Integral backstay adjusters can play a big role in how a boat sails. Being able to adjust the backstay tension from the pump of a handle can be useful on cruisers just as much as racers. We all need to make general changes to the boats trim depending on wind and wave conditions in order to keep control of the boat.
Please note: in the case of the offshore cruiser or racer, one should have a fail-safe device rigged by a professional for any hydraulic backstay tensioning device.
Holmatro, makers of the Jaws of Life, are trying to set some new standards when it comes to integral adjuster technology. Holmatro’s HIA line-up comes in two different colors, classic black or a silver metallic. One of the design flaws that I’ve notice on earlier model adjusters (regardless of manufacturer) is that you have to crawl on the deck to try and read the gauge; causing most of us leisure sailors (myself included) to not even look at the darned ‘thing’. This is bad practice, considering the power of hydraulics. The feature that really sets Holmatro apart from the rest, is the automatic two-speed function of the ram. The automatic two-speed function allows you to achieve adequate backstay tension with fewer pumps of the lever than some of the older/ other manufacturers. Once the hydraulic cylinder detects a specified amount of pressure, the unit kicks into “second gear” and fine-tuning is achievable with some additional pumps of the lever.
Although fairly new, this unit comes at a price starting about $800 more than the competitors. In my opinion, just to have the gauge in a more visible location is well worth the price alone. Read here for more information.
UPDATE: Although still available through our friends at Euro Marine Trading Inc., these units are now harder to get in the USA and are only available through suppliers in Europe; due to this, lead times can be excessive for parts orders.
For those of you that are a bit more price conscious and like to go with what works, the Navtec unit has an incredible reputation. Navtec’s integral units seem to be the most popular on wide array of boat designs. The units offer similar design to those of Holmatro (I am pretty sure that Holmatro’s designers were copying Navtec but that is just my opinion).
For a reliable/ quality adjuster for a reasonable price look no further! Some models have the gauge on top some are down at the deck. You’ll have to look for yourself and see what their latest design is, as they are always changing. Although cylinders that are driven by panels, usually in the cockpit, come in black or silver, Navtec’s integral units come in black only, for now…
The newest of them all is Harken’s New Hydraulic Lineup. This is such a new product there is no real r&d which I can see as a concern to some, but rest assured this is a company known to its dedication to quality (just ask Americas Cup Teams). Once again Harken known for innovation, boasts a gauge that is mounted on top (much like the Holmatro) AND can also adjust to 4 different positions allowing it to be seen from almost any angle, THANK YOU HARKEN! Instead of the two speed function which Holmatro adds as a luxury, Harken has created a pump that is 1:1 actuating. Meaning that oil is delivered as the handle goes in and out, instead of the competitors’ design which only delivers oil when the handle is being pulled away from the cylinder. This may also be a work around for One Design rules (all of you J105 racers out there!), disallowing two speed pumps………at least until they catch on ;-0)
“Price wise, Navtec, Sailtec, and Harken integral adjusters are all comparable.”
Lastly, we have Sailtec‘s line of integral adjusters. Sailtec is also a reputable company on a smaller scale. This company (like Navtec) has also been around for many, many years, proving their quality and dependability. What I like about Sailtec is that they have left their design relatively unchanged over the years which makes service parts readily available!
Service intervals: all of these units need to be serviced at some point. The service intervals, like anything else, will mostly be determined by geographical location as well as wear. Navtec units are the most affordable to service followed by Sailtec which require slightly more parts and time. Holmatro and Harken’s are still too new to really know anything about service intervals and cost, so we’ll just have to hold out and see.
All in all, all of these products truly do an outstanding job at what they are supposed to do, tension a stay hydraulically. Not to mention these are all reputable companies that will stand behind their product 100% (within reason). That being said the decision will come down to personal preference, look, functionality, and service life. As well as of course, purchase price.
Click the links to the various manufacturers, take a look for yourself. If you need help deciding you can always give us a shout, we’d love to hear from you.
As always thanks for the read and if you have a question for us or would like us to take a look at your rigging hydraulics, leave us a comment down below……….