Every boat owner should inspect the rig of his or her boat once a year. But between these annual surveys, however, the many components of a mast, boom, standing and running rigging should be given a quick check. If this sounds like just another burden to the boat owner, don't despair. Two sailors should be able to complete a rig and deck inspection on an average sloop in an hour or two. And I'd suggest the best time to perform this quick rig check is in mid-season or just before a major cruise.
Half this check consists of an overview of things on deck while the other half involves a trip aloft in the bosun's chair. And just as a precaution, inspect the chair before you or your crew goes aloft and take the time to scrutinize the halyards you'll be using and then review your safety procedures.
Here are things to look for that might cause problems in the rig:
All cordage (that's anything made of line) should be free of snags, knots, and chafed spots. Especially critical are furling and reefing lines, and sheets and halyards. Examine the joints around shackles and wire-to-rope splices if you have those. Wire with broken strands—what sailors call meathooks—should be replaced. And don't neglect seldom-used lines such as the outhaul. If you overlook these areas, it's almost certain that they'll call your attention later at a most inopportune moment.
Broken, bent or balky shackles need to be serviced or replaced. My recommendation is that you also take the time to clead them with a rag and a small amount of metal polish while you're conducting your inspection.
All blocks should turn freely without issuing any noises that indicate undue friction. Take special care to look for checked or cracked plastic sheaves.
Winches should turn easily with a light, even clicking sound.
Even before you go aloft you should stand at a distance off the bow of the boat and note the alignment of the spreaders. On standard rigs, the spreaders are intentionally cocked upwards. If the spreaders on your vessel are drooping or unevenly aligned, you'll need to determine why this is and then correct it. That's good information to have before you go aloft.
At the base of the mast, the sail track on most boats should appear straight and true from aft and both sides. Twists or bends indicate improper tuning.
Bubbles in spar paint or crumbly white aluminum pitting around fittings indicate corrosion forming from trapped moisture or dissimilar metals. Especially critical in this regard is the gooseneck, particularly if there are any winches, cleats, and other fittings are mounted nearby.
The maststep and deck collar should be dry. These areas can degenerate rapidly if water stands inside the mast, so clear the drain hole with wire or a pipe cleaner and seal the area if possible so that it won't collect standing water.
Furling gear should display no undue resistance or emit unusual sounds when turned. Furling line blocks leading aft should offer minimal friction. Flush any hesitant ball bearing blocks with lots of freshwater, and lubricate with an appropriate spray (Harken recommends McLube's Sailkote, and Profurl says its gear doesn't need lubricating because the bearings are "permanently housed in a grease protected by special double lip seals" that ensure water tightness).
Shrouds and stays ought to be free of deep rust pits or broken strands. Look carefully as a broken strand will often lie in place and be difficult to discern right away. Light discoloration that wipes off with your polish rag is of no concern.
Wire terminations, especially swages, should display no unusual rust, swelling, or cracks. Since broken or compromised swages cause most rig failures, use your rag and metal cleaner to get a close look. Bad terminals can be replaced in a few minutes if the proper tools and fittings are on board.
|"Check that all clevis pins are free of corrosion and are the proper size as undersized pins tend to cause accelerated wear."|
Any covers kept on turnbuckles should be easily removed. Use two wrenches to turn each turnbuckle a wee bit, just to ensure that this is possible without too much effort. Bent or frozen parts should be condemned and replaced. And check that all clevis pins are free of corrosion and are the proper size as undersized pins tend to cause accelerated wear.
Damaged or missing cotter pins should be replaced. Tape them to prevent catching unsuspecting sails or skin, but make sure don't tape them in such a way as to trap water. Self-amalgamating tape is a nice touch, but beware of leather as it holds moisture against the metal.
Any lifelines with rust-stained vinyl coating are a clear safety warning. Check the lifeline swage fittings, turnbuckles, shackles, and pelican hooks. Remember that where lifeline wire passes through stanchions is a common spot for wear and tear.
Now, after you've done all that, it's time to go aloft. I find that it's easiest to go all the way up first and then work your way down slowly. You should also check the sail track or groove as you go up. It should be clean and free of rough spots for its entire length. And while you're up there, you'll want to test that the mast-mounted anchor, steaming, foredeck, and spreader lights shine brightly.
Other than the halyard you are using for the bosun's chair, check the operation of the other sheaves for wear and noise. The upper halyard swivel of most furling systems should measure mere inches from halyard shackle to masthead sheave. Alternatively, a halyard diverter should be installed. Failure to observe this can lead to a halyard wrap, and that can break the headstay and ruin your day.
A couple of other things to inspect while you're at the masthead are the wind indicator, the VHF antenna, and other instruments that are mounted atop the mast. The wires from all of these should be protected by rubber grommets where they pass into the mast.
As you work your way down, inspect the shroud tangs, tang bolts, and all wire terminations. These should be more sound than those you looked at on the deck. Again, check that swage fittings, clevis and cotter pins are intact.
Now, few sailors realize how crucial spreader function is to the integrity of the rig. Start by sighting down the spreaders to ensure that they have no bends. Bolts, pins and welds at the inboard spreader roots should not display enlargement or cracks radiating from their base holes. Shrouds passing over the outboard spreader ends must be positively locked in place with seizing wire, bolts or some other mechanical method. If you have discontinuous rigging, check to make sure that the terminals are seated properly. If you find fittings that have had tape on them for some time, check carefully under the tape to ensure that all is well and then retape them.
After that you can head back down to the deck. Once the bosun's chair is stowed, you should be ready to set sail with renewed confidence in the rig.