Skip to main content

How to: Inspecting Your Rig

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:
Rig inspection

With the rig stepped, inspection is not as easy but no less important

Don’t take your rig for granted. Show it some love before you start the season During spring commissioning we often lavish far more attention on our engine and electrics than we do on the rig, even though the latter presents a much greater risk to both the boat and crew. Because standing rigging has so many possible weak points, it’s virtually impossible to work out when any part is about to fail. Therefore, a close inspection should be a mandatory element of your pre-season preps and checks.

It will rarely take more than a couple of hours to complete a detailed rig check, and in doing so there are a number of telltale signs you should look for. While you’re at it, there are several maintenance tasks you can carry out to prolong the life of your shrouds, spar and fittings.

When you’re inspecting your rig, be sure to take an inventory of all the parts and their dimensions, and photograph them. This will help should you ever have rig trouble far from home.

Every few years, you should also unstep the mast to check it over thoroughly at ground level. This makes close inspection of areas like the spreader roots, mast terminals and halyard sheaves much easier.

The mast

With the mast out of the boat, check the sheaves and also the cables and wires for the electrical fittings and antennae

Spar Check

Start rig checks by inspecting the spars, commencing with the mast step and foot. The high compression forces on the mast step can put severe strain on both the T-bar and step, particularly if there is any imbalance in the rig tension. It’s also an area where saltwater can gather in a pool, making it prone to corrosion. Look closely at any rivets around the base and at the mast section for signs of corrosion or cracks.

The gooseneck is a common weak spot on any rig because it has to withstand massive forces in several different directions when you are under sail. Failure can cause considerable damage, especially if it tears itself out of the mast, which will then be severely weakened. I always remove the main pivot bolt. Though it might look OK from the outside, saltwater often drips into and settles inside the guide holes, seriously corroding the bolt just where you can’t see it.

As with all the other mast fixtures, check closely for hairline cracks around the gooseneck fitting—either on the mast or on the fitting itself. This is best done using a dye, which will help make cracks more visible to the naked eye.

The vang fittings are also notoriously weak points on the boom. As these suffer similar stress levels underway, it’s wise to give them the same close inspection as the gooseneck.

At the masthead

Once you’ve done all you can at deck level it’s time to go up the mast, so dig out the bosun’s chair and find a trusted buddy to help. Most masts have integral sheaves that rarely get checked during the season. Remove their axle pins and sheaves to check for bearing wear and any flat spots that might indicate a previous seizure. On reassembly, replace any retaining pins/rings and ensure the sheaves spin freely.

The same goes for external halyard blocks, although you’ll also need to ensure their swivels are rotating freely. Remove shackles, check for wear or distortion, then clean, lubricate and refasten. Mouse the shackle pins with new Monel wire, making sure there are no sharp wire ends to catch the lines or sails.

Next, check the mast fittings where the backstay and forestay connect, ensuring clevis pins are straight and secure. Inspect the area around tang plates and toggle fittings for cracks—these can be microscopic, so use a magnifying glass and dye.

Another common area of rig failure is where the shrouds are secured to the mast. Various connection methods are used, but all should be checked closely for wear, corrosion and cracking. Any sign of wear on T-ball joints (often the indication of an under-tensioned or misaligned rig) means the terminal, socket or both should be replaced. Also look to see if there is any rust or broken wires where the shroud enters the terminal. This will be more obvious if you slacken the tension off the wire and then wiggle the wire about a little.

As you work your way down the mast, check that the mainsail track is clean, straight and well secured, giving it a spray of track lubricant as you descend. Inspect the spreader roots and ends for corrosion or damage, particularly if they have plastic end caps. Also, check to make sure the spreaders aren’t bent or distorted.

Turnbuckles and chainplates

From left: remove any tape on turnbuckles and check for corrosion; make sure split pins are in place and in good shape; rust where the rigging wire enters the terminals is not a good sign

From left: remove any tape on turnbuckles and check for corrosion; make sure split pins are in place and in good shape; rust, where the rigging wire enters the terminals, is not a good sign

Back at deck level, the turnbuckles and chainplates must be closely inspected for cracks, rust, wear or distortion. Worn toggles and clevis pins should be replaced, as should any old split pins/rings. Clean the threads and grease them lightly with Lanocote or Tef-Gel. If the turnbuckles have been tightly taped up, there’s a chance that oxygen restriction will have caused corrosion, so remove these and check for any discoloration.

Next, look up the rig to make sure all the shrouds and stays lead fairly from their mast connections to the turnbuckles and make sure the turnbuckles are all equipped with toggles. Finally, check the chainplates closely for any signs of cracking or distortion. Also, feel and tap around the plate to ensure the deck has not absorbed water and delaminated as a result of poor or dried-up seals.

Retuning the rig

When you’re happy that everything is good, it’s time to retune your rig. If you do it yourself, you should start at the bottom, working your way up from the lowers to the cap shrouds and finally to the stays. Keep the balance equal on each side by counting the turns on each turnbuckle. Do a few turns on one side before going to the other and applying an equal number on the opposite shroud. This way you won’t risk deforming the mast or pulling a fitting out of line. 

Rig Checklist

Check out:

  •  Mast and boom for cracks and corrosion
  •  Spreader roots and ends for damage
  •  Integral masthead and boom sheaves for seizures and flat spots
  •  Corroded or broken shroud wires
  •  Cracked, seized or rusty turnbuckles
  •  Toggles for wear and distortion
  •  Alignment of shroud fittings
  •  Furler and swivel bearings for wear and lubrication
  •  All shackles for wear and distortion; replace mouse wire
  •  Backstay insulator for cracks

Sailing writer Duncan Kent has never yet lost a rig

May 2017

Related

00-LEAD-JB13-RT1169

What's it Like to Sail a Legend?

At 110 years old, the storied pilot cutter Jolie Brise powers off the wind. In 1851, the New York pilot schooner America sailed to England, beat the Brits at their own prestigious yacht race (which came to be known as the America’s Cup), and launched an evolution of the East ...read more

Alexforbes Archangel1-1 (14)

Cape2Rio Draws to a Close

With just four boats still on their way, it has been a long road to Rio for the fleet competing in this year’s Cape2Rio. Larry Folsom’s American-flagged Balance 526 Nohri took line honors and a win in the MORCA fleet, finishing with a corrected time of 18 days, 20 hours, and 42 ...read more

_01-Steve-and-Irene-1

Close Encounters: A Star to Steer By

I first met Steve and Irene Macek in the proper way—in an anchorage full of bluewater cruising boats. This was in St. Georges, Bermuda, in the spring of 2019. Theirs, without doubt, was the most distinctive boat there—an immaculate, three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner ...read more

14_01_230123_TOR_JOF_0414-2048x

The Ocean Race Leg 2 Kicks Off

After a trial by fire start to the race and only a brief stop for limited fixes, the five IMOCA 60 crews in The Ocean Race set off for Cape Town, South Africa, early on January 25. Despite arriving somewhat battered in Cabo Verde, an African island nation west of Senegal, the ...read more

Lead

Cruising: Smitten with a Wooden Boat

I was sailing down the inner channel of Marina del Rey under a beautiful red sunset when Nills, one of the crew members on my boat, pointed out an unusual and unique-looking 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cutter tied to the end of a dock. Its classic appearance was a stark contrast ...read more

Screen-Shot-2023-01-23-at-12.03.19-PM

Racing Recap: Leg One of The Ocean Race

New to spectating The Ocean Race? Managing Editor Lydia Mullan breaks down everything you need to know to get started. ...read more

image00001

From the Editor: Keeping the Hands in Hands-On

SAIL Editor-in-Chief Wendy Mitman Clarke enjoys a sunny autumn cruise in her Peterson 34 on the Chesapeake Bay. It was late afternoon just after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis when I climbed aboard the last boat on the schedule. I and others who review and sail boats for ...read more

P1580711

B&G Announces New Zeus S Chartplotter

B&G has long been putting out top-of-the-line electronics, but the new Zeus S Chartplotter is a new take on the best way to give sailors the exact information they need, when they need it. “So many more people sail shorthanded these days, whether as a couple or when they’re ...read more