Replace Your Sailboat Running Rigging

Replacing Running Rigging on an Older Sailboat

If you’re thinking of buying a used sailboat it’s probable that your final selection will be a boat that is a few years old – and the halyards, mainsheet, backstay, jibsheets and other running rigging will probably look a little old, dirty and frayed.

Your first thought may be to replace this old stuff with some of the bright new high tech line you can find in your local chandlery.

But you should think carefully before you go ahead and buy any high tech replacement running rigging. You could be setting yourself up for some serious problems, as well a spending a lot of unnecessary money into the bargain.

high tech is too strong

The biggest problem with rigging and older sailboat with high-tech lines to control the sails is that the lines are too strong for the boat. Old turning blocks, padeyes, sheaves and cam cleats as well as genoa tracks and rope clutches are just not capable of handling the loads you can exert using high tech line.

Consider this – a half inch diameter Samson Tech-12 (12 Strand Technora) line has an average breaking load of 33,000 pounds.

You could lift your boat with it!

And if you get a young, strong, enthusiastic “gorilla” on a halyard winch, he could pull the headboard out of the sail, damage the sheave at the masthead or pull the turning block at the base of the mast out of the deck.

no knots allowed

Tests done by the magazine Practical Sailor and others show that if you tie any type of knot in a high-tech line, you can reduce the breaking strength of the line by up to 80%. With very slippery high tech line it is also possible to pull the knot through itself, and with an extra slippery line such as Yale Light it’s even possible to pull an eye splice out..

This is a very serious problem for the average sailor.

Here are the problems in a nutshell:

  • a bowline or other knot in a high tech line reduces the breaking strength by up to 80%
  • for jib sheets you must increase the line size to account for the reduced strength – more $$$$
  • an eye splice is required to attach a shackle to a halyard. Splices should be made by a professional
  • high tech line is very difficult to cut. Normal rigging knives and hot knives are almost useless
  • all turning blocks and sheaves must have a diameter of at least 8 times the line diameter
  • old sheaves, turning blocks and other hardware will probably not be strong enough for high tech line
  • high tech line can cost up to $10 per foot
  • splicing any of these high tech lines is not for the faint hearted!

a possible solution

Generally it’s much better to stay with the more traditional line for the running rigging of older boats.

In the US, Sampson, New England Ropes and Yale all make a double braid dacron line very suitable for almost all the running rigging on an older sailboat.

Sampson Ropes make a double braid dacron called XLS, New England Ropes make a similar product called Sta-Set and Yale Ropes product is called Vizzion. Marlow Ropes in the UK produce Marlowbraid.

These products sell from $1.00 to $2.50 per foot. You’ll need about 500 feet for an average 30 footer.

Any line that you have to handle such as jib sheets, halyards and mainsheet should be about half inch (12mm) diameter for a good grip, and jib sheets and mainsheets should be one of the “softer” feel products.

As I have done a fair amount of club racing, my personal preference would be to use any of the above products for everything except the halyards and then go for a lighter, low stretch, high tech product such as New England Ropes T-900 for the halyards and get the eye splices done professionally.