Select Page

In part two of Sail boat rig checks we run through some useful rig maintenance tips and then finish with a brief look at what a professional rig check involves.

A big part of rig maintenance is about keeping corrosion and metal fatigue at bay. This means understanding why the marine environment shows no mercy to the rig’s components and what you can do to protect them.

Note:

  • Stainless steel rigging should not be left in contact with an aluminium mast when it is unstepped in order to avoid galvanic corrosion.
  • Routine cleaning of stainless steel components should be done throughout the year.

Mast, Spreaders, Rigging

Standing rigging

  • As well as rinsing with fresh water to remove salt, it is a good idea to clean everything with a cloth and polish out any surface rust spots – ideally when the boat is ashore.
  • Any traces of rust should be removed and the area inspected for hairline cracks or signs of damage to the metal. Use stainless steel cleaners only as some cleaners contain chlorine which destroys stainless steel. Don’t use wire wool as this can leave tiny particles in the rigging which will rust.
  • If corrosion has gone deep and cannot be removed by polishing, the part should be replaced.
  • Clean the rigging screw threads using a degreasing solvent – an old toothbrush is ideal for this. Dry the threads and then lubricate with rigging screw oil.
  • If a single strand of wire has failed, then the shroud or stay should be replaced with a new one. It is good practice to replace wires in pairs, so for example if one cap shroud has failed, then the opposite one must be replaced as well.
  • Don’t wrap rigging terminals in tape as this deprives stainless steel of oxygen and causes corrosion.

Mast and boom – anodized

  • Rinse the mast and boom with fresh water, then wash with liquid detergent. Rinse off thoroughly with fresh water to remove all traces of saltwater and detergent, not forgetting the inside of the mast as well.
  • Flush the sail track and slides to remove salt crystals and lubricate them with track lubricant – some people use vaseline.
  • Remove and grease the screws of the boom outboard end-fitting.
  • Coat all aluminium surfaces and cast metal parts with paraffin oil or wax to seal and preserve the surfaces.

Mast and boom – painted

  • Carry out the same maintenance as with an anodized mast and boom.
  • Use coatings which are suitable for use on aluminium and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If you drill holes into a painted mast, there is a high probability that corrosion will spread under the paint which will cause To prevent this happening ensure that fittings are properly bedded down onto the mast with mastic type sealant. If there are an exposed edges, these must be protected with a suitable primer and top-coat.

Masthead

  • Clean and inspect the masthead sheaves. Check they run freely and that the bearings are in good order. Then lubricate them with a light machine oil.
  • If they are badly worn then replace them. Also check the retaining pins are secure.

Roller furler, rigging, furling foresail

Roller-furling maintenance

Lubricate roller-furling gear according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Maintenance is normally straightforward, even when a furler is rigged on the boat:

  • Wash and rinse the furling system with fresh water and a mild detergent to remove dirt and salt.
  • Polish the luff extrusions with silicon-free polish or wax. This prevents dirt from staining the sail.
  • Clean and polish any stainless steel components.
  • Halyard leads should be inspected for wear and any sharp edges should be filed smooth. Halyard leads need to be replaced when wear reaches 50%.
  • The bearing assemblies need to be lubricated with grease. Getting access to these is normally possible via greasing holes.
  • Grease the halyard swivel which may have an upper and lower bearing.

Wooden masts and booms

It is no secret that varnished wooden spars require a lot of maintenance. Even the best quality varnishes are unlikely to last two seasons given their exposure to the sun and ultraviolet, especially in hotter climates. For this reason, some wooden spars are painted on the upward facing surfaces, particularly spreaders. In some cases the whole mast may be painted. While a painted mast may not be as attractive to look at, it can last up to 5 years before needing to be repainted.

As soon as varnish begins to crack and peel, then moisture can penetrate the wood beneath leaving a telltale dark stain which unless dealt with can quickly cause rot to develop.

Tips:

  • Little and often maintenance is the best way to look after wooden masts.
  • Repair any rot damage as soon as it appears.
  • Rub back old varnish and apply new coatings where necessary.

