Product Update November 2019 Issue

Webbing Uses For Sailors

Climbers webbing—it’s not just for tethers and jacklines anymore.

Webbing downhaul (clockwise from top left): Sewn loops make it easy to secure the downhaul to tack rings; the downhaul tension is applied by a handy-billy at the base of the mast; the webbing slips easily through the tack eye.

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

Webbing uses (clockwise from top left): Jib furling line; Facnor rope-to-webbing swivel; webbing loop at the jib clew prevents snags (soft-shackles join each sheet); webbing loop Prusik-hitched to the anchor rode; webbing loop lashed to a low-friction ring.

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. 

Comments (4)

Webbing-To-Rope Splice. We have seen this done several ways, including the bespoke Facnor adapter (above) and several sewn splices, often covered with heat shrink tubing or whipping. How smooth they run depends on the neatness and the guides. Our favorite method, however, is to strip the core from the forward portion of the furler line, after which it flattens on the spool a good bit like webbing.

Posted by: Drew Frye | November 29, 2019 11:05 PM    Report this comment

Someone needs to do a little layout checking to make certain you have the right picture for the caption, or even for the right article lately. You are trying to get top dollar for your subscriptions which does not seem worth it to me when your product is full of grammar, spelling, and layout errors mixed with old reprinted articles for filler.

Posted by: Teygo | November 24, 2019 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I'm very interested in the statement "We cured this by converting the first 15 feet [of the furling line] to webbing. I assume this means the rest of it remained rope, probably double braid? (Webbing won't work in a rope clutch, right?) But how to you join webbing to rope such that the join will run through the furling line blocks? Can you splice or stitch the webbing to double braid? Do have have to replace the blocks with much bigger ones?

Posted by: Eric Peterson | November 24, 2019 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Joining rope and webbing. Would this work in some applications? Sew a loop in the webbing. Using rope of at least 110 % the strength of the webbing, make an eye splice of the rope through the sewn loop. Possible application: jack lines. Secure the forward sewn loop of the jack line through a forward mooring cleat. Secure the aft end with the spliced line to a stern mooring cleat and surge the line to tighten the jack line. Belay. As the jack line stretches during a cruise, re-surge and re-belay the rope part to keep the jack line tight. Obviously, the jack line will need to be shorter than the distance between the mooring cleats.

Posted by: Norris Larson | November 5, 2019 5:04 PM    Report this comment

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