Sailboat Rigging:
Part 2 - Running Rigging

Sailboat rigging can be described as being either running rigging which is adjustable and controls the sails - or standing rigging, which fixed and is there to support the mast. And there's a huge amount of it on the average cruising boat...

Spinnaker rigging on a sailboatYou'll need a whole lot more of it if you fly a spinnaker!
  • Port and starboard sheets for the jib, plus two more for the staysail (in the case of a cutter rig) plus a halyard for each - that's 6 separate lines;

  • In the case of a cutter you'll need port and starboard runners - that's 2 more;
  • A jib furling line - 1 more;
  • An up-haul, down-haul and a guy for the whisker pole - 3 more;
  • A tackline, sheet and halyard for the cruising chute if you have one - another 3;
  • A mainsheet, halyard, kicker, clew outhaul, topping lift and probably three reefing pennants for the mainsail (unless you have an in-mast or in-boom furling system) - 8 more.

Total? 23 separate lines for a cutter-rigged boat, 18 for a sloop. Either way, that's a lot of string for setting and trimming the sails.

Clutches (aka 'jammers') enable a single winch to be used to tension several of a sailboat's control linesCoachroof mounted jammers on the portside of the main hatch
Clutches (aka 'jammers') enable a single winch to be used to tension several of a sailboat's control linesMore control line jammers on the starboardside of the main hatch

Many skippers prefer to have all running rigging brought back to the cockpit - clearly a safer option than having to operate halyards and reefing lines at the mast. The downside is that the turning blocks at the mast cause friction and associated wear and tear on the lines.


The Essential Properties of Lines for Running Rigging

It's often under high load, so it needs to have a high tensile strength and minimal stretch.

It will run around blocks, be secured in jammers and self-tailing winches and be wrapped around cleats, so good chafe resistance is essential.

Finally it needs to be kind to the hands so a soft pliable line will be much more pleasant to use than a hard rough one.

Not all running rigging is highly stressed of course; lines for headsail roller reefing and mainsail furling systems are comparatively lightly loaded, as are mainsail jiffy reefing pennants, single-line reefing systems and lazy jacks.

But a fully cranked-up sail puts its halyard under enormous load. Any stretch in the halyard would allow the sail to sag and loose its shape.

It used to be that wire halyards with spliced-on rope tails to ease handling were the only way of providing the necessary stress/strain properties for halyards.

Thankfully those days are astern of us - running rigging has moved on a great deal in recent years, as have the winches, jammers and other hardware associated with it.


Modern Materials

Ropes made from modern hi-tech fibres such as Spectra or Dyneema are as strong as wire, lighter than polyester ropes and are virtually stretch free. It's only the core that is made from the hi-tech material; the outer covering is abrasion and UV resistant braided polyester.

But there are a few issues with them:~

  • They don't like being bent through a tight radius. A bowline or any other knot will reduce their strength significantly;

  • For the same reason, sheaves must have a diameter of at least eight times the diameter of the line;
  • Splicing securely to shackles or other rigging hardware is difficult to achieve, as it's slippery stuff. Best to get these done by a professional rigger...
  • As you may have guessed, it's expensive stuff!

My approach on Alacazam is to use Dyneema cored line for all applications that are under load for long periods of time - the jib halyard, staysail halyard, main halyard, spinnaker halyard, kicking strap and checkstays - and pre-stretched polyester braid-on-braid line for all other running rigging applications.


Approximate Line Diameters for Running Rigging

But note the word 'approximate'. More precise diameters can only be determined when additional data regarding line material, sail areas, boat type and safety factors are taken into consideration.

Length of boat

6m (20ft)

8m (26ft)

10m (33ft)

12m (40ft)

Spinnaker guys

10mm

10 to 12mm

12 to 14mm

16mm

Boom Vang and preventers

8mm

8mm

10mm

12mm

Spinnaker sheet

6 to 8mm

6 to 10mm

8 to 12mm

10 to 14mm

Main sheet

8 to 10mm

10mm

10 to 12mm

12 to 14mm

Genoa sheet

10 to 12mm

12mm

14mm

14mm

Jib sheet

10mm

10 to 12mm

12mm

14mm

Main halyard

6 to 8mm

8mm

10mm

12mm

Genoa / Jib halyard

6 to 8mm

8mm

10mm

12mm

Spinnaker halyard

6 to 8mm

8mm

10mm

12mm

Pole uphaul

8mm

8mm

8mm

10mm

Pole downhaul

8mm

8mm

10mm

12mm

Reefing pennants

8mm

8mm

10mm

12mm

Lengthwise it will of course depend on the layout of the boat, the height of the mast and whether it's a fractional or masthead rig - and if you want to bring everything back to the cockpit...


Read more about Reefing and Sail Handling...

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