The Dangers of Storing With The Mast Stepped


We are in the process of readying Morgan’s Cloud for out-of-the-water winter storage, and tomorrow’s fun job is to go up the mast and strip all the fragile gear that could be damaged when we unstep said mast.

And then of course there is all the work involved in slacking off the rig and disconnecting all the wiring, etc., not to speak of the pain of breaking the tune we did just a few months ago. Then once the rig is out, the considerable work of readying it for storage will start.

Of course the really depressing thing in all of this is that we get to reverse the process in just five months. Well, if you can’t take a joke, I guess you shouldn’t live in Nova Scotia where winter is, shall we say, aggressive…and long too.

(The reasons we haven’t just got aboard and headed south are the subject for another post.)

It would be so very tempting to leave the mast in the boat. And more and more sailors seem to be doing that. But I think that’s a mistake.

Fall Risk

The first reason we don’t like storing mast-in is the obvious risk to the boat from falling over in a storm. Further, I think that this happens much more often than many sailboat owners realize. The combination of the huge leverage of a tall mast on a boat balancing on a deep keel is just inherently unstable. (I envy the owners of French lifting keel boats like Ovnis and Boréals who don’t have this worry.)

And there is another danger lurking that can, when in cahoots with the above, spell disaster: the freeze and thaw cycle that is so common in many maritime climates, which causes the ground to heave under the boat.

This danger is often under-appreciated, but if you don’t believe me, try this test. After about a month of hard winter weather, visit the yard where your beloved boat is stored and check compression on each jackstand. You will be amazed: some stands will be so tight that you won’t be able to budge the handles on them and others will be loose and show light between the pad and the boat, sometimes as much as half an inch.

Uneven jackstands are not great on any boat, but on a boat with the mast stepped they are an accident looking for a place.

Freeze Damage

And that pesky freeze thaw cycle that is heaving your jackstands also has other ways of breaking your boat if the mast is left in:

  • Water getting into the bilge down the mast, freezing and damaging the step and its supports.
  • Water pooling in the mast itself and then freezing causing huge pressures on the extrusion.
  • Water flowing into swages or mechanical compression fittings (staylocks) and then freezing and blowing the fitting apart, or at the very least weakening it.
  • It is much more difficult to properly cover a boat stored mast-in, so all the fittings on deck are at a higher risk for freeze damage.


So there you have it. Based on my some 20 years of storing in harsh winter climates (Maine and Nova Scotia), I really believe and strongly advise that it is safer and cheaper in the long run to store mast-out.


Fine, nice and simple. But like most everything in boat ownership and voyaging, the decision is sometimes in fact not that simple. We have stored Morgan’s Cloud mast-in twice in the years we have owned her. Once here in Nova Scotia and once in Portugal. In both cases the decision came down to simple risk analysis: those listed above weighed against the risks of unstepping in a yard without the experience or correct equipment to do the job safely.

In this case we have another rule: if we must store mast in, we always build a cradle, and do not rely on jackstands. 

"Morgan's Cloud" as ready for a hurricane as we could make her in two days. Even this plethora of jackstands was not enough. Even though we were not able to finish it before the strike (aft supports not installed) is was the cradle that saved her, particularly the support in the way of the mast. Well worth the $700 it cost us!

“Morgan’s Cloud” as ready for a hurricane as we could make her in two days.

Back in 2008 this rule saved our boat when the yard she was stored in was hit by a hurricane, even though we were not able to finish the cradle before the blow (aft supports not installed).

The buffeting of 20 hours of screaming winds shook out two of the many jackstands we insisted on and loosened all of them, but the makeshift cradle that Phyllis and I built in two feverish days of work held. Well worth the $700 this cradle cost us!

This rule is also confirmed by our friends at Billings Diesel & Marine in Stonington, Maine, who require that any owner who wishes to store mast-in pay to have the yard build a cradle under the boat to backup the jackstands. And Billings didn’t just make up this rule as a revenue source, it was the result of several boats blowing over in a single winter storm some years ago.

By the way, it never ceases to amaze me how few jackstands many boatyards will deem adequate if left to their own devices. I would say that over the years a good 80% of the times we have been hauled (mast-in or mast-out) we have had to ask for, and sometimes insist on, more jackstands than the yard wants to use.

The problem seems to be that many yard workers do not understand that boats fall over most often when they pivot on the keel and therefore it is vital to place stands well out toward the ends of the boat to counteract this tendency.

It Ain’t Easy

No question, unstepping and then restepping the mast is a lot of work. But then as Phyllis and I always say to each other when faced with a task that we know is the right thing to do, but is also a lot of work and aggravation: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it”. No truer words have ever been spoken about storing mast-out.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Meet the Author

John Harries

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.

68 comments… add one
  • Matt November 1, 2014, 8:52 am

    There’s one boat around here whose cradle is marked “BLUNT END / POINTY END”, which we always find somewhat amusing. It’s a sturdy welded-steel thing that folds up (after removing a bunch of pins) for summer. Probably two-thirds of the yachts around here have a similar cradle – if you’re hauling out in the same place year after year, a good hefty steel cradle custom-fitted to your boat is a very worthwhile investment.

    If you do rely on jackstands, please don’t forget the network of chains and loadbinders that have to criss-cross between them. I’ve seen those forgotten far too often and it rarely ends well.

    • Eric Klem November 1, 2014, 12:33 pm

      Hi Matt,

      Cradles can be good but there are unfortunately many examples of the cradle going over with the boat. The way cradles are set up usually, they have a much narrower base than jackstands do. A cradle like the one in the image from John above has the major advantage of being as wide as the jackstands. It would not be difficult to make legs that could extend out from the cradle once in place and this would greatly increase the security.

      Also, as you point out, the chains are really important on jackstands. These need to start very tight and really should be chain or something else with no stretch. As the ground freezes in the fall, I check the jackstands a lot and get several turns on each. One nice thing about having a heavily laid up hull is that I don’t worry about oil canning from an overly tightened jackstand.

      The advice on pulling the mast is good. When thinking about tipping over, covers are very important as well. The combination of the mast and cover can really get the boat vibrating which loosens everything up a lot. Probably the best defense in everything is finding a yard that has good policies and checks stands regularly including in the middle of storms as other boat owners can often not be counted on unfortunately.


