When should I consider replacing my standing rigging?

Jeff Asbury

Principal Partner
When should I consider replacing my standing rigging? I have not had a formal rigging inspection done, but I have had a professional rigger tell me that my rig is original. That means that it is over 30 years old on my 1973 E-27. To me the rig looks and seems strong outside of some light rust stains where the stays and shrouds meet the turn buckles. The rigger told me that the standing rigging should be changed on all boats every eight to ten years because the stainless cables get brittle. I would like to hear other thoughts on the matter.


Geoff Johnson

Fellow Ericson Owner
I replaced mine when it was 15 years old. When you consider the possible injury that could occur from losing a mast, it's not something you want to delay.

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Time for New Wires...

This has been discussed a lot in the past on the Ericson list over a Sailnet.com and here as well.
What with most Ericsons being built before 1990, most owners are nowadays facing the same issue.
You might do some searches here on the subject. ("search" icon is at upper right of this page)

We did our '88 boat the summer of 2002. I had a local rigger do the work. At that age, the original electrical stuff and coax in the spar was all at the end of it's lifecycle anyway. The electric wiring was a little undersized, not tinned, and about shot. Some of the lights came off in pieces, as did the antenna.

I had previously found some small cracks in one of the swages, there was corrosion on the wires, and our boat had been sailed hard in salt water for its first 3 seasons, in SF bay.
According to information I compiled from local riggers and from reading up on the subject, a general rule-of-thumb (average use and stress allowed for, whatever "average" is) you replace the rig -- 1) every 15 years in colder climates, 2) 10 years in warmer salt water climates, and 3) as soon as 5 years in hot salty climates.
If you go over 15 years, common for optimists in fresh water climates, you are pushing your luck. But, that's why they call it "luck." :boohoo:

Having been through one dismasting at sea on a friend's boat with a 12 year old rig that had been previously sailed hard in Puget Sound, I am inclined to be conservative.

Compared to the cost of new sails and running rigging, the standing rig is reasonable in cost, although not inexpensive. Taking down the spar for other upgrades is another benefit of this project, anyway. (We also had to machine the scars out of the sheaves from years of wire halyard abuse, for instance.)

Please do not put off this preventative maint. project.
A dismasting can result in death or injury, and, at the age of your rigging, you might even incur some liability (if you live).

My .02 worth,

Loren in PDX
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Sustaining Partner
Keeping it up

Of course, we all want to keep it up as long as we can, but seriously, folks......

Loren is right, as usual. While it true you are on the "back nine" in terms of the expected service life of the rigging, a lot depends on where and how hard the boat has been sailed(as already mentioned).

In terms of inspecting, look at where the shroud wires enter the turnbuckle barrels. If there are any cracks there (or anywhere on the turnbuckle/attachments areas), you must replace them before venturing out in any serious weather. The other obvious place to check is the fittings at the top of the stays and shrouds (again, where the wire enters the fitting).

You can even due a simple die penetration test to expose cracks in the turnbuckles or fittings.

At that age, though, the call is yours!

Safe sailing!

Geoff Johnson

Fellow Ericson Owner
I tend to look at these things (safety items like automobile tires and sailboat rigging) differently. If you expect the rigging to last 10 or 20 years, what's to be gained from waiting until you start to find defects? If you have the money, get the new rigging now and you won't have worry every time you're hit by a gust. In 15 or 20 years you probably won't own the boat, so all you are doing by delaying is giving the benefit to the next owner.

Just my $ .03 (upping Loren's ante).

Jeff Asbury

Principal Partner
Thanks for all the replies.

I acquired this 73' E-27 with a 8hp Yanmar diesel as a reposition without a survey on a as is deal. So I have no history on the boat. I only paid 6,250 for it, but have spend another 8,000 in other restoration costs.

I guess I am going to bite the bullet and get the following done.

Replace all standing rigging including turn buckles

Step the Mast and repaint.

Replace all wiring within the Mast.

And play it safe. I am using it mostly to cruise Catalina and the Channel Islands. The most wind I have had her in was about 25 knots, but I am sure my day will come when I am confronted with much more.

Thanks again to all and Happy Holidays

Jim Baldwin

Member II
One more thing and one more thing...

Hi Jeff:

Just a couple of things to consider while your busy spending more money...

New masthead antenna. (The one with a long attached coax cable which you then run to a splitter for the VHF and AM/FM radios.)

New Windex, (the kind that swivels around the new antenna).

New masthead sheeves or put the old ones on the lathe and re-face them a bit.

New steaming light, (the old one crumbles into dust when you touch it).

All-around masthead anchor light. (I didn't do this but I think maybe I should have).

That's all I can think of except to maybe install a PVC conduit in the mast to keep the wires from slapping around or that good tie-wrap trick I read about somewhere in here.