Wooden mast repairs

Most wooden masts and booms are usually hollow and typically are constructed in a series of sections that are connected together by scarf joints to form the finished box shaped spar. A scarf joint comprises two tapered pieces of wood that are glued together.

Being hollow, wooden spars are susceptible to rot from both outside and inside. The outside is visible of course and can be easily checked, but the inside is hidden from view and if the wood begins to rot from the inside then this can be very bad news. Consequently all hollow wooden spars need to be treated internally to protect them from rot. This means gaining access periodically and treating the insides with rot proofing fluid.

Major repairs to a spar damaged by rot

An area of damaged or rotten spar can be repaired but it is usually a specialist job unless the repair is very minor. You need excellent woodworking skills and the know-how to make tight fitting scarf joints, access to the best quality timber, a large workshop with good supports for the mast while it is being repaired and plenty of clamps to grip the repaired area as it glues.

Running rigging

As soon as the boat is ashore in the boatyard one of the first things I do is remove most of the running rigging and take it home for cleaning, then dry and store it for the winter. While rinsing blocks and lines in fresh water regularly during the sailing season is a good idea, if they are left unattended dirt and salt easily gets ingrained into rope fibres and blocks, shortening their lifespan and making them unpleasant to use.

Mast, Rigging

How to wash ropes:

  • Before removing the standing rigging, I take photos of all of it in situ and especially which block goes where. Also label all the major components to remind you where everything goes when you rig the boat again at the beginning of the season. This saves a lot of head scratching.
  • Replace the halyards with mousing lines. I put all the ropes in an old sail bag and the blocks in a plastic box and then take them home.
  • Check all the halyard ends are properly sealed or whipped before cleaning them.
  • New rope should not be washed, a light scrubbing with a brush is ample.
  • Soak older ropes in warm water and a mild detergent for at least an hour. A bath or large, deep sink is best.
  • Heavily soiled ropes can be cleaned in a washing machine but care needs to be taken when doing this. Rope ends need to be whipped and stitched or fused to stop them from fraying. Ropes should be coiled tightly and any spliced shackles should be covered with old socks to protect the machine and ropes.
  • Put the ropes in mesh laundry bags or pillowcases, tying knots in the ends.
  • Use a mild detergent or fabric softener and a gentle cycle.
  • Leave rope to dry slowly and never use excessive heat as the core and sheath will shrink differently, causing the rope to be distorted and weakened.

Warning:

  • Do not use strong laundry detergents as marine ropes have coatings which protect them from uv radiation and abrasion. Do not use bleach as this significantly reduces a rope’s breaking strength.
  • Tests have shown that machine washing a rope is to be avoided as splices come undone and the core of double braided lines gets pulled out by the wash cycle action.

Maintenance of blocks

Blocks need the minimum of maintenance. Simply rinse in hot soapy water to remove salt and greasy deposits. If they remain stiff after cleaning then some light lubrication with WD-40 may help but shouldn’t be needed.

mast gooseneck

Professional rig inspection

Every five years or so, depending on usage and the mast manufacturer’s recommendations, a full professional rig inspection of a sail boat needs to be carried out.

A professional rig inspection will comprise a visual inspection, sometimes aided by ultrasound tools, dye penetration testing, or x-rays, which reveal surface flaws not visible to the naked eye. The full inspection will look for items such as cracks in rigging components, misalignment of stays and corrosion. A written report will record observations and any work carried out to help with future inspections.

Tip:

  • Keep a maintenance log of your boat’s rig. This should include details of inspections, replacement parts, wire sizes and expenditure so that at a glance you can be aware of what is likely to need doing and when and what the costs should be.

Boat batteries

Under-sized battery banks are one of the key factors behind power failure at sea, as well as the premature failure of batteries, so make sure that your boat battery measures up to the use you want to put it to.

Pre-start engine checks

According to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) almost one third of emergency call outs at sea are caused by mechanical failure. Many engine breakdowns are avoidable. The best way to avoid a breakdown is to carry out pre-start checks before heading out to sea.

Rudders and steering systems – Part 3

In the third of our three blog articles on rudders and steering systems, we look at how to replace rudder bearings and repair a water-saturated core.

