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Rigging for Offshore Cruising Yachts

July 1, 2014

As part of the World Cruising Club Bluewater Open Boat Weekend, our Rigging, Refit & Repair Manager, Robin Milledge, was asked to do a presentation about Rigging on Offshore Cruising Yachts.

Robin MilledgeHere we expand on his presentation, tapping into the vast knowledge of over 40 years of sailing, 30 years of working on yachts and 6 Atlantic crossings (3 crossing as part of the ARC) to give you an overview of rigging on offshore cruising yachts.

Know your Rigging

Robin started his presentation identifying which wire rigging types are generally found on cruising yachts. The image below shows the two main forms of wire rigging found on the majority of cruising yachts, both made from stainless steel wire.

Berthon - Yacht rigging wire - 1x19 and Dyform


The standard being 1×19 – where 19 individual strands of wire are rotated to form an individual cable which gives a strong, low stretch wire for rigging. This is the industry standard for yachts and is found worldwide.

The other is Dyform, which is again 19 individual wires but its strands are drawn through a shaped die before being wound together. This means it has less stretch, due to the tight layup, but also has less dynamic stretch due to a greater cross sectional area of material for a given diameter, giving 30% less stretch for the same diameter of standard 1×19, meaning you can reduce the diameter needed for rigging and reduce the weight aloft. These advantages do come at an extra cost of around 50% over standard 1×19 wire.

Terminal Ends

The terminal ends are the fittings that connect the wire rigging to the deck/mast/spreader fittings. These come in two forms, swage and swageless.

A swage fitting is added to the wire with a swaging tool, drawing the wire end through a machine and permanently attaching the fitting to the wire. The swage fittings take on 3 main forms as seen in the image below, each with their own advantages and uses.

A Swage Eye allows for movement in a single direction and are mainly used at the cap shrouds or tang fittings.

The Strap Toggle Swage are used in areas where articulation is needed in both directions, normally used at the bottom of the V2/V3 spreader ends (2nd and 3rd set of vertical wire sections in mast).

Stemball Swage ends are more commonly found on French masts and mainly used for forestay, backstay and lower shrouds, allowing a smaller amount of movement.

Berthon - Swage Terminals - Swage Eye, Strap Toggle and Stemball

The alternative to Swage fittings is a Swageless fitting; these allow the end fitting to be reused when replacing the wire rigging and can fitted on site using very simple hand tools.

The swageless fitting uses strands from the wire to wrap around a cone, the cone sits on the central core wire, the socket is then pulled done onto the cone where the end terminal is fitted and tighten completing the swageless terminal.

Swagless Terminal End fitting diagramKnowing which wire type, terminal ends and fittings your rig is made up of is important, giving you the necessary information to speak to riggers and when ordering spare parts.

Rig Survey

As the presentation was part of the World Cruising Club Bluewater Open Boat Weekend, the next part was focused towards information from surveys, reports and repairs. Robin was keen to focus on what you would get out of a survey when buying a yacht, as a surveyor would normally limit their inspection and comments to a deck level inspection, then inform the buyer to obtain expert advice if thought necessary.

Robin suggests that as a bare minimum you should have a rig report undertaken when buying a yacht. A rig report would give a full visual inspection of the standing rigging, spars and fittings and running rigging. This should be a written report detailing the size of wire, type of fittings, faults found and cautionary notes.

A full visual rig check can be done with the mast in situ or unstepped. At Berthon we normally undertake our rig checks afloat, taking between 2 and 4 hours on a standard sloop or cutter rig.

Berthon - Visual Rig inspection at Berthon

Examples of Damage

When doing rig servicing and reports at Berthon, the common forms of damage and faults that we find are:-

Crevice corrosion in fittings – where water is trapped and starts to react with the stainless steel fittings

Dents in mast or boom extrusions – compression dents from poor rig set up or damage caused when sailing, an uncontrolled gybe for example

Compression at spreader roots or fittings

Permanent bend in the mast extrusion

Loose fittings – rivets working loose under load, poor rig set up

Broken wire strands – where individual strands have snapped along the length or at the terminal ends.

Rig Repairs

As we have shown above, the rig report will highlight any defects, compression issues, cracks and corrosion to be found on your rig. The next stage is looking at the repairs that can be undertaken.

In terms of the crevice corrosion in fittings, these would have to be checked closely and replaced if needed.

Dents in mast and booms can generally be repaired or reinforced with a doubler plate as seen on the boom section below. This is where the vang fitting joins the boom and a plate has been shaped and riveted in place around the compression, this will spread the load around the area.

