Cruising Boat Checklists

I’m a huge believer in checklists. We have used a pre-departure checklist on Morgan’s Cloud for decades—a yellowed and dog-eared copy sits on my desk as I write.

However, I have never published it because it assumes, like most of the checklists I have seen from other yachties, that the reader has substantial offshore experience on that particular boat—think tens of thousands of offshore miles—and so is far too cryptic.

For example, Phyllis and I knew exactly what steps, and the tools to perform them, were required before we could tick off “bosun’s chair rig inspection” on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but putting that on a list for others is near useless—different boats, different levels of experience, different cruising goals.

So every time I thought of taking on the task of producing a checklist that will actually be useful to others, I recoiled from the level of detail required to do it right.

Now I’m Ready

The good news is that all of this procrastination (think years) has given me a lot of time to think about what a really useful checklist will look like and so I’m finally ready to take this on.

Manageable Pieces

To keep the project manageable, I’m going to do this in separate articles in a series, one for each major area. This has the added advantage that, for example, motorboat owners can just skip the rig checklist.

Refit Resource

As well as being useful for those out there cruising, these checklists will be a great resource for the majority of us who can’t afford new boats and therefore must refit old boats to get out there.

This won’t be just theory since Phyllis and I are now deep into my fourth older boat refit.

And, yes, I still believe we can get out there for US$100,000 or even $30,000, at least if we work hard and smart.

To that end, these checklists will be part of working smart and saving money since it’s generally less expensive if we catch a problem early.

Self-Survey Resource

Wait, it gets better. These checklists will also be a great resource to use when checking out a boat we want to buy, prior to hiring a surveyor.

Not only will this save us from paying for a bunch of surveys on boats that then fail, with lists in hand we will be able to do a better job as well-informed and diligent owners than many (maybe most) surveyors.


All that said, it’s important to be clear that just printing out checklists and ticking them off will not, in and of itself, make us safer or reduce the chances of gear failure.

To understand why, let’s compare our situation to airline pilots who:

  • Have hundreds of hours of rigorously-regulated training.
  • Fly as co-pilot for many thousands more, including every possible manoeuvre required to operate the aircraft, before taking command.
  • Are rigorously trained and certified on each aircraft they fly.
  • Receive regular refresher training.
  • Have access to detailed manuals explaining every detail of how the planes they fly should be operated.

The point being that having a checklist and using it is only a tiny part of being a competent pilot, and the same applies to us cruisers, inshore or offshore.

Accompanying Articles

So rather than just lists, we will be publishing a series of articles, as well as linking to relevant ones in our archive, to provide a maintenance manual to go along with the lists.

It’s About Being Observant

And while thinking about the pilot metaphor, another thing to think about is that pilots run their checklists using scores (hundreds in some cases) of instruments that monitor the health of the plane and read out on a gauge or screen.

But the health of our boats is not anywhere near as well measured, so when we run through our checklists we need to totally focus our attention and be on the lookout for even the slightest detail that has changed, or just doesn’t look right, regardless of whether or not it’s on the checklist.

Thus, I think a better analogy for us than a pilot running a cockpit checklist is the same pilot doing a preflight walk around, or an expert mechanic crawling through an air frame looking for anything that doesn’t look right.

For example, we might have “check roller furler for free rotation” on our checklist, but if we are really observant and not just fixated on the list, we will also notice the elongated hole in the toggle below the drum.

Easy to see on the photo of the furler on our new-to-us J/109 at the top of this article, but much harder to catch when installed—our surveyor missed it.

Think About Implications

Following on from the above, we could, for example, just replace the toggle in the shot above and go sailing while patting ourselves on the back.

But a truly diligent boat owner will think further:

  1. What could cause that much wear on a comparatively low-mileage boat?
  2. What else might be damaged by the same cause and therefore should be checked or replaced?

And will, at that point, dig deeply into other things that are probably not on the checklist.

To assist in this process I will share things we have learned over the years about following those chains of potential failure points.

We Have To Prioritize

On the other hand, it’s great to write that we need to follow every detail that doesn’t look right to its cause. But in the real world, where every cruising boat owner is constantly faced with far more maintenance tasks than we can ever accomplish in the time allotted, aiming for perfection will mean we never go anywhere. We have all seen those “perfect boats”…the ones tied up at the marina for years on end.

