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We are experiencing technical issues with our emergency phone line. In the event of an emergency, please contact 01443 508676.

We are experiencing technical issues with our emergency phone line. In the event of an emergency, please contact 01443 508676.

Supported by Trinity House

Whipping into shape

Look after your rope and it’ll look after you. Learn how to care for the ends of rope with whippings and splices.

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You’ll need

  • Access to the internet
  • Lengths of rope to repair
  • Cord or thread suitable for whippings
  • Masking tape
  • Knife to cut rope
  • Marlinspike (if needed)

Before you begin

  • This activity requires enough rope for everyone to try out whipping. A three-strand rope is best for the sailmaker's whipping, while common or West Country whipping can be done with most kinds of rope easily.
  • It might be best to learn about one type of whipping as a short session, alongside another activity or as an activity base for smaller groups. This should help everyone absorb the information about each type of whipping and master it before moving on to the next one.

Let's get whipping!

  1. Explain that whipping is a technique used to secure the end of a rope to stop it from unravelling or fraying.
  1. Give everyone a suitable length of rope for the whipping they’ll be doing. A shorter length is best for practising on.
  2. Give out pieces of tape long enough to wind once around the rope. They should stick the tape around the rope at the point where the whipping will end. Point this out to anyone who isn’t sure.
  1. Use the information below to help guide everyone to make a whipping on the end of their length of rope. Once everyone has tried the whippings, the person leading the activity should introduce everyone to the back splice, eye splice and heat sealing, also described below.
  1. Explain that the back splice and heat sealing techniques are usually temporary fixes, and that a whipping is a long term fix.
    • The eye splice is a convenient alternative to tying a knot where you need a more permanent loop in a rope, as it’s neat and more secure.
    • The main benefit of the back splice is that it can be made on a rope without the need for any other tools or materials. The downside is often that the knot thickens one end of the rope, meaning it cannot be threaded through blocks or pulleys.
    • The main benefit of heat sealing the end of rope is speed, but if not done very carefully this can create nasty sharp edges as the melted rope hardens.
  1. Use the information in the ‘Which whipping?’ and ‘Sealing and splicing’ boxes below and instruct everyone to have a go at tying a back splice and an eye splice.

Common whipping

This type is easy to learn and can be made very close to the end of the rope, but if one of the turns gets snagged it can unravel very easily.

West Country whipping

Made by tying a series of half knots on alternate sides of the rope. Easy to learn and make, but if the final reef knot comes undone it can unravel quickly.

Sailmaker’s whipping

The most secure whipping and slightly more complicated to learn than the other two. It’s very satisfying to look at when finished and although easiest to make with three strand rope, can be made with other braided rope too.

Back splice

This splice is easy to learn and requires no extra tools or materials. It can help to secure the end of a rope quickly. The main disadvantage is the thickened end that the back splice creates, which limits what you’re able to do with the rope.

Eye splice

Used to create a secure loop using the end of the rope. This is fairly straightforward to do and usually requires no tools.

Sealing with heat

Heat sealing is only done with synthetic rope fibres. It involves melting the end, so that the fibres fuse together and don’t unravel. This hardens the end of the rope and when done incorrectly can create sharp or uneven ends that can damage hands and equipment when using the rope. In almost all situations, a splicing or whipping is preferable to heat sealing rope, as with regular use the hardened, heat-sealed end will always crack and disintegrate. The only real advantage to heat sealing is speed.

  • Heat based rope cutters are available that cut and seal rope at once. These can be calibrated for the rope used and may give a safer seal.
  • The real danger of heat sealing is that when the rope is pulled from someone’s grip, the sharp, hardened end can cut someone’s hand. If a rope is being used to make a compound knot or structure, and won’t be pulled or handled too much, it’s fine to rely on the heat seal.

Reflection

Some of the first evidence of rope being made with tools and machines comes from Egyptian pictographs from more than 4,000 years ago. Since then, the process has changed very little. Originally made from winding natural fibres from reeds and grasses by hand, rope is now predominantly made from synthetic fibres bound by machines. Whipping and splicing are traditional ways to repair and care for your rope and they’re especially useful, as replacing rope new for old is wasteful and can be expensive. As more and more equipment has become made from materials like plastic, it’s become harder to repair, leading to the production of more single-use items. Are there other things that you could maintain or repair in this way that might otherwise be thrown away?

Safety

All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Sharp objects

Teach young people how to use sharp objects safely. Supervise them appropriately throughout. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.

Each of the whippings has a slightly different level of difficulty. If you found the common whipping easy, why not have a go at the other two? Or, make all three and test them until they unravel.

  • The thickness of the rope and cord you use to practise these whippings will make it easier to understand the structure of and how to tie the knots. It’ll also be less fiddly to use.
  • Producing tight whippings can be hard on the hands, so keeping sessions short is recommended. The use of tools like a marlin spike can help to open up the rope or create tension, easing the work that hands need to do.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Why ‘knot’ make use of your new-found skill to repair and maintain some ropes for real. Keeping your kit in good order is the best way to guarantee a stress-free camp! It’s also a great service you can do for anyone who shares your equipment.

Encourage any young people with previous experience of whipping or knotting to help those who may be struggling by sharing their skills and supporting where they can.