Washing the lines and halyard that have been exposed to the elements over the winter is one of my spring rites of getting the boat ready for another sailing season.
Washing lines can make them easier to handle, extend their useful life and they look better, especially in an area like Puget Sound where green stuff tends to grow on any lines left exposed to the elements over the winter.
Use a messenger line attached to one end of the halyards so you can run them back in easier.
Use a messenger line also when the lines go through blocks, the messenger line makes pulling the line back through what is sometimes a very confusing routing on complex systems.
I use a short length of waxed whipping thread to attach the lines together, use a sail-makers needle to stitch & tie the lines together.
I use 1/8 inch diameter Dacron line with a loop in one end for messenger lines. Different sizes can be used as needed, I have also used a messenger line that was the same size as the halyard being pulled out. A loop in the end of the messenger line helps when attaching the halyard or other line to the messenger line.
Putting the lines in a mesh laundry bag, one line per bag will help to reduce tangling the lines. If you put all the lines in the washing machine in one big jumble, the lines will get all tangled in a massive mess and you will then spend a long long time untangling the lines.
Use a mild detergent, no Chlorine bleach. Some people like to use fabric softener in the final rinse.
If you have a shackle on the end of a line, put part of an old cotton sweat sock over the shackle. Tie the sock on with something like a double constrictor knot pulled down real hard. The sock will help keep the shackle from banging and chipping the drum, and making lots of noise. If you use a front loading washing machine at a laundromat, this will help keep people from asking you what the funny banging noise is.
Three strand nylon lines will shorten a bit, if you are using them as fixed length dock lines as I do they might need a bit of “encouragement” to fit after they are washed. My dock lines have an eye in each end and not much slack in them. I have had to stretch my three strand dock lines a few times after I washed them.
A caution on some high tech lines with a Dacron cover. One year the cover shortened on my main halyard when I washed it and the core popped out of the cover in several places. I ended up taking about six inches off the core and had a heck of a time working the core back inside the cover. It then took me a couple of hours walking back and forth from one end of the halyard to the other to work the cover back to normal. I no longer put the main halyard in the washing machine.
You can also lay the lines on the dock or your driveway and scrub then with soap and water using a deck brush.
Others like to put the lines in a large tub or bathtub (might want to check with your significant other before surprising them with a bathtub full of soaking lines). Soak the lines for a day or so then scrub them with a brush, remember to rinse the lines several times.
UPDATE Spring 2014: When I washed my medium high tech halyard this spring. I took a plastic storage ctub about 16 inches by 24 inches, put some water in it with liquid laundry detergent and mixed it all up. I then faked (zigzagged) the line into the tub.
The line soaked overnight and then a deck brush was used to agitate the halyard and then the halyard was left to soak for another day. After two days the halyard was taken out and laid on the dock and scrubbed with using a deck brush and the soap and water from the tub, the halyard was flipped around so that all areas were able to be scrubbed with the deck brush. Then the halyard was rinsed off well with fresh water.
I left the dirty water to sit in the tub overnight because I though I might need some soap and water for other cleaning, when I dumped the water from the tub, I was amazed at the gunk that had settled in the bottom of the tub, just the soak and agitate in the tub had taken a lot of dirt off the halyard.
Please see Chafe Protection – Or keeping your boat tied up in a storm for some tips on preventing chafe and damage to your lines.
Thanks for your interest in Boating Safety.