A collection of ropes used for boating

As a boat owner, selecting the right rope can be a bit confusing.  Whether anchoring, docking or doing watersports, there are different types of ropes for different applications.  In this article, I provide an overview of the most common rope types for boaters and provide guidance to help you choose the right one for your particular needs.

But before I get started, I want to acknowledge that a rope when used on a boat is typically called by a different name.  And, that name depends on what the “rope” is used for.  If it is used to hold an anchor, it is referred to as an anchor line or rode.  For securing a boat to a pier or buoy, it is called a dock line or mooring line.  About the only time it is actually called a rope is when it is used for watersports (ski rope) or to tow a vessel or dinghy (tow rope).

Ok, with that out of the way, I’ll begin by describing the characteristics of the most common types of “ropes” used by motorboat owners.  Knowing this will help understand why certain types of ropes are better for different applications.

Please note that I have included links to some of the products referenced in this article for your convenience.  If you click on a link and buy something, BoaterInput will receive a small commission to help defray some of the cost to maintain this site. 

Fabric Types

The three most common fibers used for boater ropes are Nylon, Polyester and Polypropylene.


This is a synthetic fiber that has excellent strength and abrasion resistance, holds up well to UV exposure, and is generally softer/easier to handle than other rope types.  One of the main advantages of Nylon rope is its shock absorption ability.  This makes it an excellent choice in situations where sudden, heavy loads are expected.  However, it does absorb water and will lose some strength when saturated.


This is another synthetic fiber that is very strong and can handle prolonged UV exposure.  It does not absorb as much water as Nylon and retains its strength better when wet.  Another difference is that it stretches less than Nylon and holds up well over time.  This makes it a good choice for static situations (limited surges) over an extended period in an outdoor/marine environment.


Yellow Polypropylene RopeThis is the yellow rope that we are all familiar with (although it is available in many other colors as well).  It is stretchy and less expensive than the other rope types.  A key difference with polypropylene rope is that it floats which, of course, is important in certain situations.


Ropes are generally constructed in one of two ways – either by twisting or braiding.

Twisted 3-strand Nylon RopeTwisted Rope

With a twisted rope, individual fibers of varying materials (Nylon, Polyester, Polypropylene, etc.) are twisted together to create strands.  These strands (typically 3) are then twisted to form the rope.  For this reason, this type of rope is often referred to as “3 strand” which I find confusing.  So if you see the term “3 strand”, just know it is a twisted rope and not a braid.

The advantage of a twisted rope is that it is lower cost, is more abrasion resistant, and is much easier to splice than braid.  This last item is especially important if you plan to use it with a windlass.  It also stretches more than braid which can be both good and bad – depending on the application.

Braided Rope

Braided Nylon RopeA braided rope, as the name implies, is constructed by weaving multiple strands together for added strength and durability.  There are several different variations of braided rope such as single braids, double braids, hollow braids and diamond braids.  But regardless of the type of braid, the main advantages of braided line over twisted is that it is stronger, more supple, and has a softer feel.  It is also more expensive and does not stretch as much as twisted line.

Recommended Rope by Application

With that as a backdrop, now let’s discuss which type of rope is recommended for a given marine application.


For anchoring on the bottom, a TWISTED (aka, 3-strand) NYLON rope is often the best bet (typically with some chain attached to the anchor) because of its adequate strength and ability to stretch/absorb shock.  Also, if you have a Windlass on your boat, the fact that it is twisted instead of braided makes it much easier to splice.  However, be sure to check the recommendations for your specific model because some are very particular regarding the type and size of rope to use.

Twisted Nylon Rope from New England RopesThe amount of rope you will need depends on the depth you plan to anchor at.  The term “scope” refers to the ratio of the anchor line length relative to the depth (measured from the top of the bow to the bottom).  In general, it is recommended that a scope of 7:1 should be used.   For example, if the distance from the bow (where you are tying off) to the bottom is 10’, you will normally need about 70’ of rode (line plus chain).

This twisted Nylon rope is currently 40% off at West Marine through April 1, 2024.


If your boat will be tied up at a pier or buoy for an extended period, then a POLYESTER TWISTED rope is often the best bet.  With polyester, it will maintain strength for an extended period of time when exposed to water and UV rays and the fact that it is twisted (instead of braided) will give it some shock-absorption qualities.  However, if your boat will be moored in an area that will be subject to a lot of bouncing or rough water, then you might want to add a bridle or snubber or some other method to help handle the shock.  You could also go with Nylon twisted rope for greater shock absorption (although this rope might not last as long as polyester).

