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What should I inspect regularly on deck?

2020 May 1

Dear Boat Doctor, 

I have read a lot about regular inspections of my boat. This seems like a really good idea, but I don’t know what to look for. What am I supposed to be looking for?

Rob Rampell

Ft. Myers, Florida

Dear Rob,

Modern sailboats are a series of complex systems that are generally well-engineered, but things can go wrong. The marine environment is tough, with unpredictable loads, chafing and a pretty corrosive environment. Our boats don’t live in a vacuum. Humans are involved, and humans can make mistakes. The complexity and variation in boats make a checklist challenging, because you will miss things, but I can describe a framework and some examples of what I have run into.

I like to do a daily walk of the deck and check out all the main systems. It may look like I am just wandering around, but there is a method to it. 

When inspecting the standing rigging, look at each connection to the boat. Take a quick look at each cotter pin and look for broken wire strands. It’s a good time to make sure you have no sharp edges that may snag a sail, sheet or crew.

Running rigging is a little easier because it’s easy to identify the enemy: chafe. Look for any sign of chafing as well as anything that might cause it. It’s also a great chance to verify that things are rigged correctly. 

Lifelines, in general, are vulnerable systems. There are many attachment points, typically lightweight hardware and they can be easily damaged by the sea, docking and even your crew. It’s important to take a look at each cotter pin, inspect each stanchion and look for corrosion on the wire. Rust leaking out from under the vinyl cover on a lifeline wire is a sure sign that things are amiss. Vinyl-covered wire tends to trap water and allows corrosion to take hold, I strongly recommend uncovered lifeline wire.

This process may sound excessive, but you can complete it in just a few minutes. By inspecting quickly you may miss things, but by inspecting every day you will catch most problems. The important part is to get out of the cockpit and just take a look around.