How To Select Running Rigging

Rigging - Code Flags

Because I had a hard time trying to figure out what running rigging I needed for which applications (and because the halyards and sheets were the first thing that I needed to replace on the new boat), I thought I would include this information page.

Much of the information here is borrowed from New England Ropes and West Marine. All of my halyards, sheets and docklines are made by New England Ropes and ordered through West Marine. I've had most of these ropes for about seven years and not had any problems with them.

Two of the other popular rope manufacturers for marine applications are Yale Cordage and Samson. You can visit their sites simply by clicking on the following links:

Yale Cordage

Samson Rope

How to Select Running Rigging

What It Does

Running rigging is a general term for rope (line) or wire on sailboats, used to hoist and trim sails. It consists of halyards, sheets, guys, control lines, and assorted specialized lines. By creating tension on the corners of sails and other sail controls, running rigging is used to shape sails and propel the boat forward.

Running Rigging Characteristics

Almost all line used on modern boats is constructed from synthetic fibers: nylon, polyester, Kevlar, Technora, Spectra, Vectran, and polypropylene. Synthetic line has many advantages over organic fibers, including rot resistance, strength, and more desirable stretch characteristics.

There are two primary constructions of marine line: three strand and braided. Due to its stretch characteristics, three-strand line is more commonly used for dock and anchor lines, but polyester three-strand is favored by traditionalists who want a twisted line that has a knobby texture for handling.

In the family of braids, single braid line consists of twelve sets of fiber strands woven together with no cover. The construction makes it very supple and gives it a knobby surface texture. Double braid line has a braided cover over a braided core, and is used for almost all running rigging applications. The strength of the rope is shared by both the cover and core fibers. Parallel core line has a core that consists of parallel fibers running the entire length of the line, and a braided cover. Although initially stiffer than double braid, parallel core lines have lower stretch.

Line used for running rigging must combine strength, flexibility, low stretch, and abrasion resistance. Each rigging application emphasizes certain qualities in the line, which is why there is such a diversity of line available. The constructions compare as follows:

Abrasion Resistance
Single Braid
Double Braid
Parallel Core
Very Low

Typical Line Lengths

Spnnaker Sheets - about 2 boat lengths (long enough to go from cockpit through outboard pole end and back to main hatch).

Jib Sheets & Afterguys - about 1 1/2 boat lengths (long enough to go from cockpit around mast and back to cockpit). For non-overlapping jibs, one boat length is usally enough.

Mainsheet - long enough to let boom all the way out to the shrouds.

Halyards - the length of the headstay plus the length of the mast, (plus about 10 feet to run back to the cockpit).

Other - it is recommended that all other running rigging be measured.

Selecting The Right Line

  1. First, choose the Line Selection Guide that most closely suits your type of sailing.
  2. Next, select the rope for the appropriate application (e.g. Sta-Set X is an excellent halyard for cruising boats).
  3. Finally, select the correct diameter of rope from the Size Selection Guide. For high performance lines, use the Stretch and Tensile Strength Comparison Charts to downsize the line.

I hope that this page has proven helpful to you in learning how to select running rigging for your boat. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me by clicking on the E-mail button in the left frame.

This page last updated on Saturday, October 16, 1999.