If you are a real racing nut, you might also want to consider an internal halyard modification to the mast and boom. (Hell no, I didn't do this either.)

Let us know how you make out.


Contributing Partner
Well, I certainly would not want to argue that you should NOT replace your standing rigging. BUT, those guidelines that you read have to be modified a bit for how and where you use your boat.

I keep my boat on the freshwater Great Lakes, where everyone hauls in the winter, and most folks store with the rig down, and a fair number even store indoors (we do). I don't know of anyone hereabouts who has ever replaced their standing rigging, regardless of age.

However, If I were to retire tomorrow and head south I would replace the rigging before the trip.

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Time Flies, yes it does! :eek:
Here we are, about a month away from re-launching after a full re-fit. All New Standing Rig.
Also new coax and new PVC wiring tubes inside. New masthead combo light and new steaming/fore deck fixture, also.
So it's been almost 20 years since the last re-rig. Luckily the same rigger is still here and has built the new rig.
Only failure has been the fore deck light fixture, altho the masthead anchor light lens was eaten up by UV.
The SS halyard (OEM Kenyon part) guide/cage at the top was remounted also. The threaded holes had to be drilled out and rethreaded.
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Member III
You could start with a complete rig inspection. I paid 200 for a complete rig inspection (Bay Area) which included replacing the spreader boots/cleaning the spreaders. No obvious cracks or signs of imminent failure but my rod rig (shrouds only - fore and backstays are wire) is about 13 years old and due to be changed out. Even though the rig looks good, there could be hidden stress cracks. If you lose your rig and nobody gets hurt, a new mast is $$$ and there are only a few companies that are suppling them.


Member III
The rough rule that I’d heard about standing rigging replacement was “every 10 years in salt water, every 20 in fresh.” Naturally, that’s too broad to actually be of much use. My rig, was original in 1985 and I replaced it before the start of the 2019 season – 34 years old. I take my mast down each winter so it’s only actually getting eight months of use. In the winter, the yard wraps it in plastic and leaves it outside in racks. That gives me the opportunity to inspect it closely every Spring – and bother the yard rigger for her opinion which has been that it was good and she saw nothing wrong with it. I replaced it anyway and while installing it, the rigger I hired acknowledged that the old rig had no signs of imminent failure and it could probably go another five years or more. He added, “But it’s time.” Later in 2019, I was on a 3 day single-handed sail and got caught in a Lake Erie thunderstorm with 55 knot winds. I worried about lighting but not my rig coming down. A friend lost his mast in the same storm about 20 miles from me.

It hurt to write that big check to replace something that could have still lasted. But after the rig was up, it took one thing away from my worries. During that thunderstorm, it seemed like a cheap upgrade.


Member II
We had our full rig replaced on our new to us great lakes only 38-200 this winter.
We discussed inspection with the rigger at our yard and his comment was that yes he would inspect it if we really wanted, but at 31 years old he could only recommend replacement.
We switched over to wire with all new fittings and hardware for just over 5K parts and labor. To me, that's a small price to pay for peace of mind and trust in the rig.
We'll see how it all comes together when the mast goes back up this spring.

I also installed a new masthead wind instrument, anchor light, vhf antenna and coax while the mast was down. We may store with the mast up this next winter, depending on yard availability.


Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
When I re-rigged a couple of years ago, I didn't really see much wrong with the parts that I replaced - except a couple of slightly bent turnbuckles. But when I was reassembling the rig (too late to change anything) some of the tangs and toggles on the mast looked pretty dubious. Some of that stuff would probably have to be custom made - it's now 50 years old! But it wasn't on the radar, so to speak, until too late. Next time the rig is down...

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Original rigging should all be replaced. But most of us have a mixture of old and new and here's the way I look at that, for what it's worth and nothing more.

If a rig goes over the side, it was caused by a defect visible to the eye. Debatable? Maybe. But stainless wire "never" parts in the middle like a piece of string. It's the fittings, from chainplates to toggles to turnbuckles to swages and mast connections, many of which differ in design.

We can't x-ray or tech-test the fittings, but we can examine them very closely. One pro rigging inspection teaches you what to look for, and how virtually invisible cracks and corrosion can be. A skeptical eye and a magnifying glass go a long way to getting confidence that your rigging is not a threat.

My anecdotal knowledge includes a large number of obvious issues that were missed. Typically, lee shrouds go a little slack in heavy air. elieve it or not, I know of two boats who had the shroud toggle pins fall out. They tacked, the mast went down (or was about to). Another issue is cracks in chainplates, especially the cold-bent plate that holds the forestay on many Ericsons. That's easy to inspect.

I'm sailor, not a professional rigger, so to sleep at night I have to think I am competent to judge the obvious, and keep an eye on the standing rigging. Much is common sense. One pro rigging inspection is very educational.