Berthon - Doubler plate attached to a Boom

Compression at spreader roots and Permanent Bends in mast extrusions would be looked at on an individual basis and repaired where possible.

Loose fittings will be looked at on an individual basis and repaired where possible with a backing plates and a larger rivet to hold everything in place.

Broken wire strands would normally mean having that section of rigging replaced.

Replacement of Standing Rigging

The replacement of standing rigging doesn’t always happen when there has been a failure or a fault has been found. Obviously failing or badly worn standing rigging would be replaced, but there are other factors in the replacement cycle of standing rigging.

It is the history of the yacht that dictates change – i.e. if you know the yacht has completed a circumnavigation in the past, it would be prudent to replace the standing rigging before heading across the ocean again.

If upgrading the mast or the rig is being reconfigured, different standing rigging due to the different loads is paramount; and the same applies if reconfiguring the spreaders or the mast position is being changed.

Service Intervals

Most mast and rigging manufacturers would give their products a shelf life, meaning they would expect you to replace certain elements at certain stages of the life cycle, regardless if the yacht is used for the odd Sunday cruise or completed a circumnavigation. Berthon would always recommend an annual rig inspection and at minimum a rig check after a long crossing.

Rig Adaptations for Bluewater Cruising

As the presentation was focused on cruisers that would be joining the ARC to cross the Atlantic, where the majority of crossing is downwind, Robin was keen to explore the adaptations that can be undertaken to the rig to make the crossing safer and sail handling easier.

There are a variety of set ups that will be seen when crossing the Atlantic, from a standard spinnaker set up, to a poled-out headsail, to a twin pole for twin headsail arrangement. Investigation would be needed as to whether the pole mounting on the mast would be sufficient or needed to be moved, also if there would need to be additional support for the poles in the form of guys and topping lifts.

Berthon - Yacht sailing under twin poles and twin headsails

Storm Sails & Emergency Forestays

Robin was keen to point out that storm sails and emergency forestays should be a priority on all cruising yachts, be easily fitted and not stowed in inaccessible places. The point was raised that if it was difficult to fit your trysail in a calm marina, imagine what it would be like trying to fit it in Stormforce conditions. An additional track on the mast could be a very viable solution here.

The discussion then turned to emergency inner forestays, with Robin stating the points of connection to strong points on the mast, the need for deck reinforcement where needed and a tensioning device for the forestay.

Berthon - Emergency Forestay

Routine Check and Maintenance

When on your long passage you should be completing a daily routine of checks (engine, fuel, oil, water and so on), and part of this should be a daily walk on deck checking for issues. Robin gave a check list of things to look for.

  • Chafe – Check sheets and guys, deck level and running rigging
  • Rigging screws and pins
  • Check aloft – binoculars or sending a crew up the mast
  • Switch halyards regularly to reduce chafe/wear
  • Run halyards to check for chafe/wear
  • Check deck gear – winches, blocks

On a long passage you might be on one track/gybe for days on end, meaning that areas of your rig will not be under tension where fittings could work loose, ensure that you have your rig tuned properly before you leave and have a full post crossing rig inspection when you arrive.

The main part of the daily check is to notice signs of wear and chafe as soon as possible, but there are chafe prevention measures you can take before you leave the dock. The majority of people will have spreader patches added to the mainsail to reduce the wear on the sails when sailing downwind, or to jibs and genoas for upwind. The addition of leather or plastic covers over the spreaders and the spreader ends will also reduce wear on sails. There was even talk about Baggywrinkles (see below), an old type of chafe protection for large sailing yachts made from short pieces of yarn cut from old ropes, connected around a central core to make this long, shaggy fringe that is used at point where sails come in contact with standing rigging.

Berthon - Baggy Wrinkles

Rig spares to carry

The final area that Robin spoke about was the spares that you should be carrying. It’s important to carry spares, but you must know how to fit them. There was a check list that was produced below.

  • Halyards and Sheets
  • Mouse lines for running out halyards
  • Spare blocks, including snatch blocks
  • Shackles of various sizes
  • Sheaves – replacement sheaves for halyards and blocks
  • Dyneema line for temporary lashings
  • Tape
  • Emergency rig repair kit – end fittings, wire, split pins
  • Sail repair kit.

This concluded the presentation for the World Cruising Club Bluewater Open Boat Weekend, we know that this just touches on the subject of rigging for offshore cruising, but Berthon is always happy to assist and answer further questions.

For more information on Berthon Rigging Services or other Boatyard Services please contact our Rigging and Refit team –

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