Years ago the wooden mast in our Drascombe Lugger was getting wear marks where it contacted the wooden partner/thwart. The manufacturer didn’t put leathers on the masts to protect them and the partners didn’t have room for adding leathers, so I needed another solution. At about the same time, Audrey brought a roll of tape home from a theater event; it was gaffer tape, used to secure cables to equipment and stages. On that day we welcomed Pro Gaff Gaffer Tape to our small-boat rigging kit.

Duct tape is a staple in the kit for shops, camps, and boats, but for many jobs, there’s a better product: gaffer tape. It’s made of heavy cotton fabric and, unlike duct tape, does not have a slick polyethylene coating. It adheres with a synthetic rubber adhesive (SRA) that does not leave residue behind, as duct tape’s adhesive does, when it is removed. The tape has a nice look and feel, and does not become oily and sticky like some other types of multi-purpose tape. Gaffer tape has excellent adhesion and sticks well to the wooden, metal, and fiberglass surfaces on our fleet of boats, and it conforms to many different shapes.


Pro-Gaff’s gaffer tape comes in white, black, and 18 other colors.

The tape’s tensile strength is rated up to 50 pounds per inch of width, the equal of the best duct tapes. Gaffer tape protects a variety of components, it is easy to remove without damaging the surfaces, and it resists abrasion itself. The tape is easy to tear by hand, no scissors required, both off the roll or along its length to get a piece at just the right width. Gaffer tape has a matte finish, so it does not reflect light, and it is also tolerant of UV light.

Kent and Audrey Lewis

The tape was used instead of leather to protect a mast where it bears against the partner.

After we taped the lugger’s mast to protect it from abrasion by the partner/thwart, we were pleased by how well it stayed in place and survived the wear. We then used the tape to wrap a sprit where it rubs on our Penobscot 14’s mast.

Kent and Audrey Lewis

A spiral wrap of black gaffer tape reduces the chafing between a sprit and a mast.

Another bit of tape reduces wear and abrasion where the tiller bolt on our wooden Sunfish rubs the deck; we also taped the tiller extension, which gave it a good grip and a nice soft feel. We have used the tape as a spacer between dissimilar metals of the bronze gooseneck and aluminum boom on our Sunfish. Gaffer tape works great to wrap clevis pins and keeper rings to keep them from abrading the sails; we wrapped the bottom of the turnbuckles on our Day Sailer with gaffer tape to keep them upright while the mast is stepped and to prevent snagging the jib sheets under sail.

One of our most frequent uses has been to tape the last 1/2″ of a line, an “Electrician’s Whip,” before we applied a thread whipping.

There are many brands of gaffer tape, and we have been very happy with Pro Gaff’s offerings. Their regular gaffer tape is water resistant, and there is also a waterproof version. It comes in 20 colors—among them a glow-in-the-dark tape that could have interesting applications, and a camouflage tape. Pro Gaff Gaffer Tape is not as ubiquitous or as inexpensive as duct tape, but it is well worth adding to your kit.

Audrey and Kent seek prizes on the shoal waters of Northwest Florida when not taping things with gaffer tape. Their mess-about log can be found at their blog.

Pro Gaff tape is manufactured by Pro Tapes and Specialties and available at selected retailers as well as online sellers.

Editor’s notes

Gaffer tape works very well as a stand-in for first-aid tape, and wraps on tender fingers can ward off blisters at the beginning of a cruise that requires a lot of rowing.



The matte, textured surface of the tape takes pen and pencil marks well. The white tape is especially good for making clear, sharp marks. The tape on the table saw has a mark for stopping the cut at the right place on the bottom side of the wood; the gaffer tape on the side of the measuring tape provides a handy, transferrable place for recording dimensions.

Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.


Captions: write on tape, bandage