Choose Your Running Rigging Colors Logically

When we purchased Summer Dance, she had an odd assortment of line colors, mostly the original equipment, run of the mill white with blue tracer. But the main sheet was white with a red tracer, the jib sheet too, and the genoa sheet was white with a black tracer. The halyards in particular were difficult to tell apart unless they were in their proper places.

I wanted the line colors to be useful when I replaced all the running rigging this past winter. The research I did only vaguely helped. There seem to be as many standards for line colors as there are sailor’s opinions. Beyond red for port and green for starboard, there doesn’t seem to be much consensus, which is odd considering how specific the ABYC standards are about wiring colors. So I made up my own color scheme. Heck, if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em.

But black looks cool

I wound up with a color scheme that, together with the different line sizes, makes it relatively easy to identify each line at a glance. At least it seems logical to me but I’m a left-brain person. My hope is that it will also make sense to my right-brain first mate when I ask her to help with a line.

The general rules of my scheme are simple:

  • The colors identify which sail the line directly affects: red on the port side (headsail), green on the starboard side (mainsail), blue for everything else.
  • The amount of color identifies the line’s priority: solid colors for dynamic control lines (sail position, for example, sheets), white with colored tracer for static control lines (sail shape and rigging management, for example, halyards).
  • The size of the line identifies its load: 1/4″ lines for light loads (jib downhaul, main reefing, tiller lock, etc.), 8mm or 5/16″ for heavy loads (halyards, vang, traveler, etc.), and 3/8″ lines for the most often handled lines (sheets). Obviously, the sizes are more dictated by the loads than by preference.

Practical examples of the application of this scheme are:

What I want to say What I would otherwise have to say
“Honey, could you please release the jib downhaul?” “Loosen the little line with the red stripes that looks like a candy cane.”
“Prepare to come about.” “Get ready to pull up on the fat red line that looks like a cherry Twizzler twisted around a silver salt shaker.”
“Ease the main before we broach!” “Pull the fat green line out of that clamp thingy, let out some of the line until the boat leans back up, and then put it back into the clamp!”

The results aren’t in yet on whether it made a difference. It’s cold and raining buckets as I write this. We probably won’t hang the Dacron for a few more weeks yet. Any bets?

The Bottom Line

Suggested price: Make ’em all the same color. Real sailors don’t need no steenking colors!
$tingy Sailor cost: So my boat looks like a sail by numbers kit. My wife’s sailing with me, where’s yours?
Savings: I don’t have to sell the boat because she hates sailing.

Using the three color scheme rules, can you guess the name of each line in the picture above?

(Answers: jib downhaul, jib halyard, jib sheet, boom vang, miscellaneous, main sheet, main halyard)

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I have used color coded lines on my 23′ Venture of Newport cutter Chiquita ever since I got her some 35 years ago. I use red for the jib, blue for the staysail, and green for the main. Solid colors for the sheets and striped for everything else. 3/8″ diameter sheets, 5/16″ halyards, and 1/4″ or 3/16″ for everything else.

    I have dual mainsheets, 2 jib sheets, 2 staysail sheets, 2 spinnaker/drifter sheets (1/4″), 2 downhauls for jib and staysail, 2 tack downhauls for jib and staysail, 1 boom vang, 1 Cunningham, 1 internal main outhaul, 2 main clew reef lines, 1 backstay adjuster, and 2 running backstays, all going to the cockpit or easily accessible on the boom. That’s a total of 20 lines! I keep the tails as short as possible so the cockpit is not at all cluttered and the color coding makes each line instantly recognizable..

    My grandkids often ask to stop at one of several lakeside parks to go swimming whenever we are out. They had been too young to help with docking at the park so I usually did this single handed. I keep the dock lines coiled but permanently attached to their cleats. That’s 1 bow, 2 midship and 2 stern lines.

    Henry Rodriguez

    1. kbilling says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I looked at some of your pictures. That’s a beautiful boat (except for the sinking!). Looks larger than 23′. And some adorable grandkids.

  2. Pump says:

    Well done, a good standard! They say even a bad standard is better than none.
    I think white for your halyards white main blue for the kite red and green for the jib and yellow for toppers.
    I like the use of fleck and solid colour is a good one I will be using that idea if I can. No matter what I plan it will depend on availability and cost in the end.

  3. Billy says:

    Hi, I am a wanna be sailor /weekend warrior on a small catamaran that we capsize often (over ambitious -great fun)
    I real enjoyed you table about instructions to your wife while sailing Priceless … enjoyable informative read . Thank you

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