Three Ways to keep Lines Tidy

Different coiling techniques work in different places to keep your boat's deck neat. "Hands-On Sailor" from our May 2009 issue

April 20, 2009

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Use the lifeline coil (left) and the hanging coil to stow a line that won?t be used for a while. Andrew Burton

Renowned Welsh yachtsman Roy Williams often notes, “A tidy boat is a happy boat.” To that I’d add that a tidy boat is also a safer boat offshore. One way to keep the deck free of clutter is to make sure that you have all your lines neatly stowed. To make off loose lines, I use three basic methods, which I’ve dubbed the lifeline, hanging, and winch coils.

A basic tip to make coiling lines easier is always to coil them clockwise into your left hand. Start from the cleated, or dead, end so any twists will come out the end of the line.

The winch coil is probably the least intuitive method, as the figure-eight result doesn’t look as neat as a nice series of loops. I use this coil for halyards and sheets because it takes advantage of a line’s natural tendency to twist. When the line is removed from the winch and flipped over, it runs out-for instance, if we’re reefing-free of kinks.


Start from the dead end of the line. Place your left hand palm up about 2 or 3 feet away from the winch, then wrap the line clockwise around the winch and bring a loop back through your left hand counterclockwise. Lead the line back around the winch clockwise, then back counterclockwise through your hand. You should have a series of figure eights on top of each other. Repeat until the line is coiled. I demonstrate this on the CW website (

I use a lifeline coil when, for instance, I want to keep a jib-furling line or other lighter line quickly accessible but out of the way. After coiling the line, I drape it over the top lifeline. Reaching from inboard through the middle of the part of the coil nearest me, I grab all the line outboard and pull it through the loop inboard. (See top photo, left.) It can be easily undone when it’s time to unfurl the sail. Care should be taken to ensure that the line never comes under strain while coiled or it’ll pull your stanchions out.

To fashion a hanging coil, coil a line and leave a longish tail, about three-quarters of a loop. Beginning about a quarter of the way down from where you’re holding the coil, and starting low and working up, wrap the tail tightly around the whole coil, but no more than three or four times. Reach through the top part of the coil and pull a loop of the tail through. Take the remaining part of the tail and from the other side of the line put it through the loop you’ve just made. You’ll have a neatly coiled line ready for hanging. See the video at CW’s website (


Andrew Burton spent a couple of decades as a delivery skipper before becoming Cruising World’s associate editor.


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