    • Marc Dacey November 4, 2014, 9:08 pm

      It’s not a Nonsuch 30, is it? I saw the words “POINTY END” on a customized-looking cradle today at my own haulout, and I had a bit of laugh…but couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before!

  • Daria Blackwell November 1, 2014, 9:12 am

    John, I don’t see any straps tying ‘Morgan’s Cloud’ down to the ground in the photo you have of hurricane prep. Are they just not visible in the photo? Insurance carriers now recommend that as does BoatUS.

    • John Harries November 1, 2014, 10:12 am

      Hi Daria,

      You are, of course right. But that presupposes that there is something available to tie them to; there wasn’t. Here in Nova Scotia boat yards are really very poorly set up for hurricane storage, particularly in the way you point out. In their defence (the yards, not the hurricanes) to date we have not got hit with more than Cat 1 hurricanes here…touch wood.

      Incidentally, this one of the reasons we like to wait until late fall before hauling here in Nova Scotia, on the basis that our boat is a lot safer on her mooring than on land, particularly with the mast in. (The storm mentioned in the post was a very late one).

  • dave November 1, 2014, 9:24 am

    I am not a fan of storing with the mast up, but not for tipping over reasons. It’s the freeze/thaw thing, but I still do it because of the work to take down and put up. As far as tipping over? My cat has a 20′ beam.

  • Patrick November 1, 2014, 9:45 am

    Fascinating blog. Learned something very vital. Although, don’t anticipate traveling to Novia Scotia or Maine, will probably travel much in Patagonia.

  • David Nutt November 1, 2014, 9:55 am

    A number of years ago I bought a 42 steel IOR sloop after she fell over in her cradle when stored with the mast up. Her damage was exacerbated by the fact that she was 100% in the air prior to hitting the ground due to the strength and configuration of the steel cradle. Her keel was bent 6 inches to port, her hull was dented and her mast was in 3 pieces. I am not saying she would have been better off if she had been stored on jackstands. Her chances of going over would have been minimal with the mast out. (She restored beautifully and we had many great years on her – gotta love steel.)

    I store 10 21′ Boothbay Harbor One Designs here in Maine. I have to check and adjust the jackstands multiple times during the winter and I find, as was pointed out in the article that sometimes the stands are forcing their way up into the classic wooden hull and other times there is a 1/2 inch of air showing if I am a day or two late in making my rounds. The constant vigilance can not end when you walk away from your boat in the fall.

    I do believe the greatest potential for mast in storage in our wonderful winter climate is from the freeze/thaw cycles of the water in all the little places we never think about until they explode at some inopportune moment after the summer finally returns.

  • John November 1, 2014, 10:34 am

    Good advice…but would love to see some practical tips or suggestions on things to do or not do when stepping and re-stepping the mast on a larger boat (36′) with cutter (or sloop) rig
    Always enjoy your comments
    Gozzard 36
    West coast Mexico

    • Ben Carey November 1, 2014, 4:53 pm

      Storing this year in New England… Pulling the mast for inspection. Wasnt aware of any thaw / freeze worries, so thanks for the heads up on that. Would also love to see a list if any of your procedure and things to check, lash, remove etc. Thanks.

  • Phil Streat November 1, 2014, 12:10 pm

    The danger is real. Many years ago our boat was out of the water in Santander, Spain with the mast up. As is often the case in that part of the world the marina used wood supports with wedges instead of jackstands. A big winter storm shook out the supports and our boat fell against the next boat, which fell against the next one, etc. and we ended up being sued by three owners. Somewhere I still have the judgement against us from a Spanish court; the marina contract said the owner was responsible for supporting his boat! Luckily we were insured.

    Really secure support is key but many marinas just don’t provide it.

  • Richard Dykiel November 1, 2014, 12:36 pm

    Unstepping the mast every winter is also an opportunity to go over the rigging and fittings, assessing their state. I think that is a very good habit.

  • Steven Schapera November 1, 2014, 2:10 pm

    Very good article – would love to get more info or tips on the best way to step and unstep the mast e.g. how to get the tension right when stepping, using tape to mark bottlescrews when unstepping etc. The whole process scares me!

  • Ed Finn November 1, 2014, 7:33 pm

    I totally agree, the force exerted by the wind on the mast is considerable, and usually underrated. I counted 12 jack stands, thats the most I have ever seen used, but I must admit you can never have to many!
    Good job on that cradle too, nice cradle, all straight work ( no funny angles or curves) so its relatively easy to build. The extra long transverse timbers -makes the base extra wide and adds rigidity from lateral forces, and capsize, another good thing.
    Here in eastern Newfoundland storing with the mast out is usually the rule.
    However, the big marina in Lewisporte,NL regularly stores about 75 sailboats with the masts in.
    Some things that I do when laying up the boat – even with the mast out, so I sleep better at night:
    1. Cross brace every jackstand both crossways and lengthways – with chain so they cannot get rocked or vibrated loose. And I use small turnbuckles to tighten up the chain, turnbuckles make it easy to re adjust the chains over the winter. Galvanized turnbuckles are about $10.00 each , readily available, and last for years.
    2. I just use a piece of 2×10″ under the keel rather then the 10x 10″
    you show, – because I think the lower the boat is – the better. This lowers the hull, and the transverse load on the jackstands themselves , thus reducing the lateral forces. Lowering the top of the mast by 10 inches is irrelevant.
    I am wondering why you chose to lay your boat on 10 “x 10 ” John. Have you considered 4″x4″? It would cost less in material to build the cradle and you could lower those jack screw 6″ – thats a lot, thus stiffening up the support from the jackstands. I see your jack screws are fully extended.
    3. I add 4 to 6 posts about 10 ft long, running from the gunnels or toerail angling outward , with the bottoms buried in shallow ( 10 – 12 inch) holes in the ground. I cross brace these with chain or or 2″x 4″ . Secured to the gunnel, and frozen into the ground these are very solid. Thats they way they did it in the schooner days, and the way the old timers around here told me to do it! Gee! I’m quickly approaching old timer status myself!
    4 Many jack stand support pads have ‘keyway’ holes cut in them, I like to rig chain up there too, as I think it makes the structure more secure, but you do have to add chafe protection between the chain and the hull.
    5 . Fortunately I am able to visit the marina during the winter months, and I have to re -tighten up my jack stand screws- and my neighbours. They usually settle into the ground, and come loose otherwise.

