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How Many Ropes on a Boat?

Tenacious Footropes by Carter Barker

Learn the Ropes

There are loads of bits of string all over our boats and tall ships, but very few of them have "rope" in the name.


There are halyards, sheets, brails, vangs, tricing lines, warps, whips and jackstays to mention but a few categories. 

Within each type there are lots of specific titles like jib topsail sheet, peak halyard, bunt lines and so on.


Once you know the job a sheet does then the rest of the name describes where it acts.


It’s a sailing language and the names help define exactly what each rope does. So when someone says "the lazy staysail sheet has come off the clew" you would know where to look to find and re-attach it. (Clear as mud.)

Now you know where the expression "learn the ropes" comes from, no sailor was considered able unless they could go to the designated rope. 

How Many Ropes on a Boat?

We reckon there are five ropes on a boat, not all boats have them and you won’t very often see them all together.


1. The Bell Rope

The most common rope is the Bell Rope that does as it suggests and smacks the clapper against the side of the bell. (Let’s get pedantic here, the bit of a bell that does the hitting is not a clanger as may be believed but a clapper, clap your hands if this makes sense to you!)

the Bell Rope is one of the ropes on a boat
the Bell Rope is one of the ropes on a boat
2. The Bolt Rope

The next most used is the rope that is hidden in the front of a headsail by being covered over by a fold of canvas. The purpose of this rope is create a straight front edge, luff, of the sail. This is for a sail that is not fitted onto a stay. The name relates to the fact that the canvas is folded over the rope and a fold of cloth is known as a bolt, hence Bolt Rope.

The Bolt Rope located in the headsail
The Bolt Rope located in the headsail
3. The Tow Rope

The last one and I hope you do not need this one too often is a tow rope and is as long as possible. Short tow ropes snatch and are in danger of breaking whatever they tied to. A longer rope has more stretch and is gentler on the both the towing ship and ship being towed.

Towing No 8 behind Eve
Towing No 8 behind Eve
4. The Footrope

The footrope under the yard arms for your feet to stand on when you are working aloft and stowing sails is also called a footrope. 

girls on footrope out on the yard
5. The Manrope

The man rope are the two ropes dropped either side of a rope ladder to assist with boarding and disembarking a vessel, especially pilots. 

The bigger the ship the more ropes there are to learn.


Short voyage on smaller ships longer voyages on big ships – the perfect adjustment for learning the ropes.

Let’s go learn the ropes.

It does not matter if you have never sailed before, just learning a few on your first voyage will make you feel like a real sailor.

If you think you know them all then let me know if you have ever set a well swifted catharpin?

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