Simple Rig Checks on Your Yacht

If you own your own yacht you should already have a task list and schedule for regular maintenance items such as periodic servicing of the engine, replacing sacrificial anodes and the like. Amongst these items and, perhaps, top of your list should be regular periodic inspection of your standing and running rigging and deck gear.

What to look for?

In the worst case scenario, failure to regularly check your rig could lead to a dismasting. This is both dangerous and expensive. None of us want to be in that position, but what should we be looking for during a routine, basic rig check?

A Cursory Inspection

The first thing to do is check all shrouds are properly tensioned. To do this accurately you need a rigger to tune the rig properly, but whilst alongside feel the vertical and diagonal shrouds to make sure they aren’t slack. At the same time check the forestay and backstay and then, whilst lying on deck at the foot of the mast, look up and see whether the mast is straight. If it is kinked over to port or starboard you have a problem. 

Check the chainplates and the deck surrounding them both topside and below. Dependant on your type of rig you are expecting to see some ‘rake’ in the mast. That is the induced bend backwards from the top of the mast. If you have adjustable backstays, make sure these are eased off when not in use, just as you would reefing lines or the outhaul.

Check the swathes and connections

The mast is likely held in place by a number of tensioned steel rods or bound steel wires. Check each swathe connection to make sure there is no evidence of corrosion. If a wire is broken you’ll need to arrange to replace that section of the rig. Dependant on the age of your rig and the level of wear, it might be worth replacing the opposing shroud at the same time. 

Where the rig is connected to spreaders, the deck or the mast check that the connectors are in good condition and that all the clevis pins and bottle screws are properly seized and then either bent over and taped (to remove sharp edges) or, even better, blobs of silicon are dabbed onto them.

Check the gooseneck, vang and deck blocks

You should be checking that the bolt holding the boom to the gooseneck is secure and seized and that the same can be said for the vang and deck blocks. Look for stress cracks in the deck around a fitting or in the fitting itself and make sure nothing is bent. If undoing a screw thread to a fitting the thread should undo smoothly. If it undoes unevenly or with great difficulty, the pin may be bent and you should consider replacing it.

Check all sheaves in the mast and boom for damage or wear. 

Any cracked sheaves or sheaves that are not turning freely need to be replaced or freed up as damage to your running rigging and reefing pennants is not far behind. Whilst at the masthead check that all wiring is secured and in good condition and check the windex and masthead lights. Always undertake a proper risk assessment before doing a mast climb.

Check all mast fittings and tracks

A full inspection of the mast (looking for broken rivets or bubbling paint - a sure sign of underlying corrosion) together with the main track and the butt hoist and spinnaker pole and control lines plus the deck mounting and the steaming light and fitting should be an integral part of your regular inspections. Check to make sure the tracks are straight and no screws have come loose. Losing the mast-end of your pole as the track tears off the front of your mast will really spoil your day!

Examine all running rigging

In an ideal world you should regularly wash down all lines with fresh water and allow them to dry before stowing below. Any lines found to be fraid at their ends can be whipped and tidied. Where the cover is worn whipping is also an effective way to extend it’s effective life, but if the line is damaged at its core you might have to either ‘end-to-end’ the line and or shorten it. Of course, the only option may be to replace it.

Allow for failures

It is worth considering the use of soft shackles or spliced spectra strops around things like external spinnaker blocks at the masthead. Consider putting a spectra line through the mainsail clew (in case the outhaul breaks) and the running backstay blocks (if you have them). A significant gear failure, especially on a larger vessel, can cause significant damage to the yacht and crew.

Protect your kite

If you fly a spinnaker or cruising chute make sure that your rig, deck  and guardrails have no sharp points waiting to tear it! The usual culprits are untaped split pins and spreader ends.

Useful Kit for the Job

For periodic rig checks you’ll need access to the following;

  • Climbing harness or bosun’s chair with sack for carrying spares, etc
  • Two trusted winch operators - see mast ascent tips
  • Spare bulbs
  • Clear silicone gel in a tube
  • Insulation tape
  • Split pins
  • Shackle key and pliers (on lanyards)
  • Whipping twine, palm and needles
  • Silicone spray for the mast tracks
  • Binoculars (for deck-based inspections of the shrouds and spreaders)
  • Adjustable spanners
  • Long line with weight (to check mast)

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