    Ever considered adding two down guys running from just above the lower spreaders on the mast to a buried anchor or secure point in the ground ?

    Good article John, Thanks.

    • John Harries November 2, 2014, 8:44 am

      Hi Fin,

      Lots of good ideas, thanks.

      The reason for the 12×12 was to distribute the load evenly across the ground and reduce the impact of frost heaves, which it did well. Also, our boat weighs 26 tons and has quite a sharp profile on the bottom of the keel. She would break a 2×10 or a 4×4 like a rotten twig when her weight came down on it.

  • Dick Stevenson November 1, 2014, 8:34 pm

    John, Good advice and I would concur wholeheartedly. Anyone with questions about the loads mast in should go sit inside a boat on the hard in some substantial wind. Lots of very strange very unsettling sounds. I do have one caveat: one should make real effort to be there when the mast is stepped and unstepped. More damage is done to masts and rigging by yard crews than has ever been done by storms (I may exaggerate a bit). The problems range from things one might never notice (rigging screws dragged in yard dirt & gravel when transported to obvious stuff like lost wind instruments. Being there makes a huge difference.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Harries November 2, 2014, 8:47 am

      Hi Dick,

      So true, I am always present when the mast is being stepped or unstepped.

  • Colin Speedie November 1, 2014, 8:42 pm

    Hi John
    great piece, and real food for thought.
    On thing that’s often overlooked when storing boats ashore is the critical care required to ensure that all supports are in the right places, i.e. where there are sufficiently robust internal stiffeners to take the loads, especially when the mast is up. Far too often yards leave this to inexperienced teams who just put the supports wherever it suits them. I’ve seen several cases where panels have deformed as a result, especially where (as you point out) unfair loads have been allowed to develop due to unevenly tensioned supports, perhaps loosened in strong winds.
    Moral of this story – always attend the chocking process and ensure that the supports are not just adequate and numerous enough, but in the right places.
    Best wishes

    • John Harries November 2, 2014, 8:45 am

      Hi Colin,

      You are so right. I never let anyone haul or chock our boat without supervising them.

    • Matt November 4, 2014, 2:50 pm

      Traditionally, naval architects would prepare a “graving plan” – a simple drawing for the yard folk, showing exactly how much blocking and cradling was needed and where on the hull it should bear.

      I can’t think of very many modern boats that come with such a drawing (although I have seen a few with marker plates indicating “sling here”, etc.) It’s certainly not a bad idea to draw one up, even a rough one, for your own boat if you want to make sure the yard gets it right.

  • John Harries November 2, 2014, 8:49 am

    Hi All,

    Thanks for all the great comments, which, as usual, add a lot to my original post.

    Several people have asked for a guide to stepping, unstepping, and tuning. Sounds like a good idea for an Online Book and I have added it to the list of topics we will work on.

  • John V November 2, 2014, 9:46 pm

    Hi John,

    The importance of ensuring your boat won’t fall over (irrespective of mast up or down storage) is self evident. However, assuming this is done correctly and securely, the answer to the question of unstepping the mast for the winter is less obvious to me.

    I understand your rationale for why you don’t want to leave your mast up for the winter – fatigue and freezing (particularly in the swages and compression fittings). However, are your views supported by data? Hundreds, if not thousands, of boats are stored with masts up (and down!) around the Great Lakes and elsewhere each winter. Is there statistical evidence of a higher probability of rig failure on boats that are typically winter-stored mast up? Perhaps the insurance companies have these data. To my knowledge, insurance companies do not charge a higher premium for mast up storage – at least mine doesn’t. My insurance company doesn’t even ask the question!

    I have witnessed first hand plenty of damage that occasionally happens at the mast crane in the fall or the spring – not to mention the hassle. Perhaps the most compelling reason for leaving the mast up!

    Certainly going up the mast each spring and having a close inspection is critical if you do leave the mast up.


    Skeptical in Toronto (aka John)

    PS..Love the articles and discussions/debates. Most informative source on sailing I’ve ever found. Many thanks.

    • John Harries November 3, 2014, 9:22 am

      Hi John V,

      Thanks for the kind comment on the site.

      No I don’t have any hard stats. I’m going to guess that none exist.

      However, I’m pretty comfortable with my position based on the number of boats I have seen that have fallen over, all with their masts in, and also the experience of Billings, detailed in post.

      As to the fact that a lot of boats store mast in, maybe even the majority, I just don’t think that is relevant. Most boats that go offshore have not made proper preparations for a storm, or even a gale, but that does not make that omission a good idea. Bottom line, as I say in the post, if it was easy everybody would be doing it.

      Finally, even if I’m wrong about the fall risk, that does not change the other risks. And those risks simply can’t be ameliorated by an inspection in the spring, since there is no way to do a really good rig inspection with the mast in. And further much of the damage from freezing and fatigue will not show to the naked eye.

      As to insurance companies. Again I don’t think its relevant since most insurance companies, at least in North America, are not sailboat, or even boat, specialists and are notoriously ignorant about how to manage risk around boats and even worse sailboats.

      To use the same example as above, I have never heard of an insurance company asking about the presence of a drag device or emergency steering provision on a boat going to sea either.

