How often should my mast and rigging be inspected?
Have your rigging inspected at least once a year and just before any major trip.
How often should my rigging be tuned?
If you are strictly cruising, tuning your rig once a year is usually sufficient. If you notice that you can point higher on one tack than on the other, it’s time for a tune. If you are racing, you will want to tune your boat before each race.
How often should my winches be cleaned?
You should clean and grease your winches at least annually. Lewmar recommends maintenance twice a year. If you hear a squeaking, grinding or unusual noise, inspect the inside of the winch. Clean, grease and replace any damaged parts. Use a toothbrush to apply a thin coating of grease on all surfaces, except the springs, pawls and pawl sockets. The pawls and springs should be oiled with light machine oil that will not react with salt water. We recommend Lewmar RaceLube. When you clean your winches, it is a good practice to replace the springs. They are important and inexpensive. Always use good salt-water stable grease. We recommend Lewmar Gear Grease. It is made from calcium sulphonate. It’s not the least expensive, but it is a superior product.
When should I get new standing rigging?
The stays and shrouds hold your mast in the boat. They all should be in good condition and maintained regularly.
If you have wire rigging, the general industry recommendation is every 10 years. We begin watching wire rigging very closely at that time and usually recommend replacement as the wire ages. Rigging wears out in fatigue cycles. If your boat stays in the marina the entire summer and is never sailed, your rigging is working and fatiguing. If you winter-store your boat with the mast up, your rigging is working and fatiguing. If you race your boat, your wire will fatigue at a faster rate. If your boat is in a warm saltwater environment, you will most likely need to replace your rigging more frequently. The answer to this question requires judgment.
If you have rod rigging, the general industry recommendation is around 15 years, however, the usage pattern is an important factor as well. Some rod manufacturers recommend replacement based on miles. The same fatigue process is at work with rod. It is difficult to judge what is going on inside a piece of Nitronic 50 rod. Usually this type of rigging fails at the rod heads, which is why they should be inspected regularly. The heads can be dye tested to look for signs of cracking. Often, we inspect them with a hand held microscope. Rod heads can also be X-Rayed in search of cracks. All these methods tell you the status at that moment. There is no guarantee that during the next sail a rod head won’t crack. The answer of when to replace rod is individual to your situation and usage pattern.
When you think about your standing rigging, give it the same importance that you give the brakes on your car. You want to get a good, long useful life, however, you should replace your brakes before they fail. The same is true for your rigging.
When do I need new lifelines?
Lifelines are an important piece of safety equipment. They are your last chance to stay aboard as you are falling. Most lifeline wire is 7×7 stainless steel wire coated with white vinyl. When you see circular cracks in the coating and rust is starting to bleed out, it is time. Likewise, should you see cracks in any of the fittings or signs of significant wear, it is an indication they should be replaced. The last set of Ocean Racing Conference regulations stipulated uncovered (no white covering) lifelines. As a result some of the newer boats have uncovered lifelines. The uncoated wire is more abrasive on the sheets and the sails as they cross over the lifelines. Resist the temptation to tape on a split vinyl cable cover (like the covers used on shrouds). This is dangerous because should you grab this area when falling overboard, it will peel off in your hand.
When do I need to change my running rigging?
It’s all about chafe. When chaffing or abrasion threatens to break through the cover of the line, you should consider replacing the line. Sunlight makes the fibers of the outside cover become brittle over time and they begin to break down. Likewise, sometimes green or black growth can be seen in lines, this is mold and bacteria. They cause the fibers to become weakened and the line can break unexpectedly.
If you have halyards that are wire to rope or all wire halyards, look for wear in the braided structure and broken strands (what we call “meat hooks”). This fraying is an indication that the halyard should be replaced. A wire halyard is much heavier than an all rope halyard. Reducing the weight aloft provides significant racing improvement and frequently club racers replace halyards for this reason. The current fibers such as: VectranT, TechnoraT, SpectraT, DyneemaT, etc. are very strong, extremely low stretch and perform very well. Many of these fibers are as strong as 7×19 stainless steel wire. Hi-tech rope halyards are an excellent choice. When changing from a wire halyard to a rope halyard, it is important to inspect the sheaves. The existing sheaves must be wide enough to accept the line and the splice. The sheaves must be smooth without burrs or rough areas.
If you have all rope halyards, look at the splice, the area of the halyard that rests on the masthead sheave when the sail is up. Inspect the rope clutch area of the line for signs of chaffing and slippage. If there is significant chafe at the shackle splice or masthead areas, it may be possible to splice the shackle on to the other end. When you replace your halyards, it is a good idea to make them about 5′ longer than necessary. It will save you money and time in the long run.