Check Chafe Before Switching to Fiber Lifelines


New single-braid, high modulus polyethylene (HMPE) lines, such as Amsteel Blue from Samson Ropes, WR2 (wire rope replacement) from New England Ropes, and Vectrus from Yale Cordage have revolutionized the way sailors think about standing and running rigging. Bit by bit, these low-stretch ropes are replacing wire rope on board. But the changeover is not without controversy.

In several reports, Practical Sailor has examined the pros and cons of high-modulus fiber in standing and running rigging. In August 2007, we looked at how fiber halyards match the stretch resistance of wire. In September 2007, we discussed the challenges in finding terminals for fiber standing rigging. More recently we looked into replacing wire lifelines with fiber (see PS September 2012). Although we still advocate uncoated (without any sheathing) stainless-steel wire lifelines for cruising sailors, we are well aware of the allure of fiber lifelines and are carrying out a series of tests so that readers recognize the pros and cons of making a switch to fiber. In an upcoming issue we look at one of the chief concerns with fiber lifelines, preventing chafe.

Fiber lifelines exhibit two kinds of chafe. There is visible chafe that occurs when lifelines are used as handholds (a bad habit), or where sails and sheets bear on them. More troublesome is the chafe that occurs in the stanchion holes. Clearly, if you’re considering switching to a fiber lifeline, you’ll want to closely inspect any possible chafe points, and deburr and polish (with 600 grit sandpaper) any places where the line makes contact with stanchions.

If you take a close look at your stanchion holes, you might be surprised to find a sharp burr caused by the small, but steady sawing of the wire lifeline. Often this is hidden from view. For this reason, you should always polish stanchion holes before switching to fiber. Burrs on the lip should be rounded with a countersink or fine grindstone on a Dremel tool, and then both the lip and interior should be polished with fine emery paper, down to 600 grit. A groove in a stanchion holes means that there is surely a burr on the inside edge, requiring not only polishing, but some form of chafe protection. For more on chafe protection options see the article Fiber Lifeline Protection Plan.

Drew Frye is technical editor for Practical Sailor and author of Rigging Modern Anchors (Seaworthy Publications). He also blogs at his

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at


  1. Hi: Very interesting article. I note the red plastic bushings on the stanchions. They seem to be the solution for the chaffing. Do they screw together at the stanchion? Do you know the part number and where to get them. This would be good info in the next article. If they work!
    John Plump

  2. Why not mentioning, Dyneema core with special dyneema Cover type of lines, specifically made for that purpose? They are way more resistant than the lines described in this article. Afeter three years on a my boat, i cannot identify any kind of chafe. Moreover they incorporate a reflective yarn that make it really visible at night with a headlight.