Will Your Sailing Rigging Pass This Test?

Here’s another great tip from our friend Capt. John of skippertips.com

Did you know that a tiny piece of rigging the same size and shape as a bobby pin works as hard as the mythical Atlas to hold up your mast and rigging? And most of these pieces of “sailing rigging gold” cost less than $1.00. Read this excerpt from the eBook Sailing Skipper’s Pre-Sail Guidebook for peace-of-mind in any sailing weather.

Take the First Step to Rigging Integrity

Your shrouds, stays, blocks, furling gear, boom vang, and mast and boom fittings rely on one single fitting to hold them in place. If this fails, your rig could crash over the side, a block could slingshot across the deck, or your costly sails could be torn by a sudden unexpected load.

These tiny rigging warriors pin your rigging parts together, just like the nuts and bolts in an automobile. They are under constant load to deal with the stress, strain, and vibration imposed on your rigging as you sail. So who are these champions of your sailboats rigging?

Often overlooked–sometimes with catastrophic results–the common cotter pin leads the pack as the single most important part of your standing rigging. These fasteners can be bought for less than $1 at any nautical hardware store.

Cotter pins come in two varieties–cotter rings and cotter pins. Banish the “key ring” shaped cotter rings from your sailboat rigging for good. They have a nasty reputation of backing out of a fitting from vibration or stress. Carry and install “bobby-pin” shaped cotter pins for strength, durability, and super sailing security.

Make sure that you can see about 1/2″ of the threaded wire rope end inside the turnbuckle body. Replace broken or missing cotter pins right away.

Inspect Your Rigging with Care

Follow this fast, easy inspection to check the most vital parts of your standing and running rigging. Check the turnbuckles and cotter pin integrity on each stay and shroud first. Start at the bow with the headstay. Work your way down the side to the upper and lower shrouds, then to the backstay, over to the other side, then forward to the bow.

Look for dishing, or distortion of the turnbuckle barrel or the stay or shroud end fitting. Once a barrel or end fitting has distorted, it cannot be bent back into place without weakening the damaged area. Do not set sail unless all fittings appear straight and true.

Pay particular attention to the top of each stay or shroud turnbuckle where the end fitting enters the turnbuckle barrel. This area can trap water and develop hairline fractures over time.

Look inside the turnbuckle body (see illustration above). Check for cotter pins on the threaded end fittings. Make sure that you can see about ½” of thread inside the turnbuckle body. Each shroud or stay needs that much threaded end so that you can replace the cotter pins or tune the rigging.

Replace a Cotter Pin the Right Way

Check that each cotter pin has been sized to the hole of each individual fitting, and shaped in the correct way. You need to be able to pull the cotter pin out for replacement, or in an emergency. Follow this easy process:

Five Steps to Replace a Cotter Pin

1. Use a cotter pin that fits snug in the fitting hole.
2. Push the pin into the hole as far as possible.
3. Shorten the legs to 1½ times the fitting diameter.
4. Spread the legs into a “V” shape.
5. Leave the cotter pins un-taped for instant inspection.

If you decide to tape over the cotters on shrouds or stays, use just enough rigging tape to cover the cotter pin (two or three wraps about 1″ wide). This allows easy removal and inspection.

Other sailing rigging fittings with cotters

Make sure you check these common sailing running rigging fittings. Replace all missing or distorted cotter pins. Your sailboat will have additional components not included here. Add to this list as you go through your inspections:

- Furling drums, swivels, and fittings
- Lifeline turnbuckles
- Boom vangs
- Mainsheets
- Traveler control blocks
- Running backstays

Capt. John’s Tip:
Shape cotter pins the right way. Avoid the common practice of bending each leg into a U-shape. This will make the cotter difficult to remove for repair or in an emergency. Instead, spread the legs into a V-shape to hold the pin in place. Now you can change out any cotter pin fast and easy!


Now you know the first step to inspect your standing rigging for integrity and worry-free sailing. Pass along these simple sailing tips to your sailing crew or partner for sailing safety–wherever in the world you choose to sail or cruise!

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