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Sailboat lifelines – plastic coated vs uncoated?

We significantly prefer uncoated 1×19 lifelines.
Here’s why:

Are your lifelines safe?

One of the principle means through which we ascertain the condition and safety of a sailboats standing rigging (spars, stays and shrouds) is through visual inspection. When performing a rigging inspection we look for signs of corrosion, cracks, broken wire strands, chafe, bent areas, or badly oxidized areas. This same inspection method applies when inspecting lifelines and when your lifelines are coated in a sheath of white PVC they are impossible to inspect safely. All we can do is to recommend replacement based on their apparent age and any visible defects close to the end terminals.

Note corrosion bleeding out through the plastic.

Note corrosion bleeding out through the plastic.

This is why the ISAF requires vessels longer than 28’ to have lifelines made of uncoated SS wire, or the equivalent HMPE (high molecular weight polyethylene) line , such as Dyneema or Spectra.

Besides being more resistant to corrosion, stainless steel 1×19 wire is stronger than the equivalent size stainless steel 7×7 construction plastic coated wire. Typical breaking strain differences are in the 30% range. So in addition to being easier to inspect, uncoated lifelines are significantly stronger.

We’ve heard proponents of plastic coated lifelines voicing concerns regarding the chafe of sails on coated vs uncoated lines, in our experience there is no measurable difference in wear and tear on sails from either product. We’ve been changing lifelines from plastic coated to bare for over a decade and never heard a complaint regarding this issue. If you have such significant damage to a lifeline that it results in “meathooks” on the wire it should be changed immediately anyway.

Another criticism of bare lifelines is that they are tough to hike out on for the crew sitting on the rail. In our experience neither bare nor plastic coated lifeline wire is comfortable to hike out on, we always recommend the installation of lifeline cushions for anyone who wants to provide any level of real comfort for their crew while racing.

Who knows what's going on underneath that pvc?

Who knows what’s going on underneath that pvc?

Have a look at the pictures in this article, which lifeline material would you rather place your trust in?

Stronger, easier to protect, and prettier too!

Stronger, easier to inspect, and prettier too!

We’d love to hear some feedback regarding this article.
If you are considering replacing your existing lifelines due to aging or damage, please CONTACT US with any questions regarding taking measurements, pricing estimates, or configuration of gates or lifeline cushions.

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