Untangle a Fouled Prop

Clearing fouled props and running gear.

un-snagging prop lines

In some areas lobster and crab pots are thicker than gulls. Snagging the rope, or “warp,” that secures the marker buoy around your prop, shaft or rudder can cause problems ranging from inconvenient to catastrophic. Here are the best ways to deal with lines snagged in your running gear.

1. Don’t Shrug It Off: Many times your prop may just cut the line and cause no problem, but don’t take that as a license for complacency. Many pot buoys are secured with polypropylene line with a metal core. When wound tight it can damage your gears. Even if it isn’t metal-cored line, poly line can melt around the prop shaft, causing torn shaft seals or wracking vibration.

2. Be Aware of Current: Often, pot buoys are rigged with a weighted tag line that keeps the warp closest to the surface vertical regardless of wind or current. Watermen do this to minimize the risk of having their expensive gear cut off. Even so, it’s best to always pass down-current of pot buoys because the float marks the end of the line.

3. The Two-Buoy Tango: If the warps from two pots become tangled, the passing down-current technique may not work, since one line can create an unnatural pull on the other. Give pairs of buoys close together a wide berth.

4. Stop: Sometimes, no matter what you do, you wrap a warp. If that happens, step one is to put the engine in neutral to avoid wrapping the line tighter and tighter.

5. Reverse: If you have outboards, it’s simple to tilt the engines and eyeball the situation. If you have an inboard or a stern-drive with an extended swim platform, it’s not that simple. A burst of reverse may unwind the wrapped warp. Seeing the buoy pop up and float free is your indication that this worked.

6. Tarzan: On occasion, I’ve gone overboard with a knife to clear a snagged line. Keeping one hand on the boat or shafts helps prevent the boat from coming down on your head in waves. Don’t ask me how I know this.

7. Reverse Pull (see illustration): Sometimes the warp is simply snagged on your rudder, lower unit, transducer or whatever. “Fish” for the warp with a boathook or gaff. If you can grab it, bring it forward and place the warp in a bow chock or anchor roller and pull back toward the stern. Under the boat, the pull on the line will be toward the bow, which, it is hoped, will pull the warp out the way it went in.

8. The Flying Warp Hook: I know some cruisers who tape a snap hook, to which is tied a length of line twice as long as their boat’s overall length, to the end of a boat pole. They fish for the warp with the snap hook and, finding it, give a yank to break the tape and free the pole. Then it’s time to pull up on the warp from the bow as described above.

Any boater can snag a pot warp, regardless of experience and attention to course. If you end up cutting off a buoy, whether intentionally with a knife or simply by running over it, you should haul your boat, or dive in, at the first opportunity to make sure your running gear is completely free of line. Stay safe.

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.