Guardwires, lifelines....whatever you call them there is a recurring theme. They are there to keep you safe and therefore should be considered as one of the most important parts of your yacht whether a cruising or racing yacht.
You might have seen on our social media that we have been banging on about guardwires but that’s because in the last year we have seen too many instances of damage and some failures that luckily didn’t result in anyone getting hurt but it was a stark indicator to how important these bits of rigging are and how little they are looked after or inspected.
It is often hard to quantify how important guardwires are. With some of our clients we are involved with doing a risk register of every single component on board. By giving each item a factor related to likeliness of failure and impact of failure you can highlight any potential weak links. Guardwires always rate highly as the impact of failure is almost certainly loss of life or multiple lives if racing on a boat with 20 guys sat hiking on the rail.
Guardwires should really be classed as a bit of standing rigging and looked after in the same way as they get damaged and fail in exactly the same way. Standing rigging failures are usually a result of cycling fatigue. In a rig it is caused during sailing by the leeward rigging unloading and loading. On guardwires the forces involved are caused by people pulling themselves on board or hiking or, more often the case, fenders hanging and pinching between the boat and the pontoon as most boats in a marina will spend a lot more time alongside then out on the water. For this reason alone it is important to note that guardwire failure is not only for sailing boats but also power boats where many will have wire guardwires in areas along the side deck.
Other common failures or damage with guardwires happen around the terminals where deflection at the end of the swage causes strands of wire to break. This is often due to the wires not being tight enough and allowing the wire to bend or again fenders being tied on next to terminals and causing bending.
So how do you make your guardwires last longer and how should they be inspected? Firstly it is important to keep them tight to reduce the amount of movement at the terminals. They won’t stretch but your stanchions may get bent slightly over time which will cause the wires to go slack so maintaining tension in them regularly is important.
Tie fenders around your stanchions instead of the wires. This can be at the bottom or higher up above the middle wire but use a clove hitch or rolling hitch so the fender line does not bear on the wire where it goes through the stanchion.
When inspecting concentrate on checking for broken strands at the end by the swage. To check this properly we recommend loosening the guard wire enough to be able to articulate the wire to see if any strands are broken.
Also check in the stanchions themselves for broken wires. These are often hard to see normally and you won’t have felt them in normal use which if you’ve ever done you will know what I mean when I say “ouch”!!
Another thing to look out for in the wire itself is small marks of what looks like rust or black strands of wire. These are small imperfections in the wire which will more then likely result in a break in the strand eventually.
The final thing we see all too often which is the most alarming are fork terminals at the end of the wires missing there split pin or split ring out of the end of the rigging pin. Quite often the little pins or rings get caught on sails or rope and are pulled out. Then it’s just a matter of time before the rigging pin falls out and the rest is obvious... We try and prevent this by putting the pins or rings on the outside of the terminal and then wrapping them neatly with insulation tape.
So to summarise I think the thing to take away from this is that these wires are not insignificant and should be respected and regarded as much as your standing rigging and should be subject to the same regular checks and routine renewal which like your standing rigging should be between 10 and 15 years. But if nothing else next time you are on your boat just spare a bit of time to look over these life savers...