée Globe racer, NV, into a performance family cruiser, my partner, Timo, and I found ourselves (extremely) high and dry as cyclone season approached. The favorite cyclone strategy in Fiji is to ...read more

00-Alexe-1---GUaGKDY4-single-boat-sailing-away-from-skyline,-Hill-Holiday

Cruising: Find Your Own Adventure

Whether they’re at the end of their collegiate career or after aging out of a summer sailing program, a lot of young sailors have a hard time finding a way to continue sailing as adults. Some of the barriers to sailing, including location, finances and time, can be hard to ...read more