When was the last time you stopped to think about how much you use marine rope in your boating life?
When you add up docking, anchoring, sailing and towing, marine rope is crucial throughout the boating world. Without it, WE would all drift aimlessly about with no wind in our sails... mostly because you gotta have rope for your sails.
We want you to know why marine rope (or “line”) is different than any other rope AND how to know whether you want a rope that floats as opposed to one that sinks!
Characteristics of Marine Rope
We shouldn't use just any old rope around water, salt and other outdoor elements so whether you have a sailboat, trawler or canal boat, you’ll want to take a few minutes to learn the important characteristics to look for when choosing marine rope.
- Waterproof — It is mutually agreed that the biggest feature to consider when choosing marine rope is that it’s waterproof. Each boat rope may not come in direct contact with water, the fact that it’s being used on a boat makes the waterproof aspect a necessary factor.
- Strong and durable — Strength & durability are important when seeking the BEST rope in any use but knowing how salt and water can wear down the toughest fibers is very important. As a boater, you require trust in your ropes to secure your boat, tow your kids and keep your sailboat sailing, you want it to be the BEST!
- Floats — For towing (waterskiing, tubing and wakeboarders), you’ll want a marine rope that floats because this makes it easy for the rider to find and grab if they fall off.
- Sinks — While seemingly counteractive to the last characteristic, there are some boating tasks where you need the rope to sink. Mostly used for anchor lines.
- Stretches — Most dock lines require a stretchable rope because it allows them to sway with the boat as the water moves. If your rope is too tight, it can rip, or cause your boat to slam into the side of the dock during high wind and inclement weather.
Understanding the many Types of Marine Rope
Sailboats definitely use a lot of rigging and rope that’s not needed in power boating, but having the right rope from SGT KNOTS provide both the durability & safety you expect from a high quality marine rope. Here are just a few types of marine rope that sailors know well:
- Docking Rope
- Anchor Rope
- Tow Rope
- Sailing Rope
Color-Coded Marine Rope
One cool, useful feature about sailing rope is that it’s often color-coded. In the sailing world, there are standard color codes to distinguish the use and length of rope. Although you can really apply any color to any line of your personal vessel (so long as you member what the codes stand for), here are the standard color-coded lines:
- White — Mainsail sheet and halyard lines
- Blue — Jib/genoa line
- Red — Spinnaker
- Green — Guys
- Black — Vangs and travelers
Now you know some cool sailing tricks and terms to impress your boating buddies.
Marine Rope Flecks and Tracers
Ever notice how some marine rope has specks of different colors? It’s called a "Fleck". There’s an extra bit of color in the rope like a white rope with flecks of blue.
When there’s more than one color, like a white rope with red and blue, the term “tracers” is used. The flecks are used to indicate length or depth.
Marine Rope Materials and Fibers
You’ll find that several synthetic and natural fibers go into the construction of marine rope. Consider your budget and what you’ll use the rope or lines for when making a decision.
- Nylon, which is moderately priced, offers shock absorption, UV and wear resistance. It’s very strong, often used for dock and anchor lines. However, it does shrink a bit when wet.
- Polyester is strong, has low stretch and is quite durable. It’s also moderate in price. It can be used for anchor lines.
- Polypropylene is lightweight, very stretchy and almost as strong as nylon. Since it floats, it’s a good choice for tow ropes. On the negative side, it’s not UV resistant and melts at low temperatures. It’s quite affordable, so buying a new tow rope every season isn’t too bad of a deal.
- Kevlar, also known by names such as Technora, is incredibly strong, has low stretch and doesn’t rust. It’s used for mooring lines on ships and oil rigs, as well as in sailing rigging. Marine rope made with Kevlar often has a polyester cover over the Kevlar/Technora core.
Marine Rope Construction
In addition to the various types of marine rope fibers, there are a couple of ways marine rope is constructed, including braided, twisted and with a parallel core.
Braided Marine Rope
You’ll find two types of braided marine rope: single and double-braided.
Single-braided marine rope has a flexible construction that doesn’t kink or twist. It’s used on sailboat mainsheets and large dock lines.
Double-braided rope has a braided core and a braided cover. It’s easy to handle, strong and durable. It’s used in running rigging and dock lines.
3-Strand Twist Marine Rope
3-strand twist rope is exactly what it sounds like—a twist of three strands. It’s flexible, durable and long-lasting. It doesn’t harden with age, is used for anchors, running rigging, and dock, mooring and tow lines.
Parallel Core Marine Rope
Marine rope with a parallel core means it has a unidirectional fiber core with a braided cover. It has less stretch but lots of strength. You can use it for halyards, sheets and anywhere you need a low stretch marine rope.
How to Take Proper Care of Marine Rope
Along with using the correct rope for the job, and using the correct knots, you can keep your marine rope maintained and in top shape with these few easy tricks and tips:
Marine rope is exposed to chafing all the time—anchor lines over the side of the boat, tied up at the dock, hoisting sailing lines … and the list goes on. Chafing is just a fact of life in boating, but there are ways to prevent it.
Simply put a piece of PVC pipe or a flexible garden hose over the exposed area. You can also stitch a piece of canvas (like a glove of sorts) to cover the places where chafing is impossible to avoid.
Fraying and Rope Ends
To prevent fraying of the rope ends, you’ll need to secure the strands before cutting and treating the ends. Here are a few tricks:
The first method is called a Sailmaker’s Whipping. You secure the strands using a needle and thread. It’s the most traditional, and very effective, method, but it does require sewing skill.
The other method is to use tape (quick and easy).
Once the end strands are secure, (for synthetic rope) you’ll use heat to “melt” the ends into a protective end. If there are non-synthetic fibers in the rope, cut around the core to expose just the outer pieces. This way the outer edges will form a protective cap over the core. After the end has melted, pound it down and flatten it.
If you’ve ever walked around a marina, you’ve probably noticed swirls of perfectly coiled rope alongside the cleats of docked boats. This isn’t just an example of marine OCD—it’s a way to prevent fraying, tangling and chafing of the rope.
It also keeps the rope within easy reach when you need it (free from dangling into the water). Some boaters prefer to use a figure-eight shape. It’s all up to you!
Saltwater, dirt and other debris (including fish gills, bird droppings and the like)—rinse off with fresh water at least once a season. Avoid soapy detergents, however, as that can wash away protective finishes on marine rope.
Along with cleaning, marine rope should be inspected at least once a season (usually at the end of the season). You’ll want to look for chafing, frayed ends, dry rot, tears and worn spots. An important spot to check is the areas on your boat where rope touches. There could be sharp edges on cleats, winches and the like, or areas that snag the rope.
Know Your Ropes Yet?
Now that you know the basics behind marine rope. Use it to your advantage to choose the best type for your boating needs.
Next on the list? Mastering some of those fancy nautical knots...