    • Laurent November 3, 2014, 10:52 am

      Usual way of winterizing boats #30 years ago was to keep them in the water and not go into the hassle, costs and risks of damage, associated with mast unstepping and later respepping.
      Nowaday, for different reasons (added risks of thru-hull or hull leaks, added risks of electrolysis, osmosis, water ingression in cored composite, improved travelifts and dry-storage berths availability etc…), many owner prefer wintering their boat on the dry instead of on the water, which asks the question of deciding whether the mast should be unstepped for winter.
      In France today, many owners winter on the dry, and very few of them unstep the mast for winter, perhaps we are not used yet to the kind of hurricanes you get in North-America (might be changing lately…).
      So, an economic study about the damage risks, hassle etc…associated with mast unstepping for winter vs. risks & costs of falling over on the dry, might be a good idea, at least in Europe considering local weather statistics.
      Also, I am convinced that today’s sailing-boat shapes & fittings are much more the result of recent history that a rational choice of appropriate solutions for current needs using available technologies.
      For instance, in the 1900′ boats that needed frequent mast stepping & unstepping used a simple and effective feature to limit the costs & risks associated with those operations: a pair of mast- partners at the mast-foot on the deck.
      So, believing that french current practice of keeping masts in place when on the dry has probably quite a few statistical arguments for it, at least looking at past local weather statistics, I think that arguments against this common practice should concern first the improvement of new-built sail-boats according to current usage (wintering on the dry) or climate changes, here: argumenting in favor of mast-partners to facilitate mast unstepping for winter, and should be a bit less concerned about the way of handling boats designed many years ago, which is interesting as well but less than new boat definition. I guess that if statistics show that mast unstepping in all cases is the better option, the same statistics should also show that mast partners are justified in all cases at least for cruising-boats. Reverse might be wrong, that is complete statistics might show that mast-partners are justified but that mast unstepping for winter is not justified for partner-less boats, depending the costs & risks associated with masts unstepping & restepping operations.

  • Wilson Fitt November 2, 2014, 10:07 pm

    Another excellent reason to take the mast down each year is that it is so much easier to varnish it when it is horizontal. But maybe most of you don’t concern yourselves about that as much as I do …

  • RDE November 3, 2014, 12:07 am

    Hi John,
    There is a better solution to having to unstep your mast every year and put the boat in storage. Just move across the country to BC! Best sailing of the year is in the winter, the snow stays up on the mountains, and the only reason to ever haul out is to do the bottom paint. LOL

    • John Harries November 4, 2014, 9:16 am

      Hi Richard,

      Now there’s a good point! We were on the “Sunshine Coast” last February and people were out sailing, admittedly it was snowing, but not that cold.

  • Dick Stevenson November 3, 2014, 10:22 am

    All aspects of rigging/mast inspection are easier with the mast out, but which aspects of inspection were you referring to that preclude a really good inspection mast in, albeit with more effort and diligence?

    • John Harries November 3, 2014, 5:54 pm

      Hi Dick,

      I guess it is hard to give a specific example, but having inspected a lot of rigs, both in a bosun’s chair (I inspect before every offshore passage) and on the ground I can say, at least for me, its a great deal easier to be fully diligent on the ground. Or to put it another way, a full rig inspection of our mast takes me most of a day. I just can’t stay really focused that long when my legs are going to sleep in a chair.

      Also, there are things that are really hard to do in a chair, like remove sheaves to check and grease the pins. Doable? Yes. Practical? Not very.

      Finally, as I write, a couple of specific examples came to me of things that can’t be properly checked from a chair: cold heads on rod, the butt of the mast and mast step.

      Does that mean that the mast should come out every year? No, I don’t think so. My thinking is five years or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first.

  • Erik de Jong November 3, 2014, 10:32 am

    Hi John,

    Let me start by saying that I totally agree that a mast should be taken down when stored, and that the freeze/thaw cycles are indeed an underestimated issue by most.

    Having said that, the cycle loading and fatigue you talk about for the standing rigging is actually not really an issue when you’re standing on land. Agreed, there is a huge amount of load cycles over the time span of a winter, but they are so minor in load, that it does not really influence the life span of the rigging itself.
    The different kinds of materials have also different kinds of load cycle lifetimes. Most materials in the rigging only age from loads that are more than 50% of the save working load. Any boat would fall off her cradle far before the load reaches 50% of the safe working load.

    Think of the paperclip test. When you bend it 180 degrees for maybe 6 times, the paperclip will break: Fatigue has occurred. When you aplly very little bending force, just enough to deflect the paperclip a little, you can repeat that movement till your fingers fall off without the paperclip breaking. This is a load cycle that is not loaded up far enough to cause fatigue.

    As a short summary, fatigue will never occur in structures that do not reach certain amounts of stress, that amount of stress that causes problems depends on the material used.

    • John Harries November 3, 2014, 5:46 pm

      Hi Erik,

      That makes sense, and I will certainly defer to the engineers on this one. Having said that, I have been on boats on the hard with the mast in when it’s blowing hard (storm force) and the creaking, groaning and vibration, as well as periodic pumping of the rig is pretty impressive. Surely all that is taking life out of things, particularly the vibration and pumping? Also, what about the constant flexing of the hull where the jackstands and or cradle touch the hull? Not a problem on metal boats as long as the contact points are in the way of a frame, but a worry on a glass boat as Colin points out above.

      Any thoughts: Erik, Matt, Eric, Chris?

      • Matt November 4, 2014, 2:41 pm

        I don’t see much potential for fatigue in a rig that’s left standing and bare. The wind loads on a bare mast and standing rig are on the order of 3% of the loads on that same rig, in the same wind, with sails flying. Even if we go to gale-force winds, we’re only stressing the bare rig to maybe a quarter of what it’s designed to see in regular ocean service.

        As for fatigue of the hull – I wouldn’t be too worried about it unless the supports are so inadequate that the boat’s moving noticeably with every gust of wind. And, if that’s the case, she’ll probably be on her side on the ground before long, in which case fatigue is the least of our problems.

        The ice, on the other hand…. never underestimate the ice. If water gets in and freezes, it will exert pressures of a few hundred megapascals (tens of thousands of PSI) on whatever’s around it. Nothing survives that. Ice pressure can rupture forged steel, fracture granite, and burst aluminum extrusions open as if they were party balloons.

      • Matt November 4, 2014, 2:43 pm

        Also, one big point in favour of taking the rig down for the winter is that it forces you to do a full, proper inspection of the mast and standing rigging. There’s a lot of safety-critical hardware up there that is easy to ignore, and difficult to inspect, while the rig is stepped.

  • ben garvey November 3, 2014, 4:14 pm

    Erik – I was wondering if you’d comment on the effect of freezing/thaw on swage and sta-lok/norseman type fittings on the lower ends of standing rigging as well. Although most of these fittings if done properly won’t allow any appreciable amount of water ingress, we know that it doesn’t take a lot to cause issues. I’ve always thought of water inside fittings in a freeze thaw environment as a ‘slow motion explosion’!

