Wire Rigging Vs. Synthetic Rigging Vs. Rod Rigging

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 Rigging on sailing yacht. Lagoon 620. The rigging company



Compact strand Diagram

1 x 19 Compact Strand

1x19, 7x19, 7x7Wire 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).


1x19 stainless steel wireStandard 1 x 19 stainless steel wire is primarily used in standing rigging and now (within the last 10 years or so) also lifelines.


7x7 vinyl coated wire7 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 strand wire rope, stainless steel rigging wire 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.


Compact strnad rigging wireLastly, 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.



Nitronic 50 xm 19 bar GAmma

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.), Rod Rigging XM-19 Nitronic 50 BSI rod rigging-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)


rod rigging beautiful picture mast stepping


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.



PBO riggingSynthetic 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, PBO RIGGING the rigging companyand 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.


Spreader town USA


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.


Thge world sickest sailing yacht

Just a Cool Boat Pic….You’re Welcome.



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.


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Views from Aloft

Hunter 44 DS

It has been a while since I have posted a Views from Aloft segment, we’ve been super busy!

Fort Mchenry skyline

This was about 2 months ago in the beautiful Baltimore Inner Harbor with Ft. Mchenry just across the water. Any guesses where we were?

Morgan catalina foredeck

If my memory serves me correct this was a 2005 Hunter 44 Deck Salon. A very roomy boat.

Morgan Catalina from aloft  We conducted a full rigging survey for insurance.

Jimmie cockerill Morgan Catalina

I see you

Baltimore inner harbor from aloft

Baltimore Skyline 1 – Click Image for a Larger View!

Baltimore Marine Cneter

Baltimore Skyline 2 – Click Image for a Larger View!

 Not too much wrong with this one. Just the usual suspects for a boat of this vintage…running rigging, sails, some blocks and some new lifelines is all that’s needed here.

RAymