How to: Inspecting Your Rig

Author:
Publish date:
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

MHS-GMR_3549

New Multihulls 2018

Farrier F-22 New Zealander Ian Farrier ushered in a new genre of sailing with his folding-ama trailerable trimarans, the best-known of which are the Corsair designs. Farrier’s last project before he passed away last year was this sweet little tri. Available in three versions, ...read more

shutterstock_373701682

Cruising: Island Comeback

The U.S. Virgins Islands have surged back from the devastation of the 2017 hurricanes, with new infrastructure plans that will benefit charterers and cruisers alike. After hurricanes Irma and Maria roared through the Leeward Islands in September 2017, it was impossible to ...read more

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more