Marlinespike – Line Handling and Stowing

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on July 12, 2022. In Nautical Knots

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Neatness counts, especially because it’s also safer. Don’t throw lines in heaps about the boat. They’ll kink, tangle or jam when you need them and you and your passengers are likely to trip over them.

Get into the habit of coiling your lines when they are not in use, and flemishing any lose ends on deck or dock. There is a good reason for this (besides looking good): stepping on a loose line can be like stepping on a marble, while stepping on a flemished line is like stepping on a mat. It also protects your lines from unnecessary (and unsafe) wear and tear and helps preserve the lay of twisted rope.

Twisted rope should be put into round coils. Right-laid rope , as most twisted rope is, should be wound clockwise, while left-laid rope should be wound counter-clockwise. Preserving the lay of the rope in this way will make for line that coils easily and plays out smoothly.

Braided rope has no preferred direction and often loops into figure eights naturally. This will also run out smoothly.

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Stowing the line

Take three or four feet of line from the back of the coil and make three turns around the coil. Pass a loop of the free end through the top of the coil. Pass the free end through the newly created loop. Take the loop over the top of the coil and pull the free end to fasten. The free end should hang slightly longer than the coil so it can be located quickly.

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Another method better suited for storing the line in a rope locker is to double the end of the completed coil to form a long loop. Pass the loop, in a clockwise turn, around the head of the coil, passing the end of the loop under its own midsection. Take another turn around the coil to the left of the first one and tuck the end of the loop under this second turn. Pull tight so that the end of the loop stands free and can be used as a hanger. Again, make sure the free end hangs down a bit so it can be located quickly.

Tips . . .

Chafing (repeated rubbing of an area of the rope against an abrasive surface) will greatly weaken the line and make it unable to bear strain. Protect the line from chafing by sliding a snug plastic tube over the area that comes in contact with a dock or other surface. Alternatively, cover the surface with a smooth, sturdy material.

Tying knots or hitches in the same place often will cause that part of the line to weaken. Occasionally switch the line ends (like rotating your tires) and try to tie knots and hitches in different areas of the line. Prolonged exposure to rust, dirt, sand or mud deteriorates rope. Any stiff or hard lines should be replaced.

Whichever lines you choose to use make sure they are kept out of the sun when not in use, clean, unfrayed, dry and coiled neatly. Don’t leave knots in a stowed line for long periods of time. To clean rope, scrub it with a solution of liquid soap and water. Dry completely before storing.

A line under tension, especially nylon line, can be a lethal weapon if it, or what it is attached to, fails. The line will recoil with a force that can cause serious injury and/or damage. Keep your lines in good condition, replace them when worn and always monitor lines under stress. Do not allow anyone to stand in line, or within 45 degrees on either side, of a line under stress.

About Chris

Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.


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