To actually get out there cruising we need to be realistic about what’s mission critical. Think stuff that affects my big five:

  • Keep the water out.
  • Keep the crew on the boat.
  • Keep the keel side down.
  • Keep the mast up.
  • Keep the rudder on.

So in these articles and associated lists I will again stick my neck out by suggesting maintenance items that can be reasonably safely deferred to a time when we are not overwhelmed by all the things that must be done before departing on a cruise.

By the way, if we don’t feel overwhelmed by details before leaving for a cruise, we probably don’t understand boats and cruising.

Replacement Intervals

To make these checklists even more useful, I’m going to stick my neck out even further and make recommendations for gear replacement intervals.

Obviously these are all just my opinion, but an opinion based on a lot of experience, as well as input from talking to many other long-distance voyagers over the years and 19 years of running AAC while being exposed to huge amounts of wisdom from the comments.

That’s probably the best we can hope for given that actually bringing definitive science to replacement intervals would, I’m thinking, require a budget that would make NASA blush—think fully instrumenting a bunch of boats to measure load cycles and then data gathering for decades.

Yup, I’m covering my ass here, but at least I’m also tackling a difficult subject rather than totally copping out with “consult your rigger” or some such.

There Will Be Oversights

Despite 60 years of continuous boat ownership (yup, I started at age 10), and over 150,000 miles of offshore experience over 50 years, I can’t guarantee I won’t forget a vital item on one of these checklists.

But the good news is:

  • First, Phyllis will, while editing each list, use her tens-of-thousands of offshore miles of experience to fill in some of my oversights. And not only is she an experienced offshore sailor, she is also a detail freak who loves lists—I call her (lovingly) the list terrorist.
  • Second, a bunch of very smart and experienced members with millions of miles of cruising between them will fill in remaining oversights in the comments.
  • Third, members who are new to voyaging will question items that don’t make sense to a beginner’s mind—at least as valuable as input from the experienced.

Given that team effort, I’m confident that we will end up with the best set of voyaging checklists ever.

A Shortcut To Boat Reliability

One more thought before we dive deep into the details.

While I wrote above that checklists alone won’t be a shortcut to reliability, they will be if used in conjunction with the linked articles.

That said, I’m not going to kid you, the level of focus on the details and diligence suggested by this series will, at least at times, seem so overwhelming that I wouldn’t blame anyone who gives up halfway through and then goes and watches fun YouTube videos about cruising.

But trust me, although those videos tend to gloss over gear failures or even imply that it’s all part of the fun of cruising, a gear failure while cruising is anything but fun—I have had enough to know!

Conversely, there are few things more fun and satisfying than completing a voyage with no failures, or at least any that force us to change our plans (there will always be small stuff that goes wrong).

I know this because about 20 years ago Phyllis and I started regularly achieving that goal, so that we could really enjoy the amazing places we visited and the process of getting there, rather than suffering through that age-old aphorism: cruising is working on your boat in exotic places.

It took us decades of hard experience to get to this point, but these checklists and articles, if used diligently, will let you bypass a lot, maybe even most, of our pain.

Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man [sic] learns from the mistakes of others.

Otto von Bismarck


If you have any suggestions to make these checklist articles better, please leave a comment.

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Moritz Spanka

Hej John,
my idea for question #1 is a bad material combination between the pin, shank, and the furling drum. Looks like corrosion and maybe this has soften the material. Otherwise, a improper design of the connection may have lead to this damage. Third guess is an improper mast trim with too much permanent tension 😉
For question #2 I would guess that everything in the forceflow may be damaged. The bearings in the furling drum, the attachment point at the mast, connecting elements at the backstay at the mast and hull. All of them due to improper design or material choice or overload.

Best regards from Germany

Jon Landrum

My guess for #1 is something that turned the toggle into a bearing surface instead of what should be a relatively static load. In other words, sag/load cycles on the forestay. I’m thinking improper (loose) forestay/backstay tension allowing the mast to flex too much, or even (yikes) hull flexion from structural weakness.

Jon Landrum

Oh, and for #2, I would check the other standing rigging terminations and materials, especially the stays. As well as the mast for stress cracks at the top around the stay attachment points and at the deck.

