The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

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.

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Dick Stevenson

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 DeLong

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 DeLong

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

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?

Nick Kats

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.

Andrew Jefferies

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?


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.



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.

Marc Dacey

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

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

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

Ross Hubbard

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…