row2k Features
Your Boat Straps Hate You (and they're plotting revenge)
June 7, 2020
Mike Davenport,

Following is another excerpt from Mike Davenport's posts designed to help rowing folks make the most of this downtime in the sport; read the full article at Boat Straps: Yours Hate You (and they’re plotting revenge).

Someone has to tell you—your boat straps hate you.

And even worse... they will get revenge!

Why your boat straps are important

Quality boat straps (AKA tie downs) are critical in rowing. They help us avoid the 3 Terrible-D’s of working with rowing equipment:

  • Destruction
  • Devastation
  • Disaster

Without quality straps, you are going to have problems. Maybe not today, but certainly tomorrow. Unfortunately, it’s happened to me.

Like the time I destroyed a rowing shell. Killed it.

I don’t blame the straps that broke—causing the accident. Instead, I blame myself for mistreating the boat strap and not checking it often for issues.

Fairly typical strap storage, be honest
Fairly typical strap storage, be honest

Let’s see if we can keep that from happening to you.

What goes into high quality boat straps?

When I first started rowing (eons ago) we used cotton webbing, made loops in it, and tied-down our boats. The next version of straps were fancy shock cords (AKA bungie cords). Spiffy but marginal in their use, and I think dangerous.

Today, rowing shell straps are much different, and so much better.

What’s in a high quality strap? Look for:

  • 1? to 2? wide webbing (1? is the most common width)
  • Spring loaded cam buckle with stainless-steel springs
  • Webbing made of either nylon or polypropylene
  • 9' or 12' length (two most common sizes in rowing)
  • Minimum Breaking Strength (MBS) of 1,500 lbs
  • Strap length indicated on buckle, webbing or with tag

What kills boat straps?

There are two main culprits that will destroy your straps.

The first is ultraviolet rays. They cause photodegradation of the webbing material. You can tell that is happening by feel (webbing will feel powdery), and sight (webbing will start to fray along edges)

The second is wear-and-tear. The spring in the buckle can break or the webbing material and cam teeth get worn enough that the cam won’t securely hold the strap. Also, straps can get small cuts in them that greatly reduce its integrity. Many times this is caused by sharp edges on gunwales and fasteners on boats.

Regardless of cause a smart person (like yourself) will inspect your boat straps before and during the season to make sure the straps will be 100% when you need them.

Inspect your straps

Gather up all of your straps and take them some place away from the boathouse (You’ll see why in a moment).

Lay out all the straps. Then check the cam buckles to make sure each functions well. Thread the strap end through the buckle and test the tightness of the grip. Do that by pulling the strap and seeing if it slips in the cam. If it does, even the smallest amount, it’s bad.

Put the straps with good cams in a GOOD pile, and whichever aren’t top-notch set aside in a BAD pile. Keep these two piles separate.

Take the straps in the GOOD pile, and check the webbing for cuts, frays, shreds, tears, or a feeling of dryness of the material.

Straps in the good pile should have these things:

  • Spring in the cam buckle works well
  • Webbing has a tapered and solid end that easily threads through the cam buckle
  • No cuts or frays along webbing’s sides
  • Marking of strap’s length (in rowing the two typical sizes are 9 or 12 feet). NOT a deal breaker but extremely helpful
  • No knots. They can weaken a straps integrity by up to 40 percent

There’s no repairing bad boat straps

Take all the BAD straps and get rid of them. THEY ARE NOT SAFE. You can’t fix them—so don’t even go there.

But can you find a home for the bad straps, such as recycle them for non-boat work away from the boat house or cut them up to make belts. But remember, they are now defective. Keep them out of your boat area!

This is why we did these drills away from the boat house.

Now grab a Sharpie and write your name on every strap in the GOOD pile if it’s not already there. Gather them up and transport them back to the boathouse.

Boat strap storage

Store the GOOD straps inside, out of the sun and weather. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays will cause the straps to degrade.

See more of Mike's ideas and tips for strap storage on his site.

Replace your boat straps

Buy boat straps for quality, not for price, or flash, or a fancy name intertwined in the strap. You want quality, and be prepared to spend anywhere from $5 to $10 per strap.

Nylon or polypropylene are the best materials to use since they are strong, dependable, and will not rot (degrade Yes, rot No). Of these polypropylene is the most commonly used material in boat straps today.

Action Steps: taking care of your boat straps

  • Gather all your straps and take them away from boathouse
  • Completely inspect buckles on each strap.
  • Inspect stitching that is used to secure webbing to cam buckle.
  • Inspect webbing looking for any cuts or fraying
  • Dispose of BAD pile straps
  • Mark all straps in GOOD pile with name and length (if not on the strap already) and bring back to boathouse
  • Store good straps in dry area out of direct sunlight
  • See quick tip videos here and here on how to organize straps

To learn more about rigging, check out Mike's new book Get Ready To Row: A Rowing Equipment Roadmap To Make Your Next Season Hassle Free - due out this summer, keep an eye at

During these unprecendented times, row2k is working hard to keep rowing coming to you; please help us keeping it coming by supporting our work!


Log in to comment
06/07/2020  11:30:49 AM
This is your choice: $5 boat strap or $50,000 boat. The boat strap may be one of the best investments you ever make. Also, the photo shows straps on reels -- make sure the straps are dry before rolling up.

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