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How long should running rigging be?

2015 July 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

My Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 40 came with running rigging lines that all seemed needlessly long. The extra line adds to the difficulty of housekeeping, and in rough going sometimes creates a mess under foot that creates what I would call a hazard.  After a few years, I cut all lines to their longest useful length.

I have two friends with similar-sized boats, and they have many feet of extra line that ends up piled on the cabintop. They are resistant, saying “You never know when you will need it,” or “The rigger left it for a reason.”  How do you see it?

Also would you comment on the need for stopper knots? 

Lynn Deedler

Sebastopol, California

Dear Lynn,

I have been a rigger for almost 15 years now and find that present state of a rig is often held in reverence. It is just assumed that the previous owner or rigger knew more than we do now. Sometimes this belief is accurate, but often the previous owner just duplicated someone else’s mistake. I take a “trust but verify” approach and encourage others to do the same. There is no reason to leave things needlessly long. It creates all the problems you describe, and wastes money from the start.

With halyards, I like to size using the maximum length in the storage position and then leave about 6 extra feet of line past the belay point. On a boat like yours, for a jib halyard this would mean the distance from the bow pulpit to the masthead, down the mast, through the turning block and then though the clutch, with a bit to spare.

The rule of thumb with jib sheets is 1.5 times the boat length. Jib sheet length is governed by the lazy sheet, which needs to be long enough to reach the lazy winch with slack, and have a bit to spare.

Spinnaker sheets are a little more variable depending how you trim, but the rule of thumb is twice the length of the boat. If you sheet to a cleat, you size the same as the jib sheet, but if you trim by hand via a winch you need to allow extra length to get to the trimmer’s position on deck.

I do like stopper knots—figure eights, please—on lines that can get away from me. I use them on my halyards and jib sheets, I tend not to on spinnaker sheets. Sure they can get in the way, but hockles seem to occur more often, and it is a pain to reeve an internal halyard. 

Figure eights should be tied several feet from the end of the line, which will allow you to get a few wraps on a winch should the line get pulled all the way to a block or rope clutch. And remember, there are emergencies when you may have to let a line run free. It’s crucial to have a good knife handy to cut a line if necessary.