Arne Mogstad

Being totally new to sailing, I’ll have a go at the questions…

#1: Looks like slack to me, so a slack fore/back-stay somewhere. As I assume it will be tight while flying a headsail at least (mine is pretty tight once I get som wind in the sails), I’m thinking this comes from excessive movement in the boat while motoring or moored, with too little tension.

#2: –

  • Checking the pin and termination where the fuller was attached.
  • The top of the headstay incl mast terminations for headstay.
  • Top and bottom of backstay, inch where they are terminated.
  • The headstay itself as it may have been damaged from moving around inside the furler.
  • Any damage to the furling unit, depending on the construction of it.
  • Then there would be the obvious(?) check of the rest of the standing rigging, and chafe from any movement.

Maybe I’m way off. Anyway, I’m REALLY looking forward to this series, as I’m in the process of making the same lists for my own new-to-me OVNI. I just finished a 5 week cruise in Northern Norway and got to experience a little bit of what you talk about (burst a hydraulic hose on the autopilot in the only spot I was unable to check when doing a complete check of the rudder prior to leaving).

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I wrote this a while back for another venue, but is pertinent to the use of checklists.
When on passage, I think there is a world of difference, when doing a 360 sweep of the ocean, if you tell yourself ahead of time that there is a potentially dangerous ship out there and you just need to find it. The work is then to convince yourself that you were wrong: that there is no ship out there. This may be a particular effective suggestion for new and inexperienced crew.
The same goes for pre-passage inspections (or all inspections for that matter): look for the problem you “know” is there. When I go aloft to check rigging, I “tell myself” that a problem exists and I just need to find it. And then convince myself there is no problem.
I know this “mind-set” shift changes my behavior from what might be termed casual-but-attentive to one of increased diligence: others have confirmed that this “mind-set” shift made them more focused.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Richard Ritchie

Great way to change mindset and keep focus! Thanks.

Timothy Jenne

That is very true. Underneath it all, when doing these checklists or inspections, there is a sense of dread. Which could be something like “I hope I don’t find a huge problem that will cancel my plans.” so when you go look it’s with one eye closed hoping we don’t find it.
Your mindset is great and can be coupled with “If I can find the problem before it manifests into a cascading set of problems or worse injury, I’ll be so happy.” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound or kilo of cure.

Kevin Dreese

Great idea.

We aren’t currently boating (soon) but with our Sprinter Van RV we use checklists constantly. The van is fairly complicated with dual inverters, diesel heat, all kinds of settings, and things to hook up or disconnect (in a certain order) depending on how its being used (off-grid, in a campground, etc.).

The checklists really help make sure we don’t make mistakes. Especially when setting up camp in the dark, pouring rain, after a long drive, etc. Its so nice to have it all easily thought out.

I use the free “Checklist+” app on my iPhone and created custom checklists for:

  • Pre-flight
  • Storage (put away setup)
  • Camp Setup
  • Leaving Camp
  • Offgrid Setup
  • Diesel Heat

The app is easy to use to setup and modify to add, delete or re-order steps

I am a strong believer in thinking things through when your mind is clear and not when you are exhausted trying to remember everything. Saved my bacon a bunch of times.

Stein Varjord

Hi Kevin and John,
I have used Trello quite a lot through the years, and still do. I now also use Notion a lot. Yes, I’m also a list terrorist. 🙂

Both the mentioned apps work on all platforms and sync flawlessly. One can share lists or groups of lists with anyone. They’re totally flexible in how you want to use them. They both have paid versions, but I have never needed anything more than the free versions.

I think Trello is the best for this. It’s very easy to learn the basic use, intuitive, quick and visually clutter free. There are quite advanced functions in Trello too, various automations and more, but you have to look for them, if you want it. The basic interface is super simple.

Notion can do all that Trello can, and a lot more, but with more visual clutter, more complication, but also with tools like limitless hierarchical organisation, if we want to store much info and find it logically. As mentioned, more isn’t always better. I’d argue Trello is the best there is out there for this job.

However, I don’t quite know how the lists her could be made available for members straight in Trello. I think we’d have to use cut and paste for each entry, which should be a good way to adapt the lists to our own case anyway…

Stephen Barfoot

+1 for Trello.