    Against that possibility is the evidence from many decades of these fittings being used in winter and arctic environments, both in marine and non-marine applications – where failures (due to this phenomenon anyway) as far as I know are very few.

    Heck, looking around any marina north of 40 deg on any side of the pond and there are literally thousands of rigs left in where freeze/thaw is an issue.

    Is this something the industry is missing, or is there documented analysis that you area aware of on this potential risk?



  • Ed Finn November 3, 2014, 9:09 pm

    Freeze, thaw , mast up mast down…
    If the swages or Norseman fittings are horizontal or vertical, does it matter? I think not…
    If water can possibly get into a crevice or opening in my mast rigging, then for sure it will.
    If the crevice holds any water then I will have a problem if exposed to repeated freeze thaw cycles.
    Ever notice that in Northern climates a lot of flat “pitch and gravel” or composite roofs on shopping malls and commercial buildings have repeated problems with leaking roofs, well that’s an example of freeze thaw at work! And those roofs are all horizontal.
    Don’t get me wrong, laid up with mast out and secure cribs or jackstands
    is definitely best.
    Regarding rigging/ mast inspections; Certainly this can best be done with the mast down.
    And does anyone ever use Penetrant dye on the fittings?

    • ben garvey November 4, 2014, 12:25 am

      I guess that’s what I’m wondering about Ed.

      It does seem like that would be an issue, but I’ve never heard of a swage (or norseman or stalok) fitting being blown apart or even damaged by freezing. Literally tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of them are exposed to this treatment annually – but has anyone ever seen evidence that this is a problem?

      Swages, when done properly, are essentially cold forged into 1 single piece of metal… but there is still a seam. However, I find it hard to believe enough moisture could wick into that seam in any orientation to be a problem – but I’m asking if there is any evidence of this happening.

      Norsemans and staloks recommend sealant to keep out water, and due to the nature of their design there is probably a larger volume of void space inside them when assembled. Supposing there is a bad seal, or no sealant, and the void spaces fill up with water. Is there enough volume of water present in a confined enough space to exceed the yield strength of the stainless during the freeze/thaw cycles? I’m not convinced there is – but I have not done either the research or the calcs.

      Matt – as a fellow engineer perhaps you’d like to comment on this?



      • John Harries November 4, 2014, 8:36 am

        Hi Ben,

        That makes sense.

        On the other hand I have seem many swages that have failed with cracks down the side and I pretty sure that I’m right in saying that swages at the bottom of the wire often (mostly?) fail before those at the top. Now, in thinking about it, I guess that might be more to do with salt water pooling in an upward facing swage and causing corrosion than freezing.

        Bottom line, I may have got carried away on this point in the post. Let’s see if any other engineers weigh in and then I will correct the post if necessary.

        One other small point, I think I’m right in saying that while Norseman call for sealant, sta-lok do not, or maybe its the other way around.

  • Steven Schapera November 4, 2014, 9:06 am

    Unless the unstepped mast and associated rigging are stored indoors, rainwater will still make ingress into all fittings – even if only through capillary action – and the freeze-thaw cycle will be no different from a stepped mast. I just wanted to make that clarification, as I dont think I have seen any comment here about where/how to store the unstepped mast. Fortunately for me I am located in the Med, so freeze/thaw is not an issue – its the proper inspection of the rigging that motivates me.

    • John Harries November 4, 2014, 9:14 am

      Hi Steven,

      Very good points. When in a freeze-thaw environment we always insist that the mast be stored under cover. As you say, no point in going to all the trouble of unstepping it, and then leaving it outside.

  • John Harries November 4, 2014, 6:05 pm

    Hi All,

    Looks like I was well and truly wrong about the fatigue risk of storing mast-in. A big thank you to Erik, Eric, and Matt for explaining why in their usual clear language, both in the comments to this post and also in emails to me directly, after I asked them for input.

    We are all very fortunate to have the input of these guys.

    I will change the post.

  • Ed Finn November 4, 2014, 8:50 pm

    Ben, John
    I have seen a few ruptured swaged fittings, and all on the bottom of the standing rigging , at deck level, with the wire end pointing upward.
    So perhaps they are not ruptured by freeze thaw… But the logic of that escapes me, but I guess I agree with you John.
    Again Liquid Dye Penetrant is a good way to find small cracks in rigging fittings.
    Its simple and inexpensive, anyone can do it.
    You tube it !

  • Marc Dacey November 4, 2014, 9:06 pm

    What can I say? I store my 41-year-old boat with mast in, as that allows a faster launch in our short Canadian season, and because it has brand-new standing rigging and an impenetrable boot. I leave some antifreeze in the bilge and visit a few times in the winter to take out any ice that may have formed from water running down the mast. I generally service it with a mast haulout and inspect every three years. It is packed in a yard with hundreds of others, 95% of which have masts in. I don’t dispute the effect of wind and weather on a mast, but I’ve seen little evidence damage is done. I have seen, however, a line of improperly jackstanded boats topple in 80 knot winter gales. They weren’t secured properly and they were too widely spaced. That was at Outer Harbour Marina in 2007.

    My steel boat has a deck-stepped tabernacle and it is an entirely different and easier matter to lower the mast to do service or to walk it off the boat with three guys paid in beer. This is top of mind as I completed my haulouts today. Tomorrow, I’ve got to winterize…

  • ben garvey November 4, 2014, 9:19 pm

    Hi john et al –

    john, in my quick review of the stalok and norseman pdf’s I have from previous use, neither of them mention using sealant during assembly, but I know I’ve done it with 5200 more than a few times… so I’m not sure where I learned that from or even if it’s a good thing anymore!

    anyway – I agree with the sentiment of all of this of course. If you can pull the mast and store it indoors, then it is definitely the best choice. Few of us really have that option though I bet. Most yards around here have big racks to store masts outside.

    I was wondering really about he realities of freeze/thaw damage. I know I’ve seen a few lower terminals blown apart too, but I always thought it was due to corrosion expansion rather than water expansion. a bit of googling on the forces involved in water expansion though, and it is definitely clear that forces can exceed the yield strength of most stainless steels – typical 316 (~30,000 psi yield) certainly. Although at some level it does matter how much moisture we’re talking about I think. Frost isn’t going to do it – it needs real mass to expand during the phase change. It is also interesting to see that it matters how cold it gets – there are many phases of ice, and until you’ve reached the roughly 8% expansion of water at around -20c, there can be differing amounts of damage.