Dock Lines

For shorter-term tie-ups at a pier, a NYLON BRAIDED rope is the way to go.  It is easy on your hands and provides good shock absorption to help you avoid ripping your cleats out.

The width of your dock line should be based on the size of your boat.  The general rule of thumb is to use 1/8” of rope for every 9’ of boat length (minimum of 3/8”).  So, for my 21’ runabout, a 3/8” line should suffice.  However, I stepped up to ½” to be on the safe side.  Obviously, it is much better to err on the larger side.

Nylon Dock line from New England RopesThe amount of rope needed is also related to your boat size.  For dock lines at the bow or stern, the length of rope should be at least two-thirds of your boat length.  Spring lines (a line originating from a bow or stern cleat on the boat to a cleat on the dock near the midpoint of the vessel) should be as long as your vessel or more.  So for my 21′ boat, I would want at least 14′ of dock line and 21’+ for a spring line.

If you are in need of dock line, now is the time to stock up. West Marine currently has select varieties on sale for 40% off through April 1.


To pull tubers, skiers, wake boarders or surfers, you will clearly want a polypropylene-type rope or something similar that floats.  There are specific ropes designed and labeled for each tow sport.  For example, a tubing rope will have a loop spliced on each end and will be labeled for the number of people you wish to pull (1 person, 2 people, etc.).

Ski ropes will have a handle on one side and a loop on the other to attach to a pylon or tower.  Most are about 70-75’ in length (including the handle).  For advanced skiers who like to do slalom runs, you can get ropes with 5, 8 or 10 sections that you can pull off to make the slalom run more challenging.

Dyneema Ski RopeWhile most ski ropes and ropes for tubing are made of a standard polypropylene or polyethylene which stretch a bit, I actually prefer a derivative product called ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) which goes by the brand name of Dyneema®.  Billed as the “world’s toughest fiber”, Dyneema is super strong and has zero stretch.  I have been slalom skiing for over 40 years and love the fact that it doesn’t “give” when I am pulling hard to cross the wake.  And I have found that this lack of give is also helpful with new skiers or wakeboarders who tend to stand up too quickly and often generate too much slack – especially with a “stretchy” polypropylene rope.  Here is the picture of my Dyneema ski rope that I have been using for over a decade.  Other than a little fading, it is still in excellent shape.

Dyneema Wakeboard RopeWakeboard ropes are generally made of polyethylene or Dyneema® (or Spectra® which has similar properties as Dyneema®).  Polyethylene is fine for beginners but the no-stretch Dyneema® or Spectra® are better for advanced boarders because the added stiffness enables them to pop off the wake better.  Wakeboard ropes vary from 55’ to 75’ long with 65’ being fairly typical.  The handles tend to be slightly larger than that of ski ropes to make it easier to pass when doing tricks.  This Dyneema wakeboard rope is similar to mine and is reasonably priced at Amazon.

Wake surf ropes come in the same materials as wakeboarding ropes but are typically shorter and have smaller handles.  Some even have knots along it to make it easier for the rider to adjust the length.

As you can see, a rope is not just a rope in the boating world.  There are different types for different applications.  Hopefully this information has helped to untangle any confusion to help you get the right rope for your situation.


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Choosing The Right Rope“. Web Blog Post.  BoatU.S.

Understanding Dock Lines“. Web Blog Post.  Fisheries Supply.

Choosing an Anchor Rode: Three-Strand, 8-Plait, or Double-Braided Rope?”. Web Blog Post.  17 July 2020.

Crane, Ben. “3-Strand Rope Vs. Braided Rope“.  Web Blog Post.  Knot & Rope Supply.

Kenninger, Madeline. “Difference Between Braided and Twisted Rope.” Web Blog Post.  Rope & Cord.  26 August 2019.

Rope for Boating and Marine Use: What You Need to Know.”  Web Blog Post.  Boatsetter.  24 September 2021.

How to choose the right Water ski rope & more.”  YouTube Video.  Welcome Board Store.  2023.

How to Select Rope for Your Boat.” Web Blog Post.  Sailrite.

Choosing the Best Rope for Mooring a Boat.” Web Blog Post.  Ropes Direct.

Knowing Your Ropes and Rode.” Web Blog Post.  Boating New Zealand.  15 September 2021.

Anchoring & Mooring.” Web Blog Post.  BoatU.S. 

Clark, Michael.  “Nylon vs Polyester Rope – What’s The Difference?” Web Blog Post.  Access Ropes.  30 January 2024.

Twisted Rope vs. Braided Rope.” Web Blog Post.  Seaco Industries.

How to Choose the Right Rope.” Web Blog Post.  The Wake Shop.  1 July 2016.

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his BoaterInput.com website.

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