How to Select Rope for Your Boat

When it comes to replacing the lines and rigging on and around your boat, the amount of choices can make your head spin. We’ve found that the best approach to deciding on new rope for your boat is to take the process one step at a time. First, think through your priorities for your line and your new rope’s desired characteristics. Then, look at the material and construction that meets those criteria and fits within your budget. Then all that’s left is determining size and amount. Let’s take a look at how all of those elements break down.

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1. What are my Priorities?

To determine what priorities you need for your rope you’ll need to think about the rope’s application, what type of sailing you do, and your budget.

  • Application: The application in which the line will be used is obviously a big factor for which type of rope you should purchase. The application will help you determine which rope criteria (strength, stretch & UV resistance) are your biggest priorities. Most rigging applications will require high strength and low stretch as priorities.
  • Type of Sailing: Are you a racer or a cruiser? The main use of your boat will directly affect the main use of your lines. Racers will need lines that are lightweight and meet their class regulations, while cruisers may place more importance on longevity and ease of handling.
  • Budget: It’s important to set a budget and to not overspend on your line. You could easily buy the most expensive, highest quality line, but for many sailors the fanciest line available is probably overkill. You might never use the line to its full extent, so it’s just not worth the expenditure.

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2. Fiber Choices

After you’ve determined the traits that will be your line priorities, its time to take a look at which fiber of rope will meet those requirements. Many of a rope’s performance properties lie inherently within its fibers. Here are the most common rope fibers and what they are known for.

  • Polyester: An excellent choice for applications where strength, low stretch and durability are important, as in most running rigging applications. Also, polyester has a moderate price tag, which makes it a good fit for a variety of uses and users.
  • Nylon: One of the original synthetic fibers, nylon has great shock absorption properties, wear and UV resistance, and strength. Also with a moderate price, nylon ropes are great for dock and anchor lines.
  • Aramids (Kevlar or Technora): These high performance fibers feature very high strength and extremely low stretch. Aramid lines are perfect for serious racing sailboats and as running rigging on larger yachts. The downside to these lines is that they don’t have good UV resistance, can self-abrade, and are more expensive.
  • HMPE (Dyneema): High Modulus Polyethylene (HMPE) is another high performance fiber with very high strength and very low stretch. These ropes also repel water, float, and are ideal for lightweight running rigging for serious racers or on larger yachts. HMPE ropes do have a few drawbacks, however. They have a low melting point, which makes these ropes susceptible to friction and when left under sustained loads HMPE ropes have been known to creep or elongate.
  • Polypropylene: This is a lower to moderately priced line that is great for applications where a lightweight or affordable line is important. Polypropylene line floats in water and is a good choice for light air spinnaker sheets. The drawbacks to polypropylene are that is not very strong or UV resistant, has high stretch, and melts at a low temperature.

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3. Rope Construction

A rope’s construction can make it better suited to a particular application. It also can enhance a fiber’s strengths. Here are four main types of construction:

  • Double Braid: A braided core inside a braided cover. This produces an easy to handle rope that is strong and durable. Double braid lines are used in running rigging and dock lines.
  • Parallel Core: These lines have a unidirectional fiber core with a braided cover. Parallel core lines have significantly less stretch and greater strength than a double braid line of the same size. These ropes are ideal for halyards, sheets, and guys where low stretch is required.
  • Single Braid: This type of line has a flexible and supple construction that absorbs twist and does not kink, making it great for mainsheets, furling lines, and large dock lines.
  • 3 Strand:  3-Strand is durable, long-lasting, flexible, and easy-to-handle. Plus, this line won’t harden with age. Use nylon 3-Strand for anchor, dock, mooring, and tow lines or polyester 3-strand for running rigging on traditional cruising boats.

Make Your Choice

The fiber and construction of the line can be selected in different combinations to best meet your needs. Be aware that the selection process often involves some trade-offs, whether they be performance or cost-based. Gauge your priorities to decide which combination would work best for your boat.

Now that you have a good idea of what fiber and construction suits your needs, you should be ready to make your rope selection. On our Rope Size & Selection Guide we have more information on rope as well as a handy selection chart that outlines our line recommendations based on application, type of sailing, and boat size.

Sailrite stocks a wide array of high quality New England Ropes. See our full selection of rope for your vessel at www.sailrite.com.

Is this the formula you use to select rope or do you use another method? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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