    I’d be surprised to hear of 17-4 PH stainless fittings (~100,000 psi yield) being bothered by it. but most terminals aren’t made of 17-4 either… bah.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion!

    • John Harries November 5, 2014, 9:33 am

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for looking that up and your analysis. Great to have another engineer aboard. The take away for me is that, at the end of the day, freezing damage on terminals is all a bit ambiguous, so best avoided if posible.

      One thought on rack storage of the mast. At least two yards I know of, one here in Nova Scotia, shrink wrap their outside mast rack. Seems to work well, although not environmentally very friendly.

      • Marc Dacey November 5, 2014, 11:43 am

        They could use removable tarps, although they would be heavy and probably, due to texture, would be more prone to wind damage. I can’t see that a mast in a rack isn’t going to have similar issues to a mast in a boat when it comes to freeze-thaw cycles. I know that in the spring, we give the masts a “static roll” in the racks before lifting them out and sometimes a lot of water comes out of the deck-mounted ones, which often have a cap at the butt end.

        • Eric Klem November 5, 2014, 2:52 pm

          When I have had a mast out of a boat, I have always made sure to have an angle to it so that it drains out the butt if it gets any water in it. Our mast has a plug near deck level to keep water from going down it and it is also important to put the drain hole for this down.


  • Victor Raymond November 5, 2014, 12:55 am

    I agree with RDE about being in BC (or just south of it as we are currently wintering in Sequim, WA just 30 miles south of Victoria, BC, a nice sail even in Winter.)
    As for storing our boat with or without the mast, we are fortunate to have a flat bottom so we don’t use stands at all but just a couple of 10×10 or 12×12 logs. I am not saying we couldn’t be blown over but I would suggest the other sailboats in the yard would go over first. Small consolation?
    The last time we were out of the water for a winter we did remove the mast because Brion Toss and I were rebuilding the mast and it was the only practical way to do it.
    Prior to this we were in Curaçao on the hard and each hard stand “stall” had a ground strapping system that was theoretically capable of stabilizing the the boat against the rarest of hurricanes.

  • Hans November 5, 2014, 6:14 am

    Hi John, hi all,
    another interesting post, thank you.
    I regularly take the mast down, remove all wires to be taken home and store it under cover. For the boat there is a welded steel cradle. So no issues exist. But i stored my boat (33ft,steel) in Lewisporte,NFL, one winter and had to use jackstands. All went well, but since then i think of a better and possibly simpler way to support the boat should i leave her away from home again. So here’s my question: What do you think of a simple system with 2 solid crossbars – wood or steel – under the keel and straps or chains that are fixed between deck footrail and the end of these bars or beams ? If these chains are tightened with turnbuckles and the keel is prevented from slipping sideways, then it seems to me, it would keep the boat upright unless the whole sructure topples over in a hurricane. If the crossbeams are made longer than the boat is wide, it would be even safer.
    Wouldn’t the whole thing be easier set up than a classical cradle, especially when one is far from home ? Is there a glitch in my thinking ?

    • John Harries November 5, 2014, 9:28 am

      Hi Hans,

      Hum, I’m not sure. The idea just seems so, well, precarious. I guess my worry would be that any bend at all in the cross bars would slack straps or chains. Also, I would worry about not having any supports fore and aft to stop pivoting.

      By the way, building the cradle shown in the photo in the post really was not a big deal. We had a local sawmill deliver the lumber (hemlock) ahead of hauling and Phyllis and I assembled it using tools we carry on the boat in three days. And that’s for a 26 ton boat. I think the job for say a 15 ton boat could be done in less than half that time.

      When we stored in Portugal the yard team built a cradle for the boat in just a day that held in 60 knot winds, mast-in. In this case I did need to supervise and gently, but firmly, prod them into more and better supports. A couple of bottles of wine at the end of the day, and we were still friends.

    • Eric Klem November 5, 2014, 3:05 pm

      Hi Hans,

      I understand what your thinking is and your plan to keep the keel centered definitely helps dealing with one of the major issues. I am not sure that I would want to store a boat this way though. You would need to put a decent amount of preload on the chains (straps would be too stretchy) to eliminate problems with the boat moving around a lot which will cause shock loading. I highly doubt that most boats would have strong enough attachment points at the correct points on deck for this unless it was a metal boat with special provisions made. The beams would also need to be massive as they will have large bending loads and you really don’t want much deflection at all. You would also need to figure out a way to stabilize these beams fore and aft unless you had a really long keel. With heavy enough gear and the correct attachment points, you could probably make it work but I think that there would be easier ways.

      Building a good cradle out of wood is really not that difficult. I realize that you have a steel cradle at home but for people who don’t, you can build a solid wooden one which is quite easy to fold up without too much work. If there is an excavator where you want to store, you can have them dig a trench for your keel and put the boat on the ground (you need to be on high enough ground and you need to work to make sure everything is stable). If jackstands are available, you can do an awful lot by securing them to each other with chain or really low stretch line.


      • hans November 8, 2014, 8:00 am

        Hi John, Hi Eric,
        thanks for your comments. You have convinced me, that i’d do better to prepare a drawing for a wooden cradle so that i would be able to get hold of the necessary lumber without too much fuss. Still toying with the idea of crossing the pond again and laying up on your side of it … Digging a hole for the keel and maybe a small one for the rudder would put my boat on her flat bottom . I never considered this as an option although its an interesting one. Will have to keep it on my mind.

  • ben garvey November 5, 2014, 11:55 am

    Hi John – yes, shrink wrapping the mast will reduce water ingress for sure… but I have also had a bad experience with this. On a previous boat, a ketch with wooden masts (gasp!), I pulled them, carefully laid them on trestles, and diligently wrapped them and shrunk it all… I was thinking that I’d save a lot of work scraping and painting them in the spring. Unfortunately, over the winter there was a small hole that developed near a fitting. It happened to be slightly downhill and at a natural drip point, so it acted like a funnel and directed a LOT of water inside the wrap. Where it of course froze solid in the next cycle (love NS winters, eh?). I discovered it when I noticed that my mast looked a little lumpy from the outside – and realized that there was probably 100 gallons of ice surrounding the entire stick, distributed a few inches thick in places, almost halfway up the spar.

