Sails

Rigging Inspection

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Mike Allen of Beaufort, South Carolina, asks:

"My standing rigging is 22 years old. It seems to be in good shape, but there is some oxidation and discoloration. Is there an ultraviolet penetrating dye that can be used to inspect standing rigging, chainplates, turnbuckles and other hardware? If so, do you know of any vendors?"

Win Fowler replies:

A penetrating dye is a useful tool for finding otherwise invisible cracks in metal. The most likely trouble spots are lower-end swage fittings, but all swages, chainplates, clevis pins and turnbuckles should be inspected. You can get a kit for doing this (Spotcheck penetrant is one brand), which you can find online or at an industrial supply vendor like W. W. Grainger (grainger.com). The kits are not cheap and contain noxious ingredients in quantities larger than you’ll need for a lifetime of boating. You may be able to find a professional rigger who can do the test for less than you’ll pay for a kit. This will also save you from the chemical exposure.

Unfortunately, the cracks that these dyes find are not the only potential failure points in an old rig. Internal corrosion, poor swaging, work hardening and wire misalignment can all lead to rig failure without showing visible cracks. Industrial X-ray machines can find most of these problems, but the process may be comparable in cost to replacing your rigging.

After 22 years, I would seriously consider just going ahead and replacing everything as preventive maintenance. The generally accepted lifespan of standing rigging is 10 to 15 years. Ask your insurance company whether you can save on your premium by completely replacing your rig. This might ease the pain considerably.

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