Things You Need to know for Sailing Ship Ropes

There are a number of ropes used on sailing boats. Some are specialized, such as tow lines or rescue lines.

Most ropes consist of a core and a cover, with the cover providing abrasion resistance and protection from sunlight. The cover also improves handling characteristics.

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There are several types of ropes that can be used on a sailing ship. These include standing rigging, sail halyards, and sheets that control sails when they are being adjusted.

Ropes are also used for mooring and anchor lines, which need to be strong enough to withstand the weight of a boat. It is important to choose a rope that has a breaking strength that is no more than 1/5th of the safe working load.

A rope’s strength and durability are enhanced by the type of fiber it uses in its core. Synthetic fibers, such as Dyneema(r) and Spectra(r), are popular for their low stretch and high strength.

Polyester (PES) is another popular choice. It floats on water, is abrasion-resistant and has a good chemical resistance.


Ropes on sailing ships are usually made of two main components – a core that accounts for up to 95% of the rope’s strength, and a protective outer cover. The cover is responsible for providing abrasion resistance, protection from sunlight and, where appropriate, improved holding in a clutch, jammer or cleat.

In racing, ropes may be optimized for each function, using four or five major fibers, primarily Dyneema, Technora, Kevlar and polyester. In most cases, the fibers are blended together to produce a line that has the optimal balance of performance and handling characteristics.

For shorelines, three-strand polyester is still a popular choice, offering decent stretch and abrasion resistance at a fair price. However, the chafe resistance is not great and one strand could wear through before the others. It’s worth considering a polyester multi-plait or ‘octo-plait’ as an alternative. This is not quite as abrasion resistant but has the added benefit of being very lightweight and resistant to UV degradation.


There are many different types of rope used on tall ships – halyards, sheets, brails, vangs, tricing lines, warps, whips and jackstays. Some of these are specifically named (eg jib topsail sheet, peak halyard) but most have no rope name at all.

In sailing the weight of rigging is important as it can make or break the performance of a boat. The best ropes are abrasion-resistant and stretch resistant, with a strong breaking point.

Historically standing rigging was made of hemp – manila – and was coated with tar. Running rigging was often made of steel cable, which was a lot lighter and did not need to be coated with tar.

There are several fibers used for rope, but the most common is polyester. Dyneema(r) and aramid fibers are also commonly used. These are often mixed together to ensure the line is optimized for the job at hand, eg for a cruising specification product where a slight stretch – on a boat that uses soft Dacron sails – will not be considered a problem.


Proper storage is essential for sailing ship ropes. They need to be protected against excessive load, friction, chemicals and dirt. They should also be stored away from direct sunlight and any chemical treatments (if any).

Most sailors will agree that storing the lines properly will increase their lifespan by decreasing the chance of failures. This is true for both woven and braided ropes.

There are a number of ways to store the ropes on your boat. The most effective way is to use a rope bag or bucket.

Another great idea is to coil the lines before storing them. This will reduce the twists and make them more supple for handling.

During the course of the season, ropes absorb dirt and salt, which makes them stiff to handle. This can damage the internal fibers and shorten their lifespan.