  • Simple, cross-platform, free.
  • The app works offline.
  • I have multiple checklists set up.
  • Can share with others. My wife has access to the boat checklists.
  • Each checklist item can have notes, links, photos etc attached.
  • I also keep my maintence lists in Trello – I set a due date on each scheduled item, and the items change colour in the list according to when they are due (or, in my case, overdue!). Just reset the due date each time the item is completed.
  • Also good for to-do/idea lists, short and long term. You can add notes, links, specifications etc to each to-do item or idea.

Note for anyone who wants to give it a try:

  • Create a “list” for each checklist.
  • Checklist items are “cards” within the list.
  • Just to confuse you, cards can have checklists within them – but I don’t use this feature.
Eric Klem

Hi All,

Do you find that using different apps for things holds up over time? The few different times I have tried specific apps for these sorts of things, I always seem to run into one of the following problems:

  • I lose track of what app a specific item is saved in
  • App gets outdated/ I can’t use for another reason (like switching from apple to android)
  • I end up needing more functionality
  • I need to share with someone who can’t or doesn’t want to install and learn the new app

I have gone through the aggravation of moving stuff from one platform to another a few times and my wife who dived in more heavily to apps has had to export a lot of stuff out as she backtracked. Most of our stuff now lives in google docs which you can set for offline use and share with people. It often isn’t as slick or as fit for purpose as some of the tailored apps but it just keeps working and I can always find stuff. Our boat checklists, work plans, purchasing sheets, etc are all in google sheets (google’s spreadsheets). We do still use office some, primarily Excel as it has more functionality but that may be a function of both using it for work. It is also worth noting that I get no pleasure out of figuring out new software, I spend my days using tricky software and take any break I can get from it, I am a mechanical guy afterall.

This isn’t to say that the mentioned apps are not great, I am just curious if people really find them worth it overall and how do you find the right one without tons of trial and error.


Stein Varjord

Hi Eric,
Since I’ve put more than my quota of words here about apps, I’ll try to not wear out my welcome. Also since I think apps are not the main thing here. Anyway, comments directly to your thoughts:

– I agree that an app shouldn’t be the focus. The content, the list items, how we can use it, should be. Any system we are comfortable with, including paper, will do just fine. I have similar experiences as you, testing innumerable systems, migrating and being annoyed. My present setup has ticked all boxes for a while, but that’s just valid for me…

– In my system (end of my other comment, below), I don’t have to remember anything. I use 3 tools. The location of info is based on which stage that info is at. Each tool has a simple structure that will show me related info I didn’t even remember to search for. All 3 tools also have powerful search functions. It’s kinda impossible to not find more than I looked for.

– The tools I use are all very well established, in heavy pro use, have been around for a long time and will most likely stay longer. They work on any platform They automatically and smoothly synchronise the info to any device you have, even when you have been working offline. They can also export their content.

– Some probably want more functionality in the 3 separate tools I use, but they are all very advanced, if we take the time to explore it all. I prefer mostly as simple as possible, but I do use a bit of automation in Trello.

– Trello and the other tools I use have strong functions for sharing info to anything you’d wish, including messages, e-mail, or paper. People who don’t want to use apps will miss their functionality, but they can totally be kept in the loop. Their main market is in work groups.

– Google Docs (also called G Drive or G Disc) is indeed one of the 3 tools I use too. Have been for over 20 years now. Simple but brilliant. I don’t see that one leaving my toolbox anytime soon. The reason I have 2 more tools for this is just form factor. G Docs is too clunky for working with lots of small pieces of info. Notion doesn’t work well with larger items and much text, but is superior in logic organisation and fast access. Trello don’t do either too well, but it cooperates well with the two others and is superior in giving an uncluttered, direct, zero delay use.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

an app shouldn’t be the focus. The content, the list items, how we can use it, should be. Any system we are comfortable with, including paper, will do just fine.

As I see it there’s a reason for airliners to still have at least the emergency checklists on paper (shrinkwrapped) as this obviously is the only media that cannot crash easily 😉

Christopher Barnes


Given folks will just copy and paste into their preferred app or file format why not just end the post with the list. Additionally, as you receive comments and suggestions of merit you can just update the post, and then it is good to go (plus if I want the latest version I have to keep up by subscription to AAC!)

