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Categories > Rigging > Lifelines


Lifelines

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There has been plenty of interest in recent years of replacing traditional PVC-coated steel lifeline wires with alternatives such as bare wire or low stretch, high tech rope.

Type
Pros
Cons
PVC-coated 7X19 wire
  • Comfy on hands and body parts
  • Attractive in short term
  • Corrosion, if any, is hidden
  • Reasonably priced
  • Bends quite easily, can be easily stored for the winter (you will have to remove stanchions)
  • Susceptible to chafe
  • Yellows and cracks in time (10-15 year lifespan?)
  • May not match every boat style
  • Not approved in some racing classes
Uncoated 1X19 wire
  • Attractive and modern looking
  • No coating means damage can be spotted
  • Heavier weight (only a concern for ultralights)
  • Very high strength
  • More susceptible to corrosion if not maintained
  • Can be more expensive in larger diameters
  • Smaller diameters can really hurt or cut/scar if you fall on them
  • Will not bend around tight corners
  • Harder to store (remove stanchions, impossible to bend tightly)
High Tech Rope
  • Simple to install and adjust
  • No swaging necessary (DIY), can be removed easily
  • Well priced
  • Light weight
  • Imperfections can be spotted and easily fixed before failure
  • Available in a wide variety of colours - helpful for certain boat designs
  • Chafing will damage lifelines rather than more expensive sail sheets
  • Easily stored (no need to remove stanchions)
  • Shorter life span in strong UV situations (5 years in tropics?)
  • Slightly more vulnerable to chafe
  • Not approved in some racing classes, but this is changing quickly
  • Can be cut with sharp objects

Using the chart above, you may be able to come up with your own opinion about whether bare steel or rope lifelines are right for you. However, here's a quick synopsis (in our opinion):

PVC coated lifeline past the end of its life

PVC Coated Line is best for cruisers

, particularily elderly boaters or ones with young children. This line won't do much for your boat's resale value if they are nearing the end of their lifespan since eventually they will turn yellow and can look terrible. Ocean racers should avoid these lines altogether since any damage is hidden. Overall, these lines require little maintenance. They may be the least strong option, but at least you won't hurt yourself if you fall on them!

Uncoated 1X19 Wire is best for ocean going boats, or modern/stylish sailboats with teak decks. These lines look fantastic and are super strong. However, we pity the poor person who falls on them at full force, as the small diameters can cut you, sometimes badly. Mind you, a bad cut is much better than falling overboard while at sea! These lines may chafe your expensive genoa or spinnaker sheets, but anti-chafing equipment (or even PVC water hose slipped over trouble areas on sheets) can prevent these problems.

Lashing the end of rope lifelines

High Tech Rope is best for lightweight racing boats, old fashioned boat styles, and DIY boaters (self sufficient do-it-yourself'ers). The weight savings of high tech rope are sometimes worth it, but the ability to adjust, remove or repair lines yourself is the big advantage. For those with wooden boats, or unusual colours, the colour choices of high tech rope will help you find the look you're going for. Will you be boating in remote areas? At the very least, consider carrying lengths of small diameter Spectra as a back up; stainless steel wire can be very expensive in certain parts of the world... and swaging? Forget about it!!