A sailing boat is a constantly working machine, and when on passage nearly every part will be moving, as well as loading and unloading

Chafe on sails and ropes is something we should expect as part of the general wear and tear on passage, but equally it is something we can protect against. Here are some ideas for keeping your own boat chafe-free:

Sacrificial covers

Think smart about where chafe is going to occur as often it will be in specific, predictable places: halyard exits, clutches or any hard points that a rope needs to go around such as reefing cringles.

In many cases you will see wear in these hot spots while the rest of the rope stays untouched. Rather than repairing after chafe has occurred, think about setting up your running rigging to include sacrificial covers or tails that will leave the main line undamaged and can be replaced as part of your maintenance routine.

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I use sacrificial tails for the outboard ends of my reefing lines. These are Dyneema strops that loop the boom and are then lashed onto the reefing line. When the reef is in place and under tension the Dyneema strop takes the load from the boom through the reefing cringle, where it is quite common for chafe to occur.

The strops are easy to make and replace and will greatly extend the life of your reefing lines. Note that they need to be just the right length to sit through the cringle when the reef is in but not so long that they reach the sheaves in the end of the boom.

I also use Cordura covers on any ropes that I know will be under significant load or prone to moving around at different angles: For example the top half metre of my spinnaker halyards and the last metre of the 2:1 tack line for my Code 0.

This is a quick and easy job for a rigger to do and covers can be replaced each season rather than discarding the rope. You can also use sacrificial covers to protect halyards from clutch damage, and spinnaker sheets from rubbing against shrouds.

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Hardware can suffer the effects of chafe too

Deck gear

If a particular part of a rope is regularly chafing then that could be an indication that some of your deck gear is damaged, or that there is misalignment in the system. Don’t ignore these signs as this situation will only get worse. Regularly walk the deck, looking for damage, checking for bad leads, or misaligned purchases.

In particular, check blocks for loose or damaged sheaves, ensure all split pins and rings are taped and look for any pinch points where sails or ropes may get trapped and damaged. These often occur aloft, where diagonals and shrouds terminate at a spreader end.

These areas can be protected using a short length of line or tight elastic, tied between the two stays just above the pinch point, which should act as a deflector to stop any sails from dropping into that area.

Check alignment between mast blocks, deck organisers and clutches, pay attention to the height of deck gear as well; a rope going into a clutch or deck organiser at the wrong height will over time damage both the line and the deck hardware itself.

Halyards

If using a 2:1 halyard beware of over-hoisting as this can result in your top block being pulled into the top of the mast and damaging both the mast sheave and the block itself. Mark the halyard with a whipping (one that can be also be seen in the dark) to show maximum hoist.

On longer passages think about moving halyards by small amounts each day to avoid constant wear from clutches and mast sheaves in the same place. If easing the main halyard then rig up a Cunningham to control luff tension instead.

Check your forward halyards before every hoist, and every evening in case they are needed overnight; halyards twisted around furling gear or rubbing against each other are prime areas for chafe.

Check all high load areas regularly throughout longer voyages. When spinnakers come up and down make a point of checking the top half metre for signs of wear, the same with tack lines.

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Dyneema sacrificial tails on reefing lines

Chafe to sails

When fitting a new main ensure that you apply spreader patches from the very beginning. These are patches of sticky Dacron that will need to be stuck onto both sides of the mainsail where it naturally lies on the spreaders.

If you are fitting these yourself chose a windless day; hoist the main and then send someone up in a bosun’s chair with a marker pen to indicate where the spreaders are. Don’t forget reefed positions as well.

It’s normal for sails to experience some wear at the spreaders because they do lie naturally against the rig when sailing downwind. To minimise damage, try not to let the main out so far that the sail ‘bends’ itself around the spreader ends by using more vang downwind to keep the top of the mainsail from falling down to leeward. If this makes the helm heavy then reef early.

Every time you take or shake a reef, ensure the mainsail is clear of the spreaders. To achieve this when sailing downwind, over-sheet the jib and then steer a couple of degrees higher than your downwind course. As soon as there is airflow across the jib it will be channelled directly into the back of the mainsail and keep it off the spreaders.

Spinnakers move around a lot more than any other sail and so must be regularly checked to ensure they’re not rubbing on the rig, and that loaded sheets and guys are not chafing against hard surfaces. In particular watch out for the guy against a furled headsail if reaching – a loaded guy can burn through a UV strip in no time.

Firs published in the February 2020 edition of Yachting World.