Ernest Godshalk

John, a Word file would enable us to tailor the lists to our own boats – better than a PDF, I think. Looking forward to the articles.

Stein Varjord

Hi John and Stephen,

As mentioned, I haven’t looked into the options for it, but I assume it’s not easy to have Trello items available publicly. It doesn’t seem aimed at that. Work areas (the main containers), boards (groups of lists), lists (lists) and cards (items on lists, can also contain lists, notes, + +) can all be shared, but I think they need to be shared to each person.

As mentioned I think Trello is the clear winner out there for its versatility and easy user interface. A newbie will find it useful and easy from the first moment. The more complicated possibilities are for automated list handling, professional work groups, GTD setups or such. None of that has much use in this case. There are lots of youtube tutorials, for those interested. Most of them aim at advanced use. However, the immediately available easy function is plenty good enough.

I think the best way to make the items you treat in the articles easily available to the members is to have them in some easy text format. Then the members can just copy the text and put in their tool of choice. Even copying text straight from the online article seems good enough. I think I’d copy one item at a time into a Trello card.

I guess each article will have a relatively limited number of actual list items we all want to use, since that article also perhaps includes alternatives and a discussion around that general topic. Thus, using copy – paste should be both quick and easy to keep tidy. Since each member will build her/his own structure, the process is useful for making it our own system that we know intuitively. The beauty of Trello is that it’s so easy to keep it visually clean and to reorganise anything really easy. Drag and drop.

If you do want to have some other format, I think docx (Word) is the right one. It gives the members free choice if they want to use just a plain sheet of “paper”, Trello or another app, a worksheet like Excel, Google Drive, or literally anything else. The process of choosing our own platform and adapting the lists to that is perhaps the best way to make the system move from an article we read, agree with and learn from, into our own personal tool. A tool that is integrated into how we get things done. A tool we’ll use, tweak and benefit from constantly.

Off topic, but related to having lists etc:
For anyone interested in what systems to use, I’ve tested loads of different systems, apps, and whatnot through the years, including the original physical Time Manager, from the eighties. My present system for attempting to organise my chaotic procrastinating mind and be (slightly) more useful than a horny squirrel, is trying to have an information flow:
– NOTION: Ideas and all kinds of short form notes and superficial research go into a fast hierarchical system. I use many layers, to sort into reasonable detail, to make sure I will see old ideas I’ve even forgotten when I look at a similar topic.
– GOOGLE DRIVE: As any of the above needs more volume of text, sheets, pictures and such, it expands or moves into a hierarchical folder system here. Word, Excel, etc on your own computer would be the same thing.
– TRELLO: When things are to be done, they get broken up into actionable single tasks that can be done relatively quick. Never more than one full day, preferably way less.

Trello is not where I store notes, and not where I figure things out. For me, Trello is where the last part happens. Only things I actually want to do get there. It’s where things get prioritized and sorted. What should I do at all, and what should I do NOW and in the near future. This is a potentially big topic, but I’ll stop. 🙂

Stephen Barfoot

Hi Stein,

In theory it would be quite simple to create a Trello template, which anyone could then use to create their own boat checklists.

In reality, eveyone’s boats are so different that no two checklists will be the same. And everyone will have a different system for storing their checklists. So probably not worth the trouble.

I have spent my career in technology, and my experience when it comes to software is that less and simpler is almost always better…!

PS Agree about the other tools, love G Suite; but having my checklists always two taps away on my phone is hard to beat.

Dan Perrott

I’m curious about what the correct answer is.
I’m going with:
1) a large mismatch of clevis pin and hole size creating an excessive point load.
2) Check all other clevis pin and hole combinations on the rigging, chain plates masthead connections etc.

Sometimes it’s supprising what you find on an inspection. While up the mast giving everything a once over the top of the VHF arial came off in my hand. Very corroded. The tiny force required made me supprised it had survived its use as a bird perch in the past.