    At the next thaw, I poked a few drain holes in the bottom of the wrap so that any moisture that got in could get out again. Simple fix – but needed to be there from the beginning!

    Due to ice damage I not only had to repaint, but also re-laminate a section of that mast. All for want of a few drain holes in the botom of the plastic. D’OH!! Lesson learned. Some sealing and protection is excellent – but too much can be very bad (especially where wood is concerned – but the same flooding potential can exist with any material).


    • John Harries November 5, 2014, 1:08 pm

      Hi Ben,

      What a bummer story!

      Just to clarify, I was not suggesting shrink rapping the mast(s), but rather shrink rapping the entire mast rack, preferably in such a way that the plastic does not touch the masts.

  • ben garvey November 5, 2014, 11:56 am

    Meant to say 10 gallons of ice – not 100!! That truly would be stunning.

  • Kevin from SailFarLiveFree November 6, 2014, 4:18 pm

    A proper storage cradle, as you mention, is preferable to jack stands and can be very stable if the yard knows how to set it on the ground and position the pads correctly on the hull. I’m surprised we don’t see more d-rings cemented into the pavement at yards for tying boats on the hard to the ground to prevent tip-overs. Tie downs seem much more common overseas, but I rarely see them here in the US. Any thoughts on tie downs?

    • John Harries November 7, 2014, 7:36 am

      Hi Kevin,

      I think tie downs are a great idea. The problem is that doing them really properly is extremely expensive and few yards can justify it. Keep in mind that most yards are not pavement, but rather just gravel over graded ground, at best. To bury an anchor that will make a real difference in anything but trivial.

  • Svein Lamark November 7, 2014, 7:16 am

    Hi John, I read many wise comments in this post. But there is something I do not understand. It is obviously dangerous and difficult to store a ship with a deep keel and an enormous mast on land. When you have such a nice, large and expensive yacht, why do not let it stay in the sea and use it. When I grew up in The Arctic I learned from old sailors that the best sailing is in winter. 22. September you wrote: “Lets go sailing!” A wonderful post to me that I agree very much on. Have you changed your opinion?

    • John Harries November 7, 2014, 7:34 am

      Hi Svein,

      Good point. If I lived on the west coast of Norway (in my dreams) I would probably do just that. But here in Nova Scotia we get too much sea ice in our inlet to keep the boat safely in the water in winter. Also, truth be known, after all the years and miles of sailing, sometimes I enjoy a break from the boat and doing other things in the winter.

      • Svein Lamark November 9, 2014, 8:12 am

        Hi John, I find your answer very interesting because it points to the more essential areas on small boat life. It is a strong myth in Eastern Scandinavia that storing a yacht in sea ice is very dangerous. I have wintered different small boats in sea ice in safe harbors more than 30 times and never had a problem with that. On the contrary when a yacht is frozen in, she cannot sink, cannot be stolen and the lines can be taken away. The ice is a perfect bed. If the sea ice becomes a meter thick or more, I start the engine once in a while and let it go slow ahead to remove the ice from the rudder. At open sea, ice is very dangerous, but inside a harbor it is perfect for storing a boat. It is difficult to store a boat on land as your post shows well. When many people choose the difficult solution I guess it is because they want to get away from the boat and do other things. A boat is a demanding thing, she demands care all the time. When the boat is put ashore many owners feel that they can forget about the boat and comes back in spring time. They need psychologically to be away from the boat a long period and feel free. In the mean time a lot of bad things may happened to the boat, but they do not care. The myth of The Arctic that says the best sailing is in the winter can also be understood in this perspective; If you really need a boat, use it in winter time.

        • John Harries November 9, 2014, 4:37 pm

          Hi Svein,

          I make no apology for wishing to take a break from my boat. I have many other interests: photography, the mountains, land travel, this business, and on it goes. In fact, to be honest, I find people who are totally fixated on their boats at all times a bit boring.

          I also disagree that someone who forgets their boat over the winter is a poor boat keeper. Yes, to set up a boat so that she will be safe stored on land with little need to check more than say once a month takes work and planning, but it’s perfectly doable. In fact I’m in the process of doing just that at the moment. I have also in the 23 years I have owned “Morgan’s Cloud” skipped three seasons by leaving her in storage for 18 months and on each occasion I have enjoyed the break very much and enjoyed sailing all the more when I did get back to it.

          Also, I think that you play down the risks of in water storage too much. Sure it can work, and if I wanted to sit in Nova Scotia all winter and check my boat every couple of days, that is what I would do—safe in-water storage requires constant vigilance.

          By the way, I have a friend who lost his boat in the Oslo Fjord when a seacock froze and burst. And I can tell you that any non-ice strengthened boat that was stored in the water in our inlet here in Nova Scotia in the break up last spring (when it coincided with a southeast storm) would have been in very deep trouble indeed, even though there is no swell and the maximum fetch is a mile.

          I could go on, but I think to say, or even imply that if you want a boat you must be 100% focused on said boat all the time and sail in the winter too is a mistake. And it certainly not what Attainable Adventure Cruising is about.

  • Ed finn November 8, 2014, 12:28 am

    Keep up the good work.
    Its an important,and ubiquitous ( widespread) topic.

