I'm writing something where characters climb a large rope grid, like what you'd see on old-timey pirate ships or on a playground. Functionally, this construction is similar to a ladder but calling the individual ropes where people can stand on "rungs" feels wrong. Is there a specific word for this or a specific nautical term?

pirate doing pirate things

  • 4
    I think those are ratlines. Not currently in a place where I can provide more input, but that might get you started. Mar 5, 2020 at 13:26
  • 3
    Yup, they are ratlines. Mar 5, 2020 at 13:28
  • 2
    Also that's not a rope ladder. It's rigging that happens to look a bit ladderlike. Mar 5, 2020 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


The "rungs" are the ratlines (see Wikipedia entry here, if you consider that authoritative). Ratlines are the horizontal pieces between the vertical lines, which have a separate purpose. The vertical lines are "shrouds," which support a vertical spar (a mast). If the ratlines weren't there, you couldn't easily climb the shrouds.

That said, your non-nautical readers may understand "rungs" perfectly well, and it might be the simplest way to refer to them, if they need describing at all.

By the way, here's some more nautical terminology you should know if writing about this stuff: Almost nothing on a ship is called a "rope" (see the comment below). Rope is generally a material that has not been put to use. Once it is cut and put in place for a purpose, it is almost always referred to as a "line," or by a more specific name: Sheet, halyard, bowline, outhaul, reefline, painter, anchor rode, and on and on.

  • An answer on ELU needs more than a bald statement of fact (even if true), especially one that has been offered already in a 'comment'. And given a linked reference. Mar 5, 2020 at 17:13
  • 3
    Just to be pedantic, there's a classic answer to the question, "How many ropes on a ship?", which is "five." They are: bell rope, bolt rope, tow rope, footrope and manrope.
    – user888379
    Mar 5, 2020 at 19:50
  • 3
    Thanks for the added info! I didn't have the five types in my mind, just the general rule. I would maybe quibble with one "rope" -- because my officers always referred to "tow lines."
    – user8356
    Mar 5, 2020 at 20:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.