Design & DIY

How to choose the right rope for the job

Tying up the boat

About 20 years ago, before it was his job to know better, Henk Klei lashed a canoe to his car with brand new nylon rope. All looked secure until Klei hit the road, and a rainy gust from a passing gravel truck buffeted his car. Suddenly, “here’s the canoe, hanging off the side,” says Klei. “The rope had stretched.”

Turns out, nylon was the wrong choice, and Klei—the president of Braids & Laces, a rope maker in Cannington, Ont.—knows that now. Nylon is strong, but it loses a fifth of its strength when wet. It’s also elastic, so a new rope that seems taut will stretch when tugged by sudden force. For Klei, the incident is a reminder that not all ropes are created equal. For cottagers, it pays to pick the right rope for the job.

Tired of the stretching and fraying? Follow our handy guide for choosing the right rope.

The jobs: Zip-line, winch

The rope: Relatively new on the market, braided high-molecular-weight polyethylene (HMWPE) is designed to replace steel cables. It’s stronger and lighter than steel and four times stronger than nylon (but also five times as expensive).

The job: Tug-of- war

The rope: Synthetic ropes are rot resistant, and they rule the utility market. But for lakeside grudge matches, you want three-strand manila, the easy-to-grip (and aesthetically pleasing) classic, available from rope dealers or from Amazon.

The jobs: Lifting construction materials, heavy-duty hauling

The rope: Polyester is slightly stronger than nylon, with better UV resistance. Most importantly, when you’re, say, raising your bunkie trusses into place, the rope won’t stretch much at all.

The job: Tying tarps

The rope: Twisted polypropylene (like the yellow kind sold in plastic bags in hardware stores) is a cheap synthetic with poor UV resistance, so it won’t live long outside before it frays. For longer-lasting rope, pick nylon or polyester.

The jobs: Tying the boat to the dock, securing the anchor

The rope: Double-braided nylon doesn’t float, but it has the strength and stretchiness to absorb the shock of waves. It also has good UV resistance and ties well. If flotation is key, opt for polypropylene. 

The jobs: Water rescue line, basic replacement towline for waterskiing or tubing

The rope: Hollow-braid polyethylene and polypropylene ropes lack the strength of nylon or polyester, and they’re not as easy to knot. But, crucially, they both float.