Here's typical stuff. I missed the crack on this stemball, because it was on the underside. A rigger knew where to look.

t-bolt crack.jpg
A surveyor found this hairline swage crack. It takes a magnifying glass. Such a crack means immediate replacement of the shroud. Swages are always to be suspect.


Nobody could miss this exterior backstay chainplate. But everybody did, because it's hard to inspect when the boat is in the yard, and takes a dinghy when the boat is in the water.

Chainplate top.JPG...chainplate side.JPG

Aluminum castings tend to rot after 30 years in salt air. Many goosenecks are aluminum. Inspection is easy.

Gooseneck break 1.JPG

Any weld in stainless can be a weak point. Rust is a giveaway. But a little rust on Stainless 504, which Ericson used in the '80s, is often harmless and should wipe away with toilet bowl cleaner or similar.

1-anchor locker lid.jpg

Fittings screwed to the spars routinely come loose over time. Offshore, with the vang under constant pressure, several of these big screws backed off. It's a simple matter to tighten them, perhaps with a dab of screw glue. But you have to look. Same with the roller furling drum and the lower luff sections. Screws back out over time, and need to be tightened. Routine inspection and tightening can head off very expensive repairs.

vang mast fitting Ericson 38.JPG

Can we be aware enough to head off catastrophic rig failure? I think so.


Member III
Blogs Author
When I purchased my E38 I had my rigger do a full top down inspection. As pointed out by Christian above it's not the wire you need to worry about but the fittings like the T stemball, swages, chain plates that are being routinely stressed from sailing. Just like how an aircraft incurs metal fatigue from repeated pressurization/depressurization cycles. My rigging only gets 5 months of sailing as my mast is unstepped each winter and it then gets a full top down inspection.

Guy Stevens

Here is how I sometimes explain it.
Remember that time that you locked yourself out of your car?
You got a coat hanger, you bent it back and forth a few times and it broke so you could straighten it out and pop the lock?
The coat hanger might have lasted through 10 large cycles.
The standing rigging even when you are not sailing, with it sitting at the dock goes through about 1,000,000 cycles in 10 years.
It becomes significantly harder and more brittle over those cycles. (It actually becomes stronger as did the coat hanger).
The brittleness causes it to not be flexible, which it needs to be to move as the boat moves. When it can't move the yarns fracture, then the shroud or stay fails and the mast comes down. This occurs most often at the point that the yarns join the terminal fittings. Some of that is due to increased corrosion do to water entrapment, but even more of the decay is due to end point fixity on a flexible material. (The material is compromised in multiple ways that each increase the compromising of the other ways. Ie, the increase in molecular alignment of nickle atoms from flexing SS decreases the corrosion resistance of the wire, which in turn leads to further degradation in the surface leading to loss of strength and increased crevice corrosion which leads to greater flexing).
Every single manufacture of SS rigging either wire or rod clearly states that the rig is only good for 10 years under ideal conditions.
Now you may be asking why it is that there are a large number of boats that have ancient rigging that hasn't failed yet.
This is because we design rigs with a minimum of a 5x safety factor built in.
So if you have a 20 year old rig you may have a safety factor or less than 1x.
Why the safety factor?
There are a number of things that can happen when we are dynamically loading a system. Exactly a sudden gust of wind and a wave slap could result in a dynamic loading that would be hard if not impossible to calculate, so we design with a safety factor to account for incalculable dynamic loads. The dynamic loads that boats are exposed to is almost a limitless number of variables. An Accidental gybe at exactly the moment of a small gust of wind, with a wave train where the boat falls of of a wave for instance would be difficult if not impossible to model.
There are a lot of these events in a dynamic system, rigging is not the only area where large safety factors are used.
The take away is that old rigs beyond their service dates are dangerous.


Sustaining Member
I've also heard the 10 years of 'average' use guide for standing rigging replacement (with it's usual life-extending caveats), and I've also heard an extension to the rule ... "or one circumnavigation", which reinforces what Guy was describing the number of stress cycles being the key variable. I wonder how many eager, cash-strapped cruisers head off planning to circle the globe without renewing the rig soon before heading out.

Dave G.

1984 EY30+ Ludington, MI
When I re-rigged a couple of years ago, I didn't really see much wrong with the parts that I replaced - except a couple of slightly bent turnbuckles. But when I was reassembling the rig (too late to change anything) some of the tangs and toggles on the mast looked pretty dubious. Some of that stuff would probably have to be custom made - it's now 50 years old! But it wasn't on the radar, so to speak, until too late. Next time the rig is down...
Not sure what year your boat is or what brand of spar but for direct replacement parts Rig-Rite has most everything for Kenyon. They are very pricey though so you may want to look around some.