Synthetic rigging has been getting more and more common recently. Rod rigging has lost some popularity in the past decade due to parts availability issues from manufacturers. Wire rigging has remained tried and true to the test of time. In looking at each of these stay materials we find some advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look…
Wire rope has been around a LOOONNG time. Perhaps, therefore, the most tried and true. Remember, this was the big upgrade from tarred manila used on the old square riggers of yesteryear. First steel, then not far behind galvanized wire rope and finally stainless steel wire rope, most common today. Stainless steel wire rope, in the sailing world, generally comes in 4 construction types: 1 x 19, 7 x 7, 7 x 19 (pictured left), and 1 x 19 Dyform or Compact Strand (pictured right).
Standard 1 x 19 stainless steel wire is primarily used in standing rigging and now (within the last 10 years or so) also lifelines.
7 x 7 stainless steel wire is rarely seen anymore in the sailing world and is generally reserved for vinyl coated lifeline cables.
7 x 19 stainless steel wire is still used a good bit (although it is fading fast with the popularity of synthetics). 7 x 19 is mostly used where cable flexibility is a necessity, i.e. 2:1 backstay bridles with backstay tensioning devices, center board cables and steering cables.
Lastly, stainless steel 1 x 19 Compact Strand or Dyform wire, is the stronger, lower stretch version of standard 1 x 19. Compact Strand is used primarily in performance applications or where high loads are expected but the diameter of the wire needs to be minimized, i.e. catamarans and high performance boats using wire rigging.
Wire rigging, generally, is the most common form of standing rigging found on sailboats today. 1 x 19 standard stainless steel specifically is the most common style of wire used. All of these types of wires can be found in both metric and imperial size ranges except for Dyform/ Compact Strand which is only available in metric sizing (at least as far as I know). Stainless steel wire can come in many grades; in marine applications a minimum of 304 grade is recommended, but we [at TRC] won’t touch it unless it is the more corrosion resistant 316 grade.
Wire comes in as the lowest cost product of the three, especially when using swage fittings. Life expectancy is very good with regular inspection, 7-20 years or 15-25k nautical miles depending on use and region. It lasts not as long as rod, but longer than synthetics. It also is the stretchiest and most elastic of the three choices and therefore offers the lowest performance.
Although wire rigging is the oldest of all three, Nitronic 50 (XM-19) rod rigging has also been around a long time in the sailing world. I’d say it started gaining popularity on production boats in the late 70’s, early 80’s (please correct me if I am wrong here). Rod rigging is made of ultra high quality materials and has VERY low stretch characteristics, a very long lifespan, and a minimum breaking strength beyond that of its wire counterpart. Another thing that I like about rod rigging is its sizing method. Rod
rigging, much like synthetics, is sized by breaking strength, i.e. -10 = 10,000 lbs (approx.), -12 = 12,000 lbs (approx.). So no one needs to worry about “is it metric?” or “is imperial?”, “it’s -30.” Nitronic 50 comes in 2 finishes for sailing yachts, polished and satin. Rod is typically found in coil form up until a certain diameter and then it will be found in bar form but lengths are restricted to tractor trailer size…40′. Longer lengths available upon special request; anything is doable for money ;-0)
Nitronic 50 (XM-19) Rod rigging has extremely long life expectancy attributed to design (mono strand) and the composition of the alloy making it very corrosion resistant. It is arguable that the lifespan of a Nitronic 50 piece of rod will outlast all other stay materials. One of the recent misconceptions about rod is that it is very expensive to replace and also hard to find parts. Hence more and more people have been asking about converting their rod rigged boats to wire (but more on that below).
Contrary to recent rumors, rod rigging parts and service are readily available at The Rigging Company!
Rod rigging does require a more in-depth service protocol during recommended intervals, which includes unstepping the mast to inspect and re-head the rod as needed. It should be known that the cost for this is very reasonable, nowhere close to the cost of re-rigging. Yes, when dealing with complete rod replacement (not service) which is rarely the case, one can expect to pay a bit more for rod rigging, relatively speaking of course.
Synthetic rigging is the latest and greatest and also perhaps the most controversial. Synthetics are typically sized much like rod, by minimum breaking strengths. The four primary materials used in synthetic stays are: Dyneema, Aramid, Polybenzoxazole (good luck with that one) also known as PBO cable, and lately carbon fiber rigging is taking the performance stay market to the next level. These materials have proven to be a ‘weight wienie’s’ dream; synthetics offer somewhere between 60-80% in weight savings over that of metal stay materials. Tensile breaking strengths are roughly 10-50% higher when talking about comparable sizing. Lastly, synthetic rigging’s ultra low stretch performance characteristics, which can vary depending on product and construction type, are as good or better than anything out there.
The downsides of synthetic stays are they are generally more expensive (except single braid Dyneema perhaps) than the other stay materials out there. Even with great strides, claiming 10 years of lifespan with service, in the carbon fiber side of things, synthetic rigging will not last as long as the metal stuff. The last downside I always point out is although some of these materials are extremely chafe resistant (varying depending on construction technique and material choice, of course), I will stand firm that they are no match to that of metal wire or rod.
INTERCHANGEABILITY OF STAY MATERIALS:
Lastly, I’d like to touch on the subject of switching from one stay material to another. As I mentioned above, many people with rod rigging have been asking about changing over to wire. I think this is mainly attributed to the lack of service centers and parts availability for rod rigging IMHO. I will try and keep this short and sweet by starting off with the fact that it will likely cost more money to change over the rod rigging to wire, even though wire rigging is slightly less expensive (again, generally speaking). There are attachment point changes as well breaking strength considerations which can become a problem especially when considering pin sizing.
~It will likely cost more money to change over the rod rigging to wire~
Conversely, upgrading from wire to rod rigging presents similar issues. Having said all of that, there are some (very few) boats with rod rigging that can easily get away with changing things over. Valiant is one that comes to mind. This is because they utilize conventional attachment points.
To finish this up, if talking about synthetic upgrades from rod or wire there are some better options for you. The main reason for this being a more viable option is that synthetic rigging was developed to be an upgrade from wire or rod (barring some of the newer super yacht designs, probably a non-point to you, the reader, since you are on this site). Whereas rod and wire rigging was primarily developed to be OEM equipment, not an upgrade option. Thus, if you have wire or rod…chances are, you are better off sticking with what was there originally, OR upgrading to synthetic.
Thanks for the read and please be so kind and leave us your thoughts below.