Choosing the Right Rope for Your Sailboat

Deciding what rope to buy for a specific application can be a bit complicated. Only because there are so many different manufacturers, products, and not to mention the vast array of terms associated with rope. Let’s try and simplify this process a bit. For the sake of keeping this short and sweet we’ll narrow it down to one manufacturer, New England Ropes. Then we can talk about what types of rope this manufacturer offers and which ones are ideal for certain applications….

~If money is tight, then let’s start with the priorities, typically it’s: halyards, then reef lines, then sheets, and then the rest of the line-up (in that order).~

Cruising halyards
New England Ropes VPC

When considering new halyards or reef lines, look for a strong, low stretch line. Halyards and reef lines don’t need to be especially free running with the¬†exception of perhaps the spinnaker gear. Typically halyards want to be low stretch as they need to span long distances under high load. A good choice for most cruising boat halyards is a product called¬†New England Ropes VPC.¬† It has¬†Vectran/ Polyester blended core which provides some of the low stretch we are looking for and is reasonably priced. It also has a nicely braided¬†Polyester¬†cover which provides great protection from sun damage, chafe, and gives you a good ‘grip’.

Sta Set
New England Ropes Sta Set

For the spinnaker gear as well as the sheets or anything that requires an especially free running line, we recommend New England Ropes Sta-set.  Sta Set is all Polyester, core and cover, which again does exceptionally well with U.V. and chafe resistance, as-well-as it runs freely, and has a nice soft feel.  Although Sta-set has more stretch than VPC ( which is actually even preferred for spinnaker gear) it is hardly noticeable in certain applications, i.e. jib sheets.

V-100 Rope for Racing boats
New England Ropes V100

If you are looking for a bit’ more performance you may want to look at¬†New England Ropes Endura¬†(Spectra Core) or¬†V-100¬†(Vectran Core). These are very low stretch lines and offer the ability to strip the cover off as seen on many racing boats. If you do decide to taper your halyards (or strip the cover) for performance reasons, make sure that they are tapered at the right length. Speaking as a former ‘mast man’, there is nothing worse than ‘bumping’ a halyard and right when you get¬†to the last 3 feet or so (when it is the most difficult), you are trying to grab on to some thin and slippery core fibers. This is an expensive process and should be done properly or not at all. Please note that, especially when choosing a Vectran cored line, striping the cover will give the line a much shorter lifespan. Although a jacket (or coating) is required when exposing Vectran to the sun, the life expectancy of the line we be dramatically reduced. Read more here regarding these fancy fibers and their pluses and minuses.

rope for RAce boats
New England Ropes Endura Braid

~With halyards, make sure that the rigger installs reeving eyes, (a.k.a soft eyes,¬†Flemish Eyes,¬†or pull eyes…)¬†on the end of the rope so that the halyards¬†(or any lines¬†that¬†may¬†require¬†special reeving for that matter, i.e. reef lines) can be removed when the boat is not in use.

Keep in mind that there are other manufacturers out there which provide rope products similar to the ones we have just discussed. So take your pick, some of these other reputable names are Samson Ropes,¬†Marlow Ropes, FSE Robline¬†and Yale Cordage….amongst others. Whether you are a racer, cruiser, or little bit of both, you should take the time to make sure that you have the right rope for the application. If you are a do-it-yourself-er, there is no shame in asking some questions. If money is tight focus on your priorities and save up for what’s ‘needed’. If you are going to hire a professional, don’t be scared to ask them about their process. Regardless of where you stand, take the time to make sure it is done right the first time and you will be able to worry about other things like, do we have enough beer, when should we ‘tack’, or how high is that bridge ;-0)

Tapered Halyard Strip cover halyard
Tapered/ Strip Cover Line

…Some Thoughts on How to Take Care of Your Line:

To easily remove your internally run lines for service, make sure that the rigger installs reeving eyes, (a.k.a soft eyes,¬†Flemish Eyes, pull eyes…)¬†on the end of the rope so that the halyards¬†(or any lines¬†that¬†may¬†require¬†special reeving for that matter, i.e. reef lines) can be removed when the boat is not in use.

Pro Tip: Using a reeving eye one can remove the lines by tying on a messenger. If leaving lines out of the mast for a prolonged period of time, be sure to use a minimum messenger diameter of 3/16″. This will keep the line from trying to jump the sheave.

Removing the lines will allow you to¬†take them home and throw them in the laundry (I’ve even heard of using the dishwasher, less tangle) for the winter. Once washed, dried and de-tangled, it is recommended to coat any exposed¬†core fibers (as found on stripped cover halyards) with a product called¬†Yale MaxiJacket¬†or the like. This will help provide protection from harmful U.V. rays and chafe. If you have never dealt with MaxiJacket before, I would call a local rigger and ask for any tips on applying the coating, ¬†it can make quite a mess!

Have a question? At The Rigging Company questions are always free of charge. Leave us a comment below.


4 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Rope for Your Sailboat

  1. This article is mostly about finding low-stretch lines at a decent price. But you only talk about New England Ropes. Neither you nor, as far as I can tell, New England Ropes themselves, mentions *how* low stretch. SamsonMarlowYale etc give numbers. Numbers are good: assuming the manufacturer is honest, they allow actual comparison rather than just handwaving. Any idea why New England Ropes won’t share? Care to help?

    1. Hi Ben,

      I see what you’re saying about the lack of data. It appears they only address tensile strength and weight in most caese….

      Yeah, the article was intended to be a general guide for the average boat-ee that just needs the gist when it comes to knowing an appropriate line to buy. Certainly many brands offer similar models and styles of rope, it is getting the customer to choose the right rope. I think this was the intended focus behind the article….all without getting too technical.

      If you need more product specific knowledge we’re always glad to help. Fee free to email us a


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