How to care for marine rope

Here at Nautical Rope, we want you to get the best performance and value from your rope. Using ropes correctly and avoiding damage is key to keeping them in good working order. We have put together this guide to help you with keeping your ropes at their best.

As rope should not be treated as ‘just a bit of rope’, it pays to look after it. Modern rope is made with specialised technical fibres and constructions and are a significant investment in what is some of the most important gear on your boat. Simple routines like not treading on it, driving over it, dropping an anchor on it or letting it stay dirty will pay dividends in maintaining its condition.

In use, ropes will wear and they are made to allow for this. Typical wear will show on the outside of a rope by the fibres becoming fluffy due to individual fibres breaking or wearing out. Normally the strength loss due to this wear is insignificant but as it progresses whole yarns or strands will begin to lose strength.

External damage caused by the rope working over sharp or rough edges will be more significant and can be avoided by using wear sleeves. External damage can be seen and assessed as significant or not. A light fluffy appearance is the start of fibre wear and is inevitable but if yarns are pulled out or broken or the core is showing through the sheath then the rope is probably worn out and should be replaced. Assessing the rope’s condition is a matter for common sense. If in doubt about the rope then discard it or seek professional advice from us or from a rigger.

Anything that upsets the construction of the rope will reduce its strength. This includes knots so we recommend always using eye splices where possible especially instead of bowlines in halyards. Other disruptions like twists and if it’s a core-cover rope any upset in the core-cover relationship will also impact the strength of the rope. Some ropes will not allow the core and cover to be fused together using heat; Aramids for example should be well whipped to maintain integrity between the core and cover.

Contamination of a rope can cause it to lose significant strength. Acids and alkalis will seriously damage some ropes and the effects may not be visible, they may only be affecting the core fibres. Some ropes are resistant to common chemicals such as battery acids and cleaning alkalis. Others will be damaged and lose strength so it’s best to avoid contamination as its effect can be insidious causing failure without warning.

The best care is to keep ropes clean. If they get contaminated seek advice or discard the rope. Ropes can be cleaned in dilute soap solutions if the soap is well rinsed out. Ropes should not be washed in a washing machine as this can damage ropes, rather hand wash in warm water. After washing store ropes, without knots, hung in a dry airy place. Dirt, salt crystals and chemicals will all damage fibres to some extent, and often it is not visible damage. Wash your ropes at least once a season and especially if they are left out on deck in the weather and salt spray.

Hardware used with ropes is a working partner with the rope and needs to be correctly sized for the rope. Pulley systems put stress on the rope that becomes excessive if the sheaves are not correct for the rope and worse, cleats will damage the fibres if the rope is too small or too large.

A tip from years of experience on boats, when you leave your boat for a while. Tie one end of a spare sacrificial rope to all of your halyards. Then pull the halyards all the way to the top of the mast leaving the sacrificial rope running up from the deck to retrieve them back down again when you return. Place all the halyard rope you have pulled in into a bag at the base of the mast. Now you have all your halyard rope out of the sun which is unfortunately always going to slowly deteriorate the fibres just like the sacrificial strip on roller genoas fades over time.

One final tip as a boat owner, ropes are expensive and replacing the whole lot is a significant cost so spread the load and replace one line each year then you never have to replace the lot at once.

If you would like more information please contact us we are happy to help.