To coil or not to Coil!! that is the question

When to Coil Ropes on a Square Rigger

There is a time when you should be coiling ropes on a square rigger….and there are moments when there are more important things to do.  When everyone else is running around purposefully and you haven’t a clue what is going on next, it is very tempting to find yourself a quiet corner and start coiling up the carnage from some sail setting.

But don’t…

Lets think about why you might have to constrain yourself from immediately making pleasing armfuls of clockwise coiled three strand rope and hanging them on a belaying pin.


Piles of rope on the Deck
Piles of rope on the Deck

And When Not to Coil

Leave all the ‘spaghetti’ on deck if there are other sails to set (or hand – take down , furl)…but don’t forget to come back later and tidy up.

The time to come back is when all the sails are set or reduced for the current wind force….or indeed a percieved threat from an approaching squall, 

The time to start coiling certain ropes like yard bracesyard lifts,buntlines and sheets is when everybody is happy with the angle of the yards and the trim of the sails.

Hauling on Lines
Hauling on Lines

If you are not sail setting but have just trimmed the yards to (i) manouvre the ship e.g tackingwearing or hove to (ii) just going off on a different point of sailing or trying to improve performance …..then maybe pause for a bit with the coils on deck, becuase you just know the mate is going to say “a bit sharper on number four on the main”

If you come accross a lonely mess of rope on the deck next to an immaculately coiled pin rail, just think or maybe ask why it has been left uncoiled. If the rope in question is not even made fast on the pin, chances are that high aloft a deckhand is working on that rope, has flaked it loosely on the deck, and wants it to run free.

If you make it fast and coil it they have to shout down to the deck for someone intelligent enough to release the right one again or climb down from their lofty perch and all the way back up, 

Working aloft
Working aloft

When you really need to coil

When the decks are awash you really cant do this. And on smaller vessels, ships with low freeboards and yachts with no bulwarks you really need to coil straight away.  If the rope on the deck can wash over the side or get caught in scupper flaps then you need to coil quickly and get the coils well off the deck, preferably on a pin.

In rough weather you have to be methodical and scrupulously tidy and coil up as you complete each task, and double check everything is safe from getting washed over the side and back on the right pin. Regular deck checks, especially at night are needed to check no coils have fallen or been washed off a pin rail.

Coiling Ropes aloft
Coiling Ropes aloft

At the beginning of a voyage, when you want to go slowly to explain how to set a single sail, it is good to set it. Stand back with everyone and look at the job well done, and then coil up before setting the next one.  

Learn more on at Sea

You can do a lot of coiling if you sail on any of the Classic Sailing fleet. If you want to develop your tall ship skills beyond the basics, then tall ship races, sailing in places with lots of variety in wind strength or ocean passages where a lot of rigging work is being done are your best bet for understanding more.

You can also learn a lot if the ship is a bit short handed. We are not likely to publish that on the web (special offer is a good clue though) but you can always ask us about booking levels for any voyage. Ring 01872 580022

Tall Ships voyages


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