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  #1  
Old 09-16-2008
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Standing rigging

What is the lifespan of stainless steel standing rigging. If the boat is 30 years old, does standing rigging that "looks" good need to be replaced? Has anyone had a standing rigging catastrophic failure?

I guess my questions are:

1) What is the rough lifespan of stainless standing rigging?

2) and does it look perfect until it suddenly fails, or will there be signs that is is near failure?
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Old 09-16-2008
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It depends. If the boat has been well maintained, on fresh water, then the rigging might well be fine for daysailing and weekending use. If the rigging has been abused and poorly maintained on salt water, then it is probably well over due for replacement

Also, wire rigging will generally give some warning signs before failing. If you have broken strands, heavy visible rusting, etc, then the rigging is probably trying to tell you something—like REPLACE ME.

Rod rigging, on the other hand, can look perfectly fine but be suffering from microscopic stress cracks and then fail catastrophically with little warning.
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Old 09-16-2008
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How do you "maintain" standing rigging?
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Old 09-16-2008
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I agree with SD on all points, and add that with rigging that old you should pay particular attention to all of the swage fittings for any stress cracks. The 25 yr. old wire on my boat was fine, but one of the fittings had a hairline crack starting that made me decide to replace everything. In terms of maintenance, about all you can do is wash the wire with fresh water from time to time (asuming you are in salt), lube the turnbuckles to prevent galling, and that is about it, I imagine.
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Old 09-16-2008
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Rinsing it off after each sail with fresh water, lubing the turnbuckles, inspecting the rigging on a regular basis, checking the cotter pins, etc...
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Old 09-17-2008
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Stainless rigging has a "fatigue life"; which means that it can only take so many stress cycles before microscopic fractures work through the metal matrix. This has nothing to do with corrosion so even a boat sailed in fresh water can suffer failure due to metal fatigue.

At 30 years old; it's time to consider re-rigging, but if the boat has had very little sailing time it might be OK. On rod rigging it should either be x-rayed, re-headed, or just replaced with either new rod or new wire. With wire rigging it should be thoroughly inspected at all terminals for any broken strands, cracked swages, cracked turnbuckles, or pitting rust that would indicate crevice corrosion. If the wire rigging looks good it is probably OK to sail with it but the first strand that breaks would indicate that it is time to replace all of the rigging. Tangs, bolts, spreaders, chainplates should also be thoroughly inspected or replaced when replacing shrouds and stays.

Light colored rust at the bases of the shrouds generally is not "crevice corrosion"; it is just light discoloration of the stainless at the surface.
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My boat is 28 years old, and I had a rigging survey done earlier this year. The Rigger said the standing rigging was original based on the fittings used, and he specifically looked for cracks and stress at all the fittings. He only found one issue that is scheduled to be fixed soon. He did recommend upgrades to some of it once I get ready for some serious offshore sailing, but most of it was still fine and in very good shape after 28 years. Of course I have only owned it for 2 years, so I don't know how heavily it has been sailed for 26 years of its life.
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Yes, stainless steel has a "fatigue" life, but unlike many other metals—including aluminum and bronze—stainless doesn't start to fatigue unless it is cycled past a certain stress level. If a boat is properly rigged, and not sailed too hard, it may never reach that point.
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Originally Posted by KeelHaulin View Post
Stainless rigging has a "fatigue life"; which means that it can only take so many stress cycles before microscopic fractures work through the metal matrix. This has nothing to do with corrosion so even a boat sailed in fresh water can suffer failure due to metal fatigue.

At 30 years old; it's time to consider re-rigging, but if the boat has had very little sailing time it might be OK. On rod rigging it should either be x-rayed, re-headed, or just replaced with either new rod or new wire. With wire rigging it should be thoroughly inspected at all terminals for any broken strands, cracked swages, cracked turnbuckles, or pitting rust that would indicate crevice corrosion. If the wire rigging looks good it is probably OK to sail with it but the first strand that breaks would indicate that it is time to replace all of the rigging. Tangs, bolts, spreaders, chainplates should also be thoroughly inspected or replaced when replacing shrouds and stays.

Light colored rust at the bases of the shrouds generally is not "crevice corrosion"; it is just light discoloration of the stainless at the surface.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)

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Yes, but at 30 years old; there is either a moderate amount of fatigue or it just needs to be replaced. For rod rigging, without microstructure analysis you don't know if it will fail tomorrow or go another 10 years. For wire rigging, when a strand breaks it is probably time to replace everything (in terms of fatigue).

You can't say that under light loading it won't fatigue because that is only true in terms of a lab experiment. Saltwater exposure (formation of cracks) and concentration of stress at hard spots or bends can significantly increase local stress and therefore reduce the fatigue life. Slack shrouds are a bigger risk for fatigue failure because the wagging adds to the fatigue cycling although it is not a condition of load cycling.

IIRC the age limit in terms of insurance is ~15-20 years; that is when they usually require a re-rig or at least a very thourough inspection to obtain coverage.
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Old 09-17-2008
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Agreeing with the above, and assuming the rigging in question is not the one pictured in your avatar, I can only add that any possible troubles will/should be pointed out to you by the survey you're gonna have done, otherwise follow LittleWingCA's suggestion. :-)
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