Skip Links

5 Secrets Of Sailboat Line Maintenance

Your boat's hardworking lines and ropes are often neglected. Give them some TLC, and they'll last longer and be softer on your hands.

Sailboat ropes

When sailboat owners are compiling lists of maintenance tasks for the off-season, ropes and lines rarely make the cut. These essential pieces of equipment are expected to work year after year with barely a thought. But ropes are expensive and represent a significant investment, so it pays to take care of them.

During the course of the season, dirt and salt work their way into the ropes on your boat, making them stiff to handle and abrading away internal fibers. Washing the ropes, either by hand or in a washing machine, will remove these contaminants, prolonging rope life, and making them softer to handle.

Here's how to care for the lines from your boat:

Sort the rope

1. Sort the rope. This jumble came off a small weekend cruiser and represents only about half of the total inventory. While you're at it, untie any knots.

Damaged rope

2. Discard any damaged rope that is frayed or shows signs of delamination.

Bag to keep ropes from getting tangled

3. Prevent ropes from getting tangled in the washing machine. Smaller ropes often fit into string lingerie bags; larger ropes can be put into pillow cases. Tie the opening closed.

Washing ropes

4. Wash the ropes on a gentle wash cycle and give them an extra rinse. Use a little mild detergent — about one-third the normal amount for the load size.

Air dry ropes

5. Air dry or place ropes in the dryer on a low heat setting, if appropriate. Remove the ropes from the bags, then tie them into loose coils to shorten drying time.

Washi ropes in bucket

The majority of ropes on a boat are either nylon or polyester and easy to care for. If you only have one or two ropes to clean, wash them in a bucket with soap. Rinse until all traces of detergent have vanished. Hi-tech ropes like Spectra or Dyneema may be ruined by inappropriate care, so if you have any of these, consult the manufacturer or supplier before putting them in a washing machine.

Mark Corke

A marine surveyor, and holder of RYA Yachtmaster Ocean certification, Mark has built five boats himself — power and sail. He was senior editor of Sail magazine's hands-on "Boatworks" publication, worked for the BBC, written four DIY books, skippered two round-the-world yachts, and holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest there-and-back crossing of the English Channel, in a kayak! He and his wife have a Grand Banks 32.