Richard Ritchie

Very important subject. This is going to be a great journey!
Regarding format: .pdf is great for reference but not editable. (It is a right pain.) Can you please also make available (to members!) word or similar versions which we can adjust to our own boat, reformat as required, and/or import into our own quirky choices of device and app.
(If you do not make quirky choices, you are not thinking about it!)

Dan Manchester

Hi John,
You could possibly make it available in multiple formats pretty easily. Personally, I’d prefer a spreadsheet (numbers or excel) so I can add dated comments columns to keep a running history, but these could be put as tables in word or pages for those preferring editable documents, and also PDF’d as a final iteration. Please don’t only do PDF as it’s an end of the line process that tends to put in a heap of hidden tags and formatting which become a PITA to clean up if you want to go backwards.

Petter Mather Simonsen

Good point about PDF’s Dan. I will cast my vote along with you, for what it might be worth.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Ok, I’m probably too late with my thoughts, and most of it has been said already. I’ll give it a shot anyway 😉

Q1: although I didn’t come about this I like Dans idea of mismatched clevis pin – although this might be just a bit far-fetched. I’d actually rule out the possibility of using wrong material (have no chance to dive into as I don’t have all items at hand). What remains is too much permanent tension in the forestay – or even too little, allowing the clevis pin to unduly move around and work the material. So I’d opt for incorrect rig tensioning, be it too much or too little.

QII gets more or less answered by QI, just as Moritz already said as the first poster. The whole “tension train” would be initially suspect, starting at the chainplate and its pins (check structure if too much tension for a long time), furler gear (esp. bearings), furler top attachment (no idea of the correct name), forestay/mast attachment points. Also the opposite aftstay (if existent) might be affected.
And if get paranoid completely I’d also check the untensioned mast if it might have got some permanent deformation, again if too much tension over time.

Rodney Morris

This should be a really helpful series and I am looking forward to each chapter. Having it in some easily editable format would be fabulous, especially for members like myself that have two hulls to check, each with duplicate as well as unique systems and items…and quirks. Thank you for taking this on. Cheers,

Jesper Milling

I would need to Edit such a checklist, first of all to translate it into danish, and secondly to adjust it to my own boat. So PDF might not be as good as a Word format, or a .txt format that can be imported and formatted in any test editor or notes app with checkboxes.

Dan Manchester

I concur – a better option still might be a spreadsheet that you can add a new comments column to each time you use it, and therefore keep a history/reminders eg “fine for now – replace at next haul out”

Karl Westman

I’ll pile on, albeit too late.
Q1- I bet a week’s salary the clevis pin was too small in diameter.
Q2- check the forestay swage fittings, the bow chainplate and the masthead fittings.

Charles Starke MD

Dear John
Excellent idea. This is really important in many fields and Atul Gawande expresses this very well.
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Steve D’Antonio also told a great little story about the need to check things:
Best wishes
Charles L Starke MD
s/v Dawnpiper

Rick Hearn

1. I’m tending towards too much tension. Others have stated too much forestay tension, I offer perhaps too much halyard tension (this would slacken the forestay slightly thereby allowing movement, is this even possible?). Many people tension this up when hard on the wind but don’t slack when off wind or more importantly when furled up.
2 So in that line, check mast top sheave bearing surface and pin. (An aside but for those with wire halyards, the wire hasn’t slipped off sheave and is sawing through the pin). Any other point under constant strain, perhaps halyard in clutch for excess wear? Tack attachment point, sail grommet, drum shackle.

A couple of questions:

1. Would a mismatched size pin create an oval that would have side wear different in dimension than the original hole, ie smaller?
2. Too early for me to understand the rust pattern which looks like more at the top, and looking through the outer hole, looks like quite a bit of corrosion on the inside surface of the toggle.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

It is a little hard to tell from the picture but a few things jump out at me. The first is the amount of material that has come towards the camera in the hole. This could suggest that the pin was not parallel to the hole axis potentially by being partially backed out at some point (scary if true!). Also interesting is that the elongation is not inline with the toggle. This is always going to be true on any wire held in tension with a radial load but I am surprised how much is visible here. Does this mean that the damage occurred when there was not a lot of forestay tension? Or did the crew hang onto a full jib through some horrible squall that imparted huge radial loads? Assuming that everything was sized right from the beginning, there should be no material yielding even in a bad squall so it suggests that something else happened. Which brings me to my final idea which is related to a mismatch in pin size. It is again hard to tell from the picture but the amount of yielding and how local it is does suggest that the pin may be undersized for the toggle. Shear loads of slip fit pins in holes are actually a slightly tricky engineering subject (hertzian stress) especially with high modulus materials and they look really poor when the radial clearance becomes large.

