Proper Use and Inspection of Rope

Regular inspection of you rope is the only way to know when your rigging, sailing or climbing line is ready to retire. There is no set life span for  rope, as usage, shock-loading, dirt and grit, UV light, and even how the rope is stored will all affect the life span of the rope. The information gathered on this page will help you get the most out of your ropes and know when it is time to replace them.


How to Make Your Ropes Last

A majority of ropes will endure heavy loads, the potential of shock-loading, dirt, salt, grit, UV light, and abrasive working conditions. There are a lot of things which can lead to early retirement for rope, but there are some simple things you can do to make sure your investment lasts as long as possible.

1.  Select the Right Rope

2.  Mind the Working Load Limit (WLL)

3.  Keep it Clean

4.  Bag It or Hang It

5.  Inspect It


1. Selecting the Right Rope

Making sure you’ve got the right rope for your application is the first step in making sure that your investment will last. While there are many choices such as color, feel, and handling which may affect your choice of ropes, when all other things are equal a stronger line will outlast a weaker one of the same construction, and a large rope will outlast a smaller one of the same construction. With rigging, climbing, and sailing lines as with many professional tools, it is better to buy a quality line once than buy several cheaper, poorer lines and have to replace them frequently.

Some things to consider when looking at ropes are:

– Strength

– Construction

– Elongation & Creep

– Firmness


2. Mind the Working Load Limit (WLL)

No matter how well-made a rope is, a rope is likely to fail if used to handle loads beyond those outlined in the manufacturer’s Working Load Limit. This is generally 10% of the rope’s breaking strength for climbing lines and 20% of the rope’s breaking strength for rigging and sailing lines. Any use at loads higher than these may weaken the rope in ways which may or may not be apparent to the naked eye, meaning that a rope that was previously shock-loaded or used to handle loads larger than it was intended to handle could fail suddenly and without warning.


3. Keep It Clean

Modern rope constructions often have 12, 16, or even 24 strands of fiber bundles making up their constructions. Dirt, salt, and grit can work their way in between the strands where they act like tiny knives. As the rope flexes, the grit and abrasives can act like tiny knives, cutting away at the strands of the rope from inside.

This is why it is important to keep your ropes as clean as possible, especially if you are working in an area with lots of salt or grit. It is best to rinse the ropes with clean fresh water and hang or store in mesh bags after each use.  This ensures that the rope stays as clean as possible, and also helps prevent tangles and snags.

Ropes can also be washed, either by hand in a rope washer or by placing it in a mesh rope-washing bag and washing it in a front-loading washing machine with a gentle detergent or Rope Soap. Chemical solvents or abrasive cleaners should NEVER be used on rope. Always let your ropes dry before storing them to prevent mildew and mold.


4. Bag It or Hang It

A rope bag is a cheap and easy way to keep your rope ready to use and does wonders to prolong the life of your rope. A small nick or cut caused by snagging the rope on blocks or hardware can ruin a whole length of line, and is easily prevented with a rope bag.

Coiling the line and hanging it after use ensures the line is in proper working order and has no kinks.  It also allows the line to dry properly, ensuring mildew and dirt do not accumulate in the rope.


5. Inspect It

Regular inspection can alert you to problems and wear on the rope. Rope inspection is essentially going over the whole length of the rope, looking for grit or evidence of wear in the outer layer.  Inspect the rope for uneven stiffness, flat spots, and core pop-throughs. Shock loads can cause your rope to feel stiffer. In climbing ropes, this means that it lost its elasticity and can no longer absorb falls. Flat spots in the rope mean that the core is deformed and shouldn’t be trusted. A core pop-through is simply when  the sheath has given way to expose the core – this line should definitely be taken out of service.  One thing to note, the inside of the rope might have been strained and this isn’t easily visible from the outside – sometimes you can feel the outer layer sliding over these areas.


Rope has a shelf-life – but this also depends on how often you use it. If, at any time, you are not confident in your rope – replace it. The price is worth a lot less than an injury.


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