Ropes for Boats: how to choose the right one for the job

by Ian Kuhl on May 10, 2012

in Chandlery, Featured, Fishing Supplies, Franklin Marine

Having the right rope or lines aboard is an essential part of boating. For all the fancy gear you can have aboard a boat, without a simple rope to tie something down you can be in real trouble.

Lines are used for docking, lashing down gear, anchoring, hauling cray pots, pulling up and controlling sails, hanging up big fish, making and setting nets and holding clothing together. There is no end to the useful jobs you can do with the right type and size of rope.

Navy and fishing boats drove the original need for rope with manila, sisal and hemp the plants that gave the fibre to make them from. Rope works twisted and bound these hardy stalks of fibre into the lines used for hauling all matter of gear around he ocean. Manila is grown in the Philippines and was considered the premium rope. It was much favoured by the British navy during the age of sail. WW2 and the huge demand for supplying rope to the U.S. navy drove the DuPont company to develop nylon for manufacturing dock lines. Australian rope however was still made from hemp grown on the NSW north coast. These crops were abandoned after the war but were later rediscovered by some happy hippies in the seventies!

Modern rope comes in a wide range of types, some with long names, utilising many forms of manufacture. Some suit particular jobs better than others, and it is best to use the right rope for the job at hand. Many brand names are around, but a general run down follows:

  • Silver rope is made from polyethylene and has a hairy appearance, with a three-strand lay with floating ability. It has good U.V. and abrasion resistance, is popular for docking, anchoring and lashing, and is easy to splice. This economical rope is the most popular rope found on boats.
  • Nylon rope has high strength. Its ability to stretch up to 30% means it is popular for anchoring, docking and towing. It comes in three, eight and twelve strand lays with good U.V resistance, but does not float and goes hard over time when stowed. Its high cost means that it is not so popular.
  • Polypropylene rope is usually green and has twice the strength of silver rope. It is mostly used for fishing, and is good for cray pot lines. Its three strand in soft, medium and hard lay types have poor U.V. resistance, so it can’t be left in sun full time. It floats, is economical, and easy to splice.
  • Double braid polyester rope is the most popular rope for yachting. It has a sixteen-plait jacket over an eight-plait core, high UV resistance and low stretch. It is available in many colours.  This easy to tie rope is economical and a pleasure to use. It is good for sailing sheets and halyards, dock lines and truck tie down lines, but is tougher to splice unless youre a pro.
  • Pre-stretched polyester rope is thirty-two braid over eight core and is mostly used for running rigging on yachts and dinghies. It is good for lashing when no stretch is required.
  •  V.B. cord is available in 2, 3, 4, 5 and six mm and is popular for small lashing jobs. It has high strength and good U.V. resistance. It is available in variety of colours, originally being designed for pulling up Venetian blinds. It is also used for decorative plating and macramé type applications.
  • Kevlar rope is a super high strength braided rope used on racing yachts for its ability to provide thin lines for use aloft, doing the job that formerly required much larger ropes. It comes at a high cost, so is not for all.
  • Manila rope does not float, has average U.V. resistance, but will absorb water. It looks great with its traditional colour, is easy to splice and is great for rope work. It is mostly used on traditional wooden boats.

Keep your ropes coiled and out of the weather and sun if not in use. Make sure your anchor line is long enough and coiled ready to deploy in a hurry if you need it. Use the right rope for the job intended as a rope breaking under strain can cause injury. A fresh supple rope is a pleasure to use and will be easy to tie and hold its knot.





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