Line Fraying: How to Keep Rope Ends from Unravelling

Line Fraying: How to Keep Rope Ends from Unravelling | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Line fraying is a common problem on sailboats, especially with woven cords, though it's easy to prevent.

Woven cord unravels on the ends when twisted against the weave or agitated. With synthetic rope such as nylon, the easiest way to repair fraying is to melt the ends with a lighter. Natural rope, such as cotton, can be repaired by sealing the ends in waterproof glue.

In this article, we'll cover why rope frays and how to fix fraying, along with how to prevent new lines from fraying in the future. We'll overview how to repair and prevent fraying using different methods such as tape, heat, and epoxy.

This article is based on tips from local experienced sailors, along with the recommendations of rope and cord manufacturers. We also tested several popular anti-fraying methods and published our results below.


Table of contents

Why does Rope Fray?

Rope frays when the smaller woven fibers that comprise it come unraveled. This occurs over time as the line ages, or instantly if it's cut improperly. Normal wear and tear will cause almost all ropes to fray on the ends eventually.

Synthetic rope (such as nylon) is often the worst offender, as the small plastic strands that make up the larger diameter rope are often stiffer than natural materials. Hemp rope also has a tendency to fray, though hemp is much less common on sailboats.

How to Fix Frayed Synthetic Rope


The most common marine rope material is nylon, which is synthetic plastic. Some less premium types of nylon cord are also the easiest to fray, as are other materials such as polypropylene. Nylon cord is woven from numerous strands of plastic material. On their own, they're not very strong, and they're also relatively stiff.

The stiffer the strands, the more they tend to fray. The outer strands of a nylon rope are braided like a honeycomb to make a flexible tube. Inside the tube is additional braided nylon, which makes up the load-bearing part of the rope. Fraying generally causes the outer cage to unravel and causes the braided core to come unwound, so to speak.

Nylon cord is the easiest to fix when frayed, as it's made of plastic and melts easily. Before applying heat, cut the frayed end of the nylon cord, so you have a clean end to work with. Next, simply apply the flame of a lighter to the end of the rope and move it around evenly.

Don't burn the rope for too long, as it'll be unnecessary. It's normal for the end of the rope to blacken a bit, but you don't need to severely char•it to prevent fraying.

How to Fix Frayed Natural Cords and Rope

Natural cords and rope, such as cotton and hemp, aren't as easy to fix when frayed. However, you can still fix it with a few extra tools and materials.

Virtually all kinds of non-synthetic rope can be fray-proofed or repaired with a piece of electrical tape and a lighter. Simply pull off a piece of electrical tape and wrap it tightly around the end of the rope. Make sure that the end of the tape is flush with the end of the rope. Then, use your lighter to melt the edge of the tape to the rope. This will form a permanent bond, and you can leave the tape in place permanently after.

Best Way to Melt Rope and Tape

To test these methods, we went to the hardware store and bought a few pieces of common sailing rope, some electrical tape, and a box of matches. We already had a lighter on hand, along with some other types of tape.

Does Duct Tape Work for Fixing Frayed Rope?


We went to the hardware store to see if duct tape could be used in place of electrical tape to fix frayed rope. We tried Duck-brand tape, generic duct tape, and standard electrical tape. We cut a 3/4-inch-wide section of duct tape to match the width of the electrical tape.

Next, we wrapped each kind of tape tightly around the ends of a cotton rope. We briefly applied a flame to the taped ends and found that the electrical tape was far more effective.

Duct tape has a tendency to char rather than melt, which makes it too easy to ‘overcook,' so to speak. On the other hand, electrical tape melts easily and doesn't burn as easily. Additionally, electrical tape was stronger and didn't fray or break when manipulated.

The conclusion we drew is that duct tape, and Duck brand tape can be used in a pinch, but it's much better to use standard electrical tape. Brand and width didn't seem to matter, though it's a little easier to work with tape that's 3/4-inch or wider.

Other Ways to Fix Frayed Rope

The easiest way to prevent a frayed rope from unraveling completely is to tie a knot close to the end. Unfortunately, there are many places on a sailboat where tying a knot isn't possible, like if the rope runs through a grommet.

If you can't melt the rope or use the tape method, the next best option is to dip the end in waterproof glue or epoxy. You can tape it beforehand to keep the fibers from separating When they soak up the glue. After, you can leave the tape on or remove it.

Anti-Fray Glue

Some companies produce glue that's specifically formulated to use on all kinds of rope. The most popular is Dip-It Whip-It, which is manufactured by Star Brite.

Star Brite Dip-It Whip-It is an excellent option because it works on all kinds of rope. Additionally, Dip-It Whip-It can be applied prior to cutting the rope with all included applicator brush.

How to Apply Anti-Fray Glue

Applying Dip-It Whip-It and similar products is easy and takes only five minutes to dry. Start by painting about an inch of the rope all the way around, and give it five to ten minutes to harden completely. Then, cut the rope in the middle of the painted area. At this point, the glue will keep the outer fibers of the rope from coming apart and unraveling the middle.

How to Prevent Rope from Fraying

To prevent a rope from fraying, melt or glue the ends immediately after cutting a fresh piece. It should become a habit every time you cut a new piece of rope, and it usually lasts for the lifetime of the rope.

Fraying that occurs further down the rope is much more difficult to prevent. If your rope begins to fray on the sides, it is probably a sign that the rope should be replaced entirely.

Line Fraying: How to Keep Rope Ends from Unravelling
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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