Answering question 2 I think requires knowing the answer to question 1. If there were an overload, that makes everything between the forestay and backstay chainplates suspect but if it is more like a pin that was partially backed out for a bit, that makes the problem much more localized but inspecting the rest is still a good idea.

I look forward to the series of articles.


Arne Mogstad

Regarding the fact that the elongation is not in-line, I’m thinking, would not that be the case with a rolled up jib, a slack forestay, and tensioned jib sheets? I can just compare to my own boat, where the chainplate is in the longitudinal axis of the boat, and the pin goes starboard-portside (I just assume every boat is designed that way). When it’s windy and I don’t get to take the headsail down, I see that the headstay gets pulled in a bit if I put tension on the jib sheets.

Eric Klem

Hi Arne,

Yes, there will always be some deflection, in fact there has to be for a purely tension member like a wire to carry any radial load. The angle that it makes at the connection is a function of the tension in the wire and the radial load. John covers this in some of his articles on jacklines as they deal with the same principles. I believe that the angle will actually be greatest when the jib is fully unrolled as then the foot of the sail will be pulling at a point close to the toggle where the same amount of headstay linear stretch will mean more angle.

What surprised me is how great the angle appears to be from this picture. A complete eyeball guess says 15 degrees. I ran all the math on our boat years ago when we re-rigged (it was clear to me that our cap shrouds and backstay were light compared to many other boats and the math backed this up) and I got a much lower max angle at the forestay toggle even with making some pretty bad assumptions about how well distributed the load is along the luff. I may just be overestimating the angle with my eye.



While coming late to the game due to time zone issue, none the less I’m up to offering my two sense.

#1. Occurrence. Elongation can be caused by several factors. Poor metal. Repetitive motion wearing (metal chafe). Or even poor installation ie. Over drill hole to fit or improper sizing of pin. With just the hole to evaluate it is difficult to state an exact cause

Without additional information I would examine each of the possibilities till I found a likely cause.

#2. Poor metal.
While not the most likely it should be relatively easy to inspect. Examine all the structural metal parts that hold the mast to the deck. While the single furler parts are likely the only involved before venturing into open waters I would examine all of the fittings.

Repetitive Motion.
Sailing a boat hard in open waters can set up hardware for this type of damage. Sailing a boat with a lightly tensioned forestay or rig in rough water will expose the metal fittings to constant action. It works the metal much like the black smiths hammer. Stainless Steel can be either brittle or malleable. I would look for other rigging fittings to have experienced this repetitive motion chafe. I would look for cracking and or elongation on the mast and deck fittings of the shrouds. It may have been caused by sailing without using running back stays.

This could be easier addressed if we had the pin to examine. Anyway inspection of all pin fittings should be on the checklist. Checking for size fit and signs of wear.

There you go John.
Looking forward to your observations.

Michael Jack

Love the idea of this new series. I have been working up to buying a boat for the first time in a long time and looked far and wide for such a checklist. I only found very high-level stuff which, although sometimes useful, was not anywhere as detailed as I wanted. So I made my on Excel checklist of about 200 items I wanted to check on every boat I saw. I am sure it is not as comprehensive as yours but it helped and I did use it diligently on a boat I just bought. I was just in the process of using the same list for a maintenance checklist, but now I am going to wait to let you do the work for me. Thank you in advance. Could you have this done before the survey of my new boat at the beginning of February please 😉

Michael Jack

Thanks for the links, John and no pressure 🙂 I am sure I will get by with what I have read on the site so far and the links others have shared. Being a complete newbie here, I am making my way slowly but surely through all content in a loose order of priority based on my plan to start to really sail in April (I am currently a wimp with a too comfortable house so earlier than that in Northern Europe is beyond my capability). Anyway, loving everything you have written and the great contributions from your community. Looking forward to future installments.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
I look forward to this series!

