There are basically three steps to consider in providing the longest possible
service life, the safest conditions and long range economy for ropes:
Selection, Usage, and Retirement.
The use of rope for any purpose subjects it to friction, bending and tension. All rope hardware, sheaves,
rollers, capstans, cleats, as well as knots are, in varying degrees, damaging to the rope. It is important to
understand that rope is a moving, working, strength member and even under the most ideal conditions
will lose strength during use in any application. Maximizing the safety of rope performance is directly
related to how strength loss is managed and making sure ropes are retired from service before they can
create a dangerous situation. Ropes are serious working tools and used properly will give consistent and
reliable service. The cost of replacing a rope is extremely small when compared to the physical damage
or personnel injury a worn out rope can cause.
Select the rignt rope for the job in the first place.
Selecting a rope involves evaluating a combination of factors. Some of these factors are
straightforward like comparing rope specifications. Others are less qualitative like a preference for a
specific color or how a rope feels in your hand. Cutting corners, reducing application factors, sizes or
strengths on an initial purchase creates unnecessary replacements, potentially dangerous conditions
and increases long term costs. Fiber and construction being equal, a larger rope will out-last a smaller
rope because of the greater surface wear distribution. By the same token, a stronger rope will out-last
a weaker one because it will be used at a lower percentage of its break strength with less chance of over stressing.
STRENGTH: When given a choice between ropes, select the strongest of any given size. A load of
200 pounds represents 2% of the strength of a rope with a breaking strength of 10,000
pounds. The same load represents 4% of the strength of a rope that has a breaking
strength of 5,000 pounds. The weaker rope is having to work harder and as a result will
have to be retired sooner.
ELONGATION: It is well accepted that ropes with lower elongation under load will give you better load
control, which is a big help at complicated job sites. However, a rope with lower elongation
that is shock loaded can fail without warning even though it appears to be in good shape.
Low elongating ropes should be selected with the highest possible strength. Twisted rope
has lower strength and more stretch. Braided rope has higher strength and lower stretch.
FIRMNESS: Select ropes that are firm and round and hold their shape during use. Soft or mushy
ropes will snag easily and abrade quickly causing accelerated strength loss. A loose or
mushy rope will almost always have higher break strengths than a similar rope that is firm
and holds its shape because the fibers are in a straighter line, which improves strength but
CONSTRUCTION AND ABRASION: Rope construction plays an important role in resistance to
normal wear and abrasion. Braided ropes have a basically round, smooth construction
that tends to flatten out somewhat on a bearing surface. This distributes the wear over
a much greater area, as opposed to the crowns of a 3-strand or, to a lesser degree,
on an 8-strand rope.
All ropes should be protected against sharp and abrasive surfaces. Wire ropes tend to
score and gouge chocks and bitts creating cutting edges that can damage synthetic ropes.
Weld beads on repaired capstans, fairleads, etc. are equally damaging unless dressed
Use rope properly: do not abuse or shock load it. Observe recommended usage
factors for bending and work loads. Keep ropes clean and eliminate abrasion
WORKING LOADS: Working loads are the loads that a rope is subjected to in everyday activity.
They are normally expressed as a percentage of new rope strength and should not exceed
20%. A point to remember is that a rope may be severely overloaded or shock loaded in use
without breaking. However, damage and strength loss may have occurred without any visible
indication. The next time the rope is used under normal working loads the acquired weakness
can cause it to break. Do not blame the rope, it was simply overloaded and failed from what is
known as fatigue.
BENDING: Any sharp bend in a rope under load decreases its strength substantially and may cause
premature damage and failure. Sheave diameters on rotating sheave blocks should be
10 times the rope diameter for twisted ropes and 8 times the rope diameter for braided ropes.
The diameter on fixed pin terminations should be at least 3 times the rope diameter
(i.e. the bending radius for 1/2" ropes should be 1-1/2").
KNOTS: While it is true that a knot reduces rope strength, it is also true that a knot is a convenient way
to accomplish rope attachment. The strength loss is a result of the tight bends that occur in the
knot. With some knots, ropes can lose up to 50% of their strength. It is vital that the reduction
in strength by the use of knots be taken into account when determining the size and strength
of a rope to be used in an application. To avoid knot strength reduction, it is recommended that
a rope be spliced according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Splice terminations are used in
all our ropes to determine new and unused tensile strengths. Therefore, whenever possible,
spliced terminations should be used to maximize the rope strength for new and used ropes.
ROPE STORAGE: Keep your ropes as clean and dry as possible and store them in a coil away from
SHOCK LOADS: Shock loads are simply a sudden change in tension from a state of relaxation or low
load to one of high load. Any sudden load that exceeds the work load by more than 10% is
considered a shock load. The further an object falls, the greater the impact. Synthetic fibers
have a memory and retain the effects of being overloaded or shock loaded and can fail at a later time even though loaded within the work load range.
Retire rope from use when it has reached its discard point.
One of the most frequently asked questions is “When should I retire my rope?” The most obvious answer
is before it breaks. But, without a thorough understanding of how to inspect it and knowing the load history,
you are left making an educated guess. Unfortunately, there are no definitive rules nor industry guidelines
to establish when a rope should be retired because there are so many variables that affect rope strength.
Factors like load history, bending radius, abrasion, chemical exposure or some combination of those factors,
make retirement decisions difficult. Inspecting your rope should be a continuous process of observation
before, during and after each use. In synthetic fiber ropes the amount of strength loss due to abrasion and/or
flexing is directly related to the amount of broken fiber in the rope’s cross section. After each use, look and
feel along every inch of the rope length inspecting for abrasion, glossy or glazed areas, inconsistent diameter,
discoloration, and inconsistencies in texture and stiffness.
UNDERSTANDING THE ROPE DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION: It is first important to understand the design
of the specific rope in use. Most ropes are designed to have features specifically tailored to their
application. These features can lead to misconceptions during visual inspections. When a rope has
a braided cover, it is only possible to visually inspect the cover (which, at best, carries only 50% of
the load). Rope designs utilizing HMPE fibers will show initial rapid abrasion until the rope has a
fuzzy appearance — this appearance actually acts as a protective layer.
DETERMINING THE AVERAGE CONDITION OF THE ROPE: The average condition of a rope can be an
important factor in determining the rope’s retirement. To determine the average condition, walk the
entire length of the rope and document its overall condition. Many ropes can be classified by the
total amount of overall wear and cleanliness.