Revised by BoatUS editors in April 2012
Credit: Tom Ward
Your boat's running rigging is not the place to economize. If you purchase quality rope designed for a specific use, you'll do more than improve your boat’s performance: quality rope, properly cared for, can be used repeatedly for progressively less demanding jobs, giving it a long and useful life.
With today's new high-tech synthetic fibers and advanced rope construction, you can buy rope that's stronger than steel with extremely low stretch. Many racers and cruisers have switched from wire to all-rope halyards, opting for high-strength, low-stretch, lightweight ropes for their running rigging.
All-rope halyards have several advantages over wire. Hand-over-hand hoisting is much faster than cranking an all-wire winch; it's safer, too. Rope rather than wire windlasses are also preferred by many. Wire is hard on both your hands and gear. Rope is easier to splice, it won’t scrape paint or anodizing from your mast, and you don't have to decide whether or not to rely on a worrisome rope-to-wire splice. The primary disadvantages are that rope is thicker, so it has more windage aloft, and even the ultra-low-stretch fibers will elongate more than wire. Quality rope costs more than wire, but it’s easier to install, often lasts longer, and can be recycled in a less demanding capacity.
How Much Line Do I Need?
Add the height of the mast, plus the length of the headstay, plus the distance to the winch, plus about 10' for tail.
Jib and Genoa Sheets
For the working jib only, you need just slightly more than the length of your boat for each sheet. For genoas, figure 1 1/2 times boat length. Placement of winches or other gear may change this.
If you have a staysail, add in some extra length to accommodate the staysail stay.
Your best bet is to remove the existing sheet and measure it for a replacement, since there is so much variation in purchase ratios and attachment points along the boom.
These should be two times the length of the boat, plus about 4' for both eye splices. If you use separate afterguys, they should be about 1 1/4 times boat length. Remember that winch placement and other factors may change all of these estimated lengths.
Tip: Don't be tempted to grab a sheet and press it into some other dockside duty or jury-rig for which it was not intended just because it's handy. Use another less expensive all-purpose utility line like braid-on-braid or nylon three-strand twist. Your sheets will last much longer.
Metric Conversion Chart