row2k Features
Strap This, Tie That
Top Ten strap tips
January 17, 2006
Mike Davenport

Typical spring-loaded (cam) buckle strap used for securing boats

It is very seldom that I yell, and I cannot remember when I've done it in public. But I sure did this one time, and the fellow in my rigging clinic had it coming.

We were discussing tie-downs, those slight pieces of strap with a little metal cam buckle that in essence keep a rowing shell were it needs to be, and off of the pavement of your local interstate highway.

I was recommending to the class to "double-strap" the business end of a shell when it is being transported. You know, the end of the boat moving down the highway first. You add the extra strap as a backup, in case the first strap broke or came loose.

This fellow wanted nothing to do with that advice. "Rubbish" he yelled. "It is a waste to put two straps on any end of a boat."

The discussion ramped up until finally he hollered, rather emphatically, that "He had much better things to spend his money on than an extra strap for his boat" (at that time the current cost of a strap was $3.95). Go figure.

My response to him, which I did happen to yell, was, "Yeah, and you are the type of coach that will be sitting in Dunkin' Donuts, crying in his coffee, when your race is starting."

Not a brilliant teaching method, and not quite sure what the heck that meant, but it felt good at the time.

So . . . lets talk about the highly emotional topic of tie-downs (a.k.a. straps). Following are a few thoughts for you to digest, along with any donuts that might be handy.

Nowadays almost everyone uses tie-downs with spring-loaded cam buckles, such as the one shown at right, top photo. And many boat manufacturers sell their own named brand straps.

Regardless of what you actually use to strap your boats, your tie-downs should be of top quality material. Buy tie-downs for quality, not for price, flash, or a fancy name intertwined in the strap. It will be worth it in the long run. Nylon or polypropylene are the best materials to use since they are strong, dependable, and will not rot. Of these solid-braided nylon is the strongest and it will rot stretch noticeable. Polypropylene is not as strong as nylon, but is cheaper.

A thick strap is usually desirable because it spreads the load out over a wider area, especially when it is 3/4-2 inches wide. Don't use rope (much too narrow), and do not use shock cords (rather popular in Europe) as they give too much to secure a load tightly.

Following are what I consider the Top Ten strap tips that can help you keep your boat where you want it to stay.

  1. Do not pull a tie-down so tight that it will deform the hull. The hull of a shell is strong but not so strong that it can withstand the force of a strap being cranked down by some 220 pound oarsman.
  2. Check all the tie-downs after the trailer is loaded. You are checking for straps that are either too loose or too tight. If you are going to load several shells you should strap the middle boats as soon as they are loaded. There is nothing more aggravating than having to wiggle around several boats that were just tied down to get at a boat in the middle that was not.
  3. Do check and recheck the tie-downs on the highway, especially if you have been traveling on windy days. If the wind is a gusting cross-wind it can really move a shell. Even if one strap becomes loose it can allow the boat to bounce against the supports, or possibly slide off the trailer. I recheck them every time I stop.
  4. Keep the cam buckle away from the hull. If it has to be on the hull then put some sort of padding between the hull and the buckle. This will prevent damage to the paint of the hull. Make sure that this padding is not material that has zippers, buttons, or objects that can cause damage to the hull if it flaps in the wind.
  5. Develop a standard method of strapping boats. Choose a method that is best for you and make this system known to everyone who is tying the shells. This will make life much easier at the unloading end and will greatly cut down on the amount of "pinhead knots" (the type you need a jack hammer to get undone).
  6. Ensure the place where a tie-down is attached to the trailer is solid, and make sure that there are no sharp edges that could cut the tie.
  7. Stay away from using wet straps. When they dry they can shrink and may tighten enough to damage a hull.
  8. Do not have the whole team involved in the tie-down process. A few people who know what they are doing are worth their weight in gold, and they make the loading process move much quicker.
  9. Do not strap boats together. Each boat should be tied separately. Strap smaller boats in at least two different places and secure eights in three. And double-strap the ends of the boat closest to the front of the trailer.
  10. And finally, throw away any straps that show signs of aging or wear. Inspect them often. Also remove all knots. They can weaken tie-downs by up to 40 percent. Store the straps inside, out of the sun and weather. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause the ties to degrade, especially polypropylene. (See second photo at right.)

A few thoughts to hopefully help you get to the starting line on time, and then off to Dunkin' Donuts after the racing is over.

Strap Away!
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