Competent crew skills: mooring lines

Mooring lines are used when arriving or leaving a berth. One of the most important competent crew skills is to know how to...

Essential yacht tender safety for skippers and crew

Essential yacht tender safety - the dangers inherent in using a dinghy to get ashore from a moored or anchored yacht are all too easily...

Propeller care and maintenance

Propellers are complicated and repairs should be done by specialists but owners can carry out checks and some routine maintenance themselves when the boat is in the boatyard. A propeller is critical to a boat’s performance, fuel consumption and ride, so it makes sense to keep a propeller in good working order.

Antifouling for leisure boats – Part 2

To prepare for antifouling, as soon as your boat has been lifted out and pressure washed, you need to check all the surfaces of the hull below the waterline, remove any remaining barnacles and check for blisters.

Avoiding collisions at sea – how to stay safe on the water

Boats have many blind spots, including the headsails of sailing boats. Always keep a lookout, stay safe and remember that...

Liferafts

Liferafts should be stowed where they are ready for immediate launching. All crew should know the location of the liferaft and know how to launch, inflate and board it. They should also know what equipment it contains.

Sector lights, directional lights, leading lights – how do they differ?

Sector lights, directional lights and leading lights guide vessels safely through hazardous waters or narrow channels at...

VHF DSC radio – how best to communicate at sea

There are many ways to communicate with others at sea. What makes the VHF DSC radio the best form of short range...

Rewiring a boat – overcoming the challenges involved

Skippers need to have a basic knowledge of boat electrics, to avoid potential problems and to be able to solve them when they happen.

The VHF DSC Radio jargon buster

AIS - Automatic Identification System This system is used by shipping. It allows another vessel or coast station to use...

Understanding marine sealants & adhesives

Sealants, adhesives and adhesive sealantsThere is a bewildering variety of sealants, adhesives and even adhesive sealants available for...

Repairing chips and dings in gelcoat

The gelcoat topsides of a GRP boat can be pampered and restored to their former glory relatively easily when it is ashore. Gelcoat is only a very thin outer layer of the hull, often less than 1mm thick, so you should avoid cleaning it with highly abrasive cleaners, or an-ything that could potentially damage its surface.

Sailing into fog – being prepared and staying safe

Most skippers will sensibly delay their departure, if fog is forecast. However, if fog begins to form when you are at sea it is important to be prepared, and know what precautions to take, to help make your vessel detectable or visible in fog and keep the crew safe.

Fire safety advice at sea from the Marine & Coastguard Agency

Fire safety advice for boaters Top fire safety advice at sea: 1. Fit smoke alarms, carbon monoxide and gas detectors 2. Turn...

ColRegs Nav Lights & Shapes, Rules Of The Road and IALA Buoys Apps

ColRegs Nav Lights & Shapes, Rules Of The Road and IALA Buoys Apps Make Learning Rules on iPhone, iPad, iPod and Android...

Antifouling for leisure boats – Part 1

Boats that are kept afloat can very quickly become a home for small marine organisms such as barnacles, weed and slime. Applying an antifouling paint to your hull is necessary to protect it from these micro-organisms, as a fouled hull can cause problems and will slow down a boat’s maximum speed considerably if left unchecked.

First Aid Afloat – fish spine injury

First Aid Afloat - Here is what to do if somebody stands on a fish spine: • Check for dangers. Is it safe for you to enter...

Passage planning and pilotage

Passage planning and pilotage help skippers navigate safely from one port to another. A passage plan takes into account all...

Keeping boat records and doing checks

A boat’s records should provide information about maintenance schedules, when major work was done and when equipment was replaced or added to the boat. Without this information you are left guessing when things are likely to need replacing in the future and also what the costs are likely to be.

Passage Planning Advice & Safety for skippers

Passage planning helps you to: • Decide where to go • Calculate how long it will take to get there • Avoid bad weather •...

Boat engine fuel system

If engines are installed and serviced correctly then most marine engines are very reliable, but one of the most important parts of the engine to check and service is the fuel system.

Boat Handling – anchoring

Anchoring your yacht or motorboat Anchoring is one of the most important boat handling skills. If you can set an anchor...