Someone has to tell you—your boat straps hate you.
And even worse…they will get revenge!
Here’s why they hate you: you abuse the heck out of them. You don’t give them the time of day.
Then you count on them several times a year to make your coaching life easy.
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:
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. My bad.
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.
Then, 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
According to Jim Pickens, owner of Revolution Rowing, one area that people overlook is the stitching in a strap. “The stitching secures the webbing to the cam buckle. Substandard stitching or stitching that has been damaged is an accident waiting to happen.” Pickens noted that box end stitching is the best stitching and a sign of quality.
You can get upgrades on straps, like having your program’s name woven into the webbing or a specific color, but the items in the above list is what you should look for.
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)
Wear-and-tear is the second culprit that will destroy a strap. 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.
Now take each strap in the GOOD pile, and check through the webbing material on each one. Even though the webbing is made of tough material such as nylon or polypropylene it can degrade.
Check all the edges for cuts, frays, shreds, tears, or a feeling of dryness of the material. What’s a sign of a bad strap? Cuts, nicks and wear like in these images.
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
Any sign of weakness means that strap moves to the BAD pile.
Oh, and how many of your straps are in need of repair? The following chart, based on years of observation, should give you some idea of annually how many straps are waiting for you to give them some love.
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 drill away from the boat house. See, here is a fact of boathouse life—if you bring even one strap from the BAD pile back to the boathouse sooner or later that strap will appear in your GOOD strap pile. Guaranteed. And trouble WILL happen.
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.
Storing your straps properly will take some thinking, and here’s two examples.
This video shows how to roll a strap like in the image above.
Replace your boat straps
If you are in the buying mood, you’ll have a lot of options, and many (NOT all, but most) sellers will sell quality straps. But you need to make sure that what you are buying is exactly what you need.
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. Here’s one to consider.
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.
And remember to check the stitching, as Jim Pickens suggests.
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
- Quick tip videos here and here on how to organize straps