How much rust is too much? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 27 Old 05-18-2014 Thread Starter
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How much rust is too much?

I just started taking off the very hard plastic covering the lifelines on my 1988 Freedom, which I'm pretty sure are all original. There is some rust but I'm not feeling any fraying on the lines. Just wanted to know what's the point at which it's recommended that they be replaced. Also, I've noticed larger diameter lifelines on newer boats. What's the current recommended sized? I plan to stick with stainless rather than spectra or something else. I would like to get some opinions before I start ordering anything. Thanks!
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post #2 of 27 Old 05-18-2014
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Re: How much rust is too much?

Look most carefully at the end fittings (normally swaged). Rust causes swelling, and can cause the fittings to crack - and therefore be on the verge of failure. A magnifying glass may help; some people use a black dye to highlight cracks (I have not yet tried that).

Meathooks - small broken strands - are another reason for immediate replacement.

After that - if all the end fittings are solid, and the wire has no broken strands - the answer generally depends on your usage of the boat. If you are going offshore, the general recommendation is "if in doubt replace them" whatever the "them" may be. At the other extreme, a fair-weather lake sailor, you may decide to leave it a bit longer.

And photos always help!! :-) Good luck
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Re: How much rust is too much?

Any visible rust is indicative of real problems since it indicates that water and salt have penetrated into the steel further than just the surface. It may be fine, but the not way to know for sure is to x-ray it. Recommended replacement intervals are every 10 years for uncoated wire, and immediatly for coated (or previously coated) wire.

The current minimum dimensions for lifelines are dependent on the size of the boat, while I disagree with this method and recommend the largest size period.


under 8.5 m (28ft).....3 mm (1/8 in)
8.5m - 13 m..............4 mm (5/32 in)
over 13 m (43 ft).......5 mm (3/16 in)

The only two acceptable options are either uncoated wire, or dyneema (preferably Dynex Duc). I highly recommend doing with dyneema over stainless, but if you are positive then go with 3/16" 316 or 316L uncoated stainless.


You can find more information at ISAF Special Regulations
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post #4 of 27 Old 05-19-2014
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Re: How much rust is too much?

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Originally Posted by Stumble View Post
Any visible rust is indicative of real problems since it indicates that water and salt have penetrated into the steel further than just the surface. It may be fine, but the not way to know for sure is to x-ray it. Recommended replacement intervals are every 10 years for uncoated wire, and immediatly for coated (or previously coated) wire.

The current minimum dimensions for lifelines are dependent on the size of the boat, while I disagree with this method and recommend the largest size period.


under 8.5 m (28ft).....3 mm (1/8 in)
8.5m - 13 m..............4 mm (5/32 in)
over 13 m (43 ft).......5 mm (3/16 in)

The only two acceptable options are either uncoated wire, or dyneema (preferably Dynex Duc). I highly recommend doing with dyneema over stainless, but if you are positive then go with 3/16" 316 or 316L uncoated stainless.


You can find more information at ISAF Special Regulations
Could you please explain to me why anyone would use smaller lifeline wire on a smaller boat? I doubt the weight of the people on a smaller boat would be significantly less than those on a larger boat, so what advantage is there in having wire too weak for your average person's weight, on a smaller boat or much too strong on a larger one.

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Re: How much rust is too much?

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Could you please explain to me why anyone would use smaller lifeline wire on a smaller boat? I doubt the weight of the people on a smaller boat would be significantly less than those on a larger boat, so what advantage is there in having wire too weak for your average person's weight, on a smaller boat or much too strong on a larger one.
Not a clue. I think going smaller is pretty stupid, but those are the recomendations.

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post #6 of 27 Old 05-19-2014
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Re: How much rust is too much?

Presumably it's down to the number of crew likely to be hanging on them when up on the rail, bigger boat, more crew, more weight.

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post #7 of 27 Old 05-19-2014
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There is nothing wrong with replacing coated wire with coated wire. You have a cruising boat and the quoted recommendations are for racing boats in races. By just stripping the plastic coating you will find the wire is murder on wet hands. Keep with plastic coated it looks and feels better, just change it if rust appears.
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post #8 of 27 Old 05-19-2014
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Re: How much rust is too much?

I'd replace them but keep the plastic coating away from the end fittings.

About 8 years ago, I was considering replacing the standing rigging on my 20+ yr old boat. I bought some of that fluorescent dye that is s'posed to show cracks and it showed nothing. Then I read an article in the BOAT US insurance mag "Seaworthy" about how to inspect rigging. I took a 10X loupe and found splotches of rust on the fittings and then used fine sandpaper to remove the rust over them. I was amazed to find tiny cracks. I replaced all the rigging.

I kept the cracked rigging because I wanted to do an article on this topic but never got around to taking the pics. Maybe I'll go find that rigging out in my yard somewhere and do it now.
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post #9 of 27 Old 05-19-2014 Thread Starter
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Re: How much rust is too much?

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There is nothing wrong with replacing coated wire with coated wire. You have a cruising boat and the quoted recommendations are for racing boats in races. By just stripping the plastic coating you will find the wire is murder on wet hands. Keep with plastic coated it looks and feels better, just change it if rust appears.
This is true, however, I race my boat and need to have uncoated wire for the offshore stuff. Stripping the wire was going to be my first step. I was just surprised at how much rust I'm seeing. A friend who is doing the same on a newer boat has shiny wire. Before I started taking the coating off, there had been slight discoloration at the swage fittings, which was worrisome, but I didn't expect there to be as much rust as there is all along the wire. I pretty much knew my lifelines needed to be replaced once I saw their condition. Thought I'd ask the question and see what great info I could glean from the answers. I always have gloves on so how it feels is not a strong argument for me. Since I short-hand and single-hand, no one is hanging off the lifelines either (ugh). Truth be known, I actually dig the look of bare SS.
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post #10 of 27 Old 05-19-2014 Thread Starter
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Re: How much rust is too much?

Frogman, thanks for the info. I had to Google "loup". In field work, we call it a hand lens. No matter, this is a great idea and would be much better than those plastic magnifying lens that I now have. It's also my new word for the day
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