Q&A: Rod Rigging Replacement

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.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

22 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Sep 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 Sep 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 Dec 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 Dec 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 Dec 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 Apr 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 Apr 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 Apr 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 Apr 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.

  • Andrew Jefferies Jan 9, 2015, 10:29 pm

    Any thought on how you count boat age for northern boats that are only in the water 1/3 of the year? I recently bought a C&C Landfall 38 and I’m trying to judge the effective age of the rod rigging. The boat is 32 years old but only sailed near shore in summers. I was thinking that I should have a few seasons before replacing the rod and plan on replacing in 5 years before heading out long term cruising. Maybe that is overly optimistic?

    • John Jan 10, 2015, 12:11 am

      Hi Andrew,

      I moved your comment to this post, in which we discussed the rod rigging issue in some depth.

    • John Jan 10, 2015, 11:53 am

      Hi Andrew,

      As I say in the post above, I think that replacement cycle for rod should be driven more by miles sailed than years, so your rod may only have say 10 years of use on it and way less than 50,000 miles.

      On the other hand, if the boat was stored mast in for all those winters there may have been hydraulic loads imposed on the cold heads by water freezing and thawing. (The cold head process results in vertical cracks in the head itself. These are not dangerous in and of themselves, but I do wonder about how said cracks may be stressed by freezing water.

      On balance, if it were me, I think I would go with your plan if the boat was stored mast-out and the mast covered, but replace if the boat was stored mast in.

      The other thing you may want to do is check with your insurance company. I suspect they might try and get out of paying a claim if you were dismasted due to a failure in 32 year old rod.

      • Andrew Jan 10, 2015, 7:33 pm

        Thank John, makes sense to me. Good point about the insurance. Something to check into.

        I’ve heard there is a place in Halifax that tests and replaces rod rigging but I imagine that any company that does stainless fabrication could point me to a qualified tester closer.

        • John Jan 10, 2015, 7:45 pm

          Hi Andrew,

          I have never heard of such a testing service in Halifax, or anywhere else for that matter. If you find one, please post here, I’m all ears.

          Having said that, I’m not convinced of the efficacy of testing, but I’m open to being convinced if the argument is compelling enough and my insurance company is willing to buy it.

          • Andrew Jan 12, 2015, 4:50 pm


            I talked to the folks at North Sails. I guess that they don’t actually do the service in Halifax. They provide a large rigging bag (5′ diameter pizza box was the description) and send it to Oakville Ontario for testing/replacement.

            I think I’ll start the replacement next fall when the mast comes down for winter storage. (It was stored up this year) No sense tempting fate.

          • John Jan 13, 2015, 12:25 pm

            Hi Andrew,

            Did they tell you what they actually do to test the rod. If it is just dye testing I would not trust it so I think you are making the right call replacing.

        • Marc Dacey Jan 10, 2015, 10:05 pm

          After 32 years, the rig owes the sailor nothing, even in the seven months on, five off, freshwater Great Lakes environment. Rod rigging failures, at least in terms of the C&Cs I’ve heard having them, can be dramatic and expensive. So were I you, I would skip the testing, take off the rod to save as “emergency spares” (like a forestay, perhaps), and either rerig with new rod or go to wire or even PBO if you race. I replaced my standing rigging on my ’70s 33 footer in 2013 after 39 years, because *it had been 39 years*. I didn’t care to play the odds, and I can recycle the wire elsewhere on a bigger boat. My Merriman turnbuckles, on the other hand, are still in service, and your toggles and ‘buckles and bits might be as well if you decide to stick with rod rigging.

  • David Lyman Jan 12, 2015, 2:27 pm

    My Bowman 57 (SEARCHER) had rod rigging. It was at least ten years old when I went through a “refit” prior to a year’s cruise to and through the Caribbean. Jay Melone, the rigging guy here in Maine, and the only one qualified to do rod, suggested, and I agreed ( with the advise of Henry Washburn, the chap who designed that particular Hood mast and rig), that re-heading the rod was the best solution, as rod seldom (never) breaks except at the terminals. So, Jay cut off the old ends, replaced on the old turnbuckles, re-headed the rod, and installed new screws to take up for the missing rod, and we went to sea. That was 2009.
    The rig is still upright, last I heard and that was a few years ago.

    Rod is stronger than wire, less prone to deterioration, but is less serviceable world-wide, whereas wire and Norsemen fitting are easily obtained anywhere, and can be self-installed, even at sea.

    My rig was over build as the boat was bought for the Marion to Bermuda race.

    David Lyman
    Offshore Passage Consultant
    SeaArcher LLC
    73 Mountain Street
    Camden, ME 04843

  • Bill Koppe Jul 11, 2015, 5:46 am

    Hi John,

    Working on designing the rig for my 60t ketch..
    The calculated loads are marginal for the largest wire ie 26mm and I am looking at duplex stainless steel the not only is 3 times the strength but is far superior in fatigue testing, done for hydraulic lines in mining. It is simple to weld end fittings to the rod, and the saved weight aloft as well as the windage reduction make the problem of galvanic action with aluminium worth solving with insulators. Bill

    • John Jul 11, 2015, 12:25 pm

      Hi Bill,

      I’m afraid I have no clue about whether or not that’s a good idea. Having said that, my rule is never use anything on an offshore boat that has not been in general use on offshore boats for at least 20 years. No matter how good the engineering seems to be, the law of unintended consequences lives just a few miles offshore. More here.

      I was also under the impression that nothing in the rig chain of integrity that is made out of stainless steel should be welded.

      I assume when you say that wire is not strong enough, you are referring to wire with terminals that will fit your chain plates? (I have seen wire rigging on much bigger boats.) If so, you might want to look at Dyform wire, or failing that proven rod rigging from Navetc.

      Further, don’t worry about isolating the wire from the chain plates. Just use Tefgel on the pins and all will be well.

  • Ross Hubbard Nov 7, 2016, 12:58 pm

    Best source for information about rod rigging is Navtec. [Update 2019: Navtec is no longer in business.]

    They also are very helpful answering questions about their product and I refer my clients to them all of the time.

    One of the issues that folks often don’t consider is the cycling of the rod (or wire) while the mast is up, boat at dock, causes wear, it’s not just sailing that wears the rigging.

    I always find that its best to go to the source, the manufacturer, for the best information and after all, they hear about their product failures so their guidelines are solid.

    Of course I told that same thing to a client recently and they said, sure, they just want to sell more rigging which is amusing…


Only logged in members may comment: