The orlop is typically the furthest rearward and lowest deck of a ship featuring four or more decks. Commonly used to store ropes and cables, the orlop is believed by many to take its name from the overlap of cables that typically fill the deck space. The orlop is also commonly placed below the waterline of the ship, occasionally occupying an overlapping type of deck on the lowest portion of a ship. Found on both sailing and steamer ships, this lower deck provides a place to store the usually unruly cables and ropes that are used to tie down cargo, moor the ship at dock and to perform repairs to the ship.
In early ship building, rope and wire cables were used exclusively throughout a ship to not only bind cargo and lash objects to the deck, but to support critical design and build qualities of the ship itself. Ranging in various diameters and lengths, the coils of material were commonly stored on an orlop deck instead of on spools. The orlop deck is commonly subject to dankness and darkness, seepage and poor air circulation. On a warship, the rope and cable stored may be used to tow a captured ship or to create a weapon to disable an enemy vessel.
The upper decks of a ship, especially a warship, are designated for personnel, ammunition and food stuffs. Cargo such as perishables are not particularly safe in the lowest bowels of a ship, however, rope and cable are fine in the harsh environment. Another positive aspect of storing the rope and cable on the lowest deck of a ship and below the water line is that the cable will not easily shift in bad seas and will not disrupt the handling characteristics of the vessel. Wooden ships occasionally used rope to plug leaks in the ship's hull. By storing the rope on the orlop deck, near the bottom of the vessel, it is easily reached when needed for stopping a leak.
A common feature of the orlop deck is that the deck is commonly a partial one. Normally placed in only the rear of the ship under the portion of deck commonly known as the first deck, the orlop is more of a platform raised just above the belly of the ship. More of a shelf than a deck, the orlop deck is basically just an area to keep the cables up and out of the water found in the bottom of the ship.