Probably you already got the right answers to your questions, but my best guesses are:
1. The headstay has vibrated in wind. Possibly due to too low tension, but just as likely because a furled sail will create violent oscillation of the stay in strong wind. Just one night of that can be enough to damage the rig.
2. I’d inspect all parts of the headstay and furler. Also attachment points in the rig and on the boat. I’d also inspect the integrity of the headstay to boat structure, even below deck.

Star Tracker

Looking forward to the checklists! I think checklists and spreadsheets are so useful for anything like a boat. I’m trying to get motivated to switch over to the following:
I used to use but have since switched to reminders(free but iThing only).

Alex Borodin

Hello John,
I’ve been a total checklist convert since I’ve read The Checklist Manifesto some 10 years ago, so I’m very much looking forward to this article series. So glad you’ve stopped putting this off!

Dan Manchester

Hi John,
Looking forward to this series. I’m writing this on the eve of our first decent cruise (delayed waiting for cyclone Seth to die off the Queensland coast), and wracked with the anxiety of all the things I might have forgotten to check or bring, despite spending the last few months prepping and doing all the maintenance I can think of. I think we’re good to go, but boy, a well thought out checklist would be massively helpful to focus the mind. In the meantime, I’ll be worrying about the integrity of my depth sounder alongside whether I have enough potatoes.

David Zaharik

Great idea for a series, I am very much looking forward to it…

This group is amazing! The answers given so far are all well thought out. I look forward to reading and preparing our Boréal for our next big adventure.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I am not clear, do you believe that this failure is load induced or wear induced or maybe a combination? The material displaced from the hole appears to me to be due to a high load but that could easily be wrong. You can get material that looks extruded out from a wear scenario but I would expect it to be thinner and sticking straight out more rather than bent over looking. However, the angle suggests to me that it is not due to load over the winter. I would expect that the inertia of the components in the headstay system are fairly low compared to the maximum acceleration of the mast so I would think that during any high load scenario, the highest loads should be when the forestay is effectively straight. Maybe the furling line was super tight and that gave the strange angle? A hybrid method would be something like a slack headstay with lots of wear for most of the winter to set up that angle and remove the material then a big storm with winds from the right direction at the end of the winter to shock load and leave that material. Failure investigation is super tricky and the actual failure modes can often be really strange. I hope this isn’t digging in too deep as I realize this is just the intro to stuff about checklists.

Regardless, it sounds like you are taking appropriate corrective actions- I assume you are checking the mast step too as that is what will react a lot of these loads. Also, leaving a rig slack or that can go slack (whatever happened to backing up any hydraulics when left for a long period?) is not appropriate.


Eric Klem

Hi John,

Thanks for the response. I hope your chainplates were easier to remove than most are. One nice thing about our boat is that when we rebed all of them, we were able to remove, polish, inspect and reinstall them in a single long day including the forestay one which seems to often be skipped for some reason. Of course, at least 1/3 of the time was spent on just 3 bolts where the heads snapped off due to crevice corrosion but it certainly made clear that the job needed to be done.


David Branyon

2nd time today I have come across the use of the word “pumping” when dealing with a sailing rig which I don’t understand, as it is clearly not transporting or raising the pressure of a liquid. What does this term mean? Cyclically loading? (The other time, it was used in discussion of the mast “pumping”.) Apologies for the newb question.

Kit Laughlin

John and Phyllis,

This is an excellent idea; two suggestions:

Make it a simple.txt file, and

Perhaps organise it around your “big five’ principles?

I am in the process of writing my own, simply because a new boat takes me a long time to learn, and making notes as I go is very helpful.

Warm regards from Greenwell Point

Chris M

FWIW, John, I usually find an Excel (or similar) spreadsheet format more useful in the long run, compared to PDF documents. This is almost always because I can prioritize (for our own specific situation) individual line items within a spreadsheet easily and then re-sort the list to present a more focused picture that might better suit our own needs. And too, I can categorize like items in subordinate worksheets, then prioritize within. I can create PDF versions after all that, if useful, from the original spreadsheet. Not intended to be a sales pitch; just an observation from our quarterdeck. Cheers, -Chris

Chuck Batson

An advantage of spreadsheets is that you can set it up to highlight items that are overdue for inspection, replacement, etc.