Rod Rigging

Question: Our Swan 51 is at Morris Yachts for a mini refit this winter and my plan, in addition to everything else, is to start to replace some of the existing rod rigging. It turns out that the rod is 24 years old. Navtec says it should be replaced every 11 years or 30,000 miles. Based on this information it gives me some concern as we sail the boat between Nova Scotia and the Caribbean on a semi regular basis. I would be interested in your comments on how you manage the rod rigging situation on Morgan’s Cloud.

Answer: It sounds to me like it would be a good idea to replace it all. We replaced all our rod rigging in England after a cold head broke after 100,000 miles and 15 years of use. We had had it all dye tested just a year before, so that is no real protection. Luckily it did not cost us the mast, but it could have. Warren Brown (of War Baby) lost a cold head and the mast south of New Zealand, and although I don’t know how old the rod was, or how many miles, I think it was up around 100,000.

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Dick Stevenson September 18, 2012, 4:35 am

    John, The question of when to change rod rigging based on inspection and or mileage seems to be falling away to be one of purely time. I needed a rigging inspection done for the insurance co. and the riggers in England, upon hearing the age of the rigging, 14 years, basically said they would inspect, but would all recommend replacement based solely on age. When pressed, they ranged from 8-12 years for replacement regardless of use, inspection etc. I know the above question on rod is from 2007, but I am surprised that their insurance co. allowed the rod rigging to get as old as 24 years. My take is that ins. co’s are starting to take the reins in some of these decisions. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John September 18, 2012, 10:46 am

      Hi Dick,

      This rod rigging replacement issue is an interesting one. My feeling is that time is not the best way to measure the replacement cycle since the grade of stainless steel used for rod is so stable that it simply does not degrade much with time.

      I think number of cycle loads or miles used would be a much more useful gauge. My thinking would be that replacement every 50,000 miles would be pretty safe. Having said that, as you say, insurance companies like simple criteria, so I think we will be stuck with 10 years as a replacement period, going forward.

      Although we carefully inspect our rig, out of the boat, every 2-3 years, I agree that inspection is probably of limited use, for the reasons stated in the piece above.

  • John DeLong December 4, 2012, 8:23 pm

    Hello, I found this topic on your site and am most interested in the rod head failures you mention (as we have rod on our cruising boat). Can you provide any additional information: which stay or shroud; on deck or aloft; type of rod (e.g. Nitronic 50); rod size and displacement of boat? When you replaced the rig did you find any other stress or failure indicators? We have heard (indirectly) of rod head failures before but never on a cruising boat (as distinct from a race boat). Did you replace the rigging with wire? Thanks, John DeLong

    • John December 4, 2012, 8:50 pm

      Hi John,

      Wow, anything else you want to know :-).

      I’m not sure any of that would do you any good. Bottom line, if you have over 50,000 miles on it, replace it all. Plenty of cruising boats have had cold head failures on rod–I know of at least three, including our own boat.

      And no, we did not replace with wire. That is difficult or impossible to do since all the fittings on boat and mast are different between rod and wire.

      Nothing wrong with rod, other than the price, and a lot to like, but it does not last forever, as some would have you believe.

      Oh yes, as far as I know, all rod is Nitronic 50.

      • John DeLong December 5, 2012, 3:42 am

        Thanks John,
        There’s lots more I’d like to know!! I’m always looking for more data/info – one reason I like your site. Thanks again for your response. Cheers, John

  • David Home April 8, 2014, 3:30 pm

    Great Lake sailors have a short season — less than 6 months, and sail in fresh water. Do these factors increase the life span of rod rigging? Will insurance companies accept longer service, especially when the mileage would be so much less than boats with 12 month use?

    • John April 9, 2014, 8:33 am

      Hi David,

      I really don’t know for sure about salt and fresh water’s effect on rod rigging longevity. But since rod is made of a very high grade of stainless I think that the issue is much more one of cycle loads than corrosion. So, assuming I’m right about that, the key is the number of miles the rod has done, not the age.

      This seems to be backed up by all the failures I know of that occurred on rigging with well over 75,000 miles on it. Therefore, until I hear some good engineering to the contrary I’m sticking with a replacement cycle of 50,000 miles.

      Whether or not you can convince your insurance company of this I don’t know.

  • Nick Kats April 9, 2014, 6:56 am

    I’m guessing rod rigging, when it fails, is abrupt.
    I understand stainless steel wire also can fail suddenly.
    I understand galvanized wire fails slowly – plenty of time to replace.
    These from what I’ve heard & read.
    Far better to have rigging that fails slowly than suddenly. No anxiety about sudden failure & dismasting, no periodic replacement, can replace individual rigging as needed, can coil & carry spare wire with thimbles & dog clamps.
    Rigging that fails slowly, not suddenly, should be a basic principle for long distance cruisers, I would think.

    • John April 9, 2014, 8:54 am

      Hi Nick,

      I agree, there is a lot to like about galvanized wire.

      And yes, you are right, rod generally fails without warning. Having said that, in rod’s defence it is a very reliable rigging type as long as a sensible replacement cycle is observed.

      Or to put it another way, it’s probably not seamanlike to use rigging made of any material until it exhibits sighs of failure–it should have been replaced before that. And with rod, I think we have pretty good data on when that replacement should take place.


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