Webbing Uses For Sailors
Climbers webbing—it’s not just for tethers and jacklines anymore.
When a sailor needs to connect point A to point B, he reaches for rope. We make an exception for jacklines because rope rolls under foot and webbing doesn’t.
Sail, canvas work, harnesses and hiking straps are made from webbing because it’s easier to sew and spreads the load better. You can use buckles with webbing, vital for tensioning Bimini tops and adjusting tie-downs.
These are the traditional applications for ropes and for webbing, but perhaps we’re missing out on a few key advantages that have made webbing popular with riggers.
Webbing Winds Better
On a spool, webbing leaves fewer gaps, resulting in 20-40 percent more capacity than rope, with less friction and chance of binding.
Shore ties. These are a popular application (“Quickline,” PS December 2006). A great length of line takes minimum space and is easily deployed and recovered. Webbing is hard to handle under load and does not absorb shock, but the main rode absorbs most of the shock and provides the actual tension. Shore ties can be slacked before disconnecting.
Dinghy rode. We keep 75 feet of 1500-pound polyester webbing on a Cuban yo-yo. Because the yo-yo provides both line storage and grip, it avoids tangling, coiling, and finger cutting. To prevent chafe, we coated the first 15 feet in Flexdel Rope Dip (see “Chafe Protection for Fiber Rodes,” PS October 2019).
Trailer winches. Replacing steel cable with webbing reduces the risk of the cable slipping under load as the wraps tighten. Anyone who has seen their mast “fall” a few feet as it is lowered with wire using the trailer winch (with a gin pole) knows what we are talking about.
fewer furler jams
Big boat sailors experience furler jams when the line gets trapped under looser turns, necessitating a trip to the bow. Again, the cure is furling under consistent tension. However, these problems can also be prevented by using webbing because it is wider, so it doesn’t dig down through the previous wraps, slip, or foul.
The reacher furler on our test boat is the same size as the jib furler, but the foot of the sail is much longer, requiring more furling line on the drum.
No matter how we adjusted the amount of line on the reacher furler, the drum would either fill and jam before the sail was unfurled, or we would run out of furler line before the sail was completely furled, particularly in higher winds, when the load is higher and the sail wraps more tightly. We cured this by converting the first 15 feet to webbing. We can now furl the sail, with turns to spare, even after wrapping the sheet around the sail the customary 3-5 times.
The Facnor Flat Deck furler uses webbing instead of rope to make a furler with a lower profile, allowing for a lower tack, which is attractive to racers. Webbing is guided onto the spool with a special narrow guide, and brass rope-to-webbing adapter makes the transition smooth.
A more common solution is to strip the core, after which the rope flattens out a bit like webbing. It runs smoother through the fairleads than the webbing/rope splice, but does not spool as efficiently as webbing. A good compromise.
Bends Better, stretches less
Climbers often use webbing for wall anchors instead of rope because it has better strength over sharp edges. When a rope is loaded over thin edge it can lose over 70 percent of its strength, while webbing will lose very little. The reason is that the ratio of bend radius to webbing thickness is much kinder than for a rope of equal strength, and as a result, all of the fibers keep working.
Related, but often forgotten, is that rope generates massive internal friction when asked to run around a sharp bend under high load, like a reefing eye or Cunningham eye. Webbing of the same strength, on the other hand, doesn’t see the grommet as a sharp turn at all, and runs easily. As a result, a webbing strap through the Cunningham grommet is lower in friction and is an easy way to add 2:1 advantage.
The primary factor in stretch is the base material (for example, nylon stretches three times more than polyester), the weave also makes a big difference. Nylon webbing has only half the stretch of nylon double-braid rope, and one-third the stretch of climbing rope.
Spreads the load
Although obvious with hiking straps and harness, there are more applications.
Hand holds. Like the hand holds above car doors, webbing makes a better hand hold for a given size. We like webbing for kayak painters, since we pull them on deck using a loop at the end. We like narrow webbing for finger pulls on pins on adjustable lead cars and snap shackles.
Thigh braces. These are key for sit-on kayaks, an obvious application (see PS October 2017, online). It’s impossible to paddle a kayak with power and control if you are not braced.
Lashing Blocks and Low Friction Rings. In “Low Friction Rings” (see PS April 2018, online) we demonstrated securing low friction rings using climbing slings. It is easy, fast, inexpensive, and the lower profile of webbing makes it very secure. It can also be used for lashing blocks. If sewn or whipped short and tightly, you will reduce wobble; whether this is good or bad depends on the application.
Curiously, webbing has little advantage running through low friction rings. Dyneema single braid, such as Amsteel, flattens out much like webbing and runs smoothly—but barely stretches, a pre-requisite for most running rigging (except halyards).
Here are some other possible applications.
- Genoa clew. A sling can be rigged to ease the clew plate away from stays, reducing snagging.
- Attaching a snubber line to anchor rode using Prusik hitch. Proven by generations of climbers to be the fastest and most idiot proof gripper hitch.
- Slab reefing outhaul tackles. Less friction through the clew grommet or ring.
- Control lines. Are there control lines that would be safer underfoot if made from webbing? Not many. Sheets must stretch to dampen shock loads. And webbing can’t be used in a jammer or cam cleat, or in a winch. Additionally, joining webbing to rope is problematic, so stripping either cover or core is more popular and practical in most cases.
- Lashing to toerails. Little strength is lost at the sharp bends.
Horses for courses. The majority of the line on sailboats will always be rope, but perhaps there are a few places where a flat sort of rope is the better answer. Also consider the downsides. UV does more damage to webbing because it is thinner than rope, reducing the life expectancy. Webbing doesn’t work well in standard winches, although it does very well with captive winches, in the form of furlers and trailer winches. Finally, is hard to grip without a loop.