As pointed out in a comment by cobaltduck in the question What type of rope to use for the mainsheet of sunfish? the proper name for rope when used on a boat is line.

If I go to the store and buy a length of rope and put it on my boat it is now a line.

When does it become a line instead of a rope?

  • When it becomes attached to the boat.
  • When I took a sailing class and learned better.
  • When I buy it and it does not belong to the store any longer.
  • Or ...
  • This seems so weird to me: The "rope" does not change into a "line". It is simply that mountaineers (not exclusively) call this item "rope" and "sailors" (not exclusively) call the same (maybe just almost the same) item "line". This is called jargon. – imsodin Oct 21 '16 at 16:01
  • it has always been a line, if it is to be used on a boat. – njzk2 Oct 21 '16 at 16:17
  • Tried to clearify the Q. It is about defining what you call a rope and a line, so comparing specifications. – Wills Oct 21 '16 at 17:13
  • 2
    @Wills Well that is a different question. nivag addresses this new question, cobaltduck the old. In my opinion it is now too broad: There is not such a thing as the rope or the line. Comparing such umbrella terms is not really meaningful. – imsodin Oct 21 '16 at 17:39
  • @Wills That is not a clarifying change. That is changing the question. Specification versus context is not the same. – paparazzo Oct 21 '16 at 18:40

My answer is that as soon as a thing begins being thought of, even potentially, as being involved in a sailing craft, it takes on the sailing term.

If I am going to the hardware store to buy something to make a leash for my dog, or to hang stuff up in my shed, that's rope. If I am going to buy the same exact thing to become a traveler or a painter, that's line.

The same can be said of a toilet becoming a head, or a piece of wood being a floor/deck or a wall/ bulkhead, or a mattress being for a bed or a berth.


Personally, I would rarely call anything a line. More specific terminology, such as sheet or halyard, is generally more helpful. But anyway, I would say a rope is a line when you put it on a boat. Until then it is just a bit of rope that you could do anything else with.

Also note that in many ways a line is more general than just rope and can refer to cable or chain on larger boats.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.