  • Ed Finn November 9, 2014, 12:42 pm

    I’m with you there.
    Locally, people generally want to lift their pleasure boats out every winter.
    I think the actual lifting out of the mast, and hull
    is dangerous.
    A person could get injured by a dropped object.
    Or you could drop the mast or hull and damage it.
    I agree letting the boat freeze in in a protected harbour does not hurt the boat. I’ve left mine in over winter, with no negative impact, none.
    Local fisherman regularly leave them in over the winter, and take them out every 3rd winter, then leave them on the hard, replacing antifouling paint, and anodes in the early spring, with no damage from overwintering In.
    And these boats are a mix, -some solid fibreglass, and others fibreglass over the original wooden hull.
    Normally we get no more then 3 inches of ice thickness. To form 6 inches of ice in seawater would take a two week cold snap with low temperatures of 0 deg F at night and no higher then +10 Deg F daytime high, without a break or mild-spell in the weather, that’s quite a cold spell here!
    I imagine you would have to be in the Arctic to make a meter of sea ice.
    I have wintered “in” For 3 or 4 winters. My boat does not freeze onto the ice solidly, there remains a small perimeter around the boat that is not frozen. I think the metal keel conducts heat up from below the surface, and warms the boat slightly, thus preventing it from freezing in solid.
    I check the boat every day or every 2nd day winter and summer, in the water or out. Many folks do not, perhaps I’m paranoid.
    In the water I check docking lines, fenders and the bilge pump, out of the water I check the jack-stands and chains
    I agree Svein, owning a boat is a big commitment.

  • Ed. finn November 10, 2014, 11:03 am

    I for one, do not think your methods are wrong, or that your experiences are not valuable,
    If I or others did they would not be reading your website!
    But boating covers a pretty wide spectrum, and thats an understatement. Others have different experiences , and different methods of doing things.
    Sometimes, readers attempt to share their experiences, by contrasting them against the background of your methods, as expressed on this website.
    Some could construe it as criticism, or more optimistically, readers are comparing their own trials and tribulations versus your own…its flattery.
    Its like comparing the number of weeds in my lawn, versus the weeds in the professionally maintained park!
    This website is pretty much restricted to sailing and sailboat concerns..
    Readers go elsewhere for other topics.
    Moving on,
    Keep up the good work.
    It has value

    • John Harries November 10, 2014, 2:24 pm

      Hi Ed,

      I’m not sure, but it sounds like you think I have a problem with people disagreeing with me. That is simply not the case. For example Svein and I often agree, but we also disagree on occasion. It’s all good. You will also note that when Erik pointed out that I was wrong about the fatigue issue, I changed it.

      Perhaps you feel that I was too emphatic in my answer to Svein? If so, what you may be detecting is my concern that we stay inclusive here at AAC and that the comments do not take a turn that implies that we with many miles and lots of experience in any way make those new to offshore voyaging or those who do not want to participate in the more aggressive types of said sailing feel less that worthy or welcome.

      Both you and Svein, intentionally or not, implied that people who stored their boats on land for the winter and went on to other things were not doing the right thing or were poor boat owners. As moderator here at AAC, I could not let than stand without expressing my feelings on the matter and solidarity with those less, shall we say, “focused” sailors.

  • Ed Finn November 10, 2014, 11:09 pm

    please take this down after u read it.
    Sorry, I may have upset you.
    By paragraph…
    No, and no.People are allowed to take risks, just not risk to others.
    No I didn’t imply or mean that. There are no poor boat owners but some may be overreaching ( thats a joke), Many are not knowledgable, but usually they want to do it right. There are many right ways to do just about anything, and I only know a few. In the water or out , — I’m good with it if its done right, but either can place ones own boat , or other boats at risk if done in a shoddy or careless way.

    Upon reflection, an incident in my past perhaps affects my judgement. In ’82, I worked off shore, near the drilling rig Ocean Ranger, it sank. The USCG report is still available on line, it said, the cause of the incident was lack of understanding, inadequate training, and a false sense of security by people in charge.
    84 men died because people did not understand basic seamanship.
    Some of them were my friends, it still haunts me.
    Perhaps that’s why I take marine stuff seriously,
    I should lighten up. Think I’ll have an ice cream!


    • John Harries November 11, 2014, 9:47 am

      Hi Ed,

      A very good point about the ultimate price that one can pay for not doing it right. I wouldn’t dream of taking it down. Very sorry to hear that you lost friends on Ocean Ranger.

      Also, please know you have not, with any of your comments, “upset me”. I love robust, but polite, debate. Even when I don’t make a material change to my position I pretty much always learn something from the exchange.

  • Svein Lamark November 17, 2014, 4:57 pm

    Hi John,
    You do not have to apology to me for leaving your yacht ashore. I understand your desire to get away from the yacht and do other things. To handle and maintain a boat as large as 57 ft. can in the long run be very demanding. “The material structure itself has an impact on man” as old philosophers said. To a free man in a modern society a big yacht can make the owner both frustrated and even aggressive because the boat is both time- and money consuming. I feel this common phenomena is happening to you when I point at “Lets go sailing!” and then you say demasting. To solve this modern problem there is a large, new industry in Northern Europe that takes care of boats when the boats are not in use. In my neighborhood there is even large boat hotel. The boat owner is then completely free from the boat when the boat is not in use. The fast growing charter boat industry I also see as an answer to the problem of a time- and capital consuming boat. I think those solutions may work good to many sailors and that sailors are free to use them. I just wanted to point on this problem with the impact of a large material structure. And I also wanted to point on some of the alternatives: Use and sail the boat in winter time or just let it freeze in the ice. I am fully aware of that storing a boat in ice or ashore my cause problems. My insurance company says that most accidents happens when the boat is not in use. The new warm climate increases this problems, ice is more uncertain and boat halls fall down more often. In Germany 400 stored masts on land in a hall were destroyed by a storm.
    There is a one thousand years old tradition to sail in winter time in Norway. We sail to Lofoten and do some fishing in February and March. This is at 68 degrees North and only small boats with traditional gear are allowed. I have participated in Lofoten many winters and it has always been an adventure to me. I plan to go again and I was thinking of inviting you, but as I understand you now, it is a mistake to go there. In my opinion it is a fully attainable adventure cruise and the risk of becoming a boring person, as you say, I think is very small.

    • John Harries November 18, 2014, 11:31 am

      Hi Svein,

      Sorry, I did not mean to imply your were a boring person, although I can see how you would think that was what I meant—can’t think of a less boring person! And you are right, boat ownership is a double edged sword. Also, I think that winter sailing is a very good idea, just not one that I need to do right now with other things calling.

      My concern behind the comment is that we at AAC do not come to sound as if we only include and respect those that wish to be more aggressive in their voyaging. The point being that there are many ways to voyage and the tone of that thread of comments was beginning to sound, whether we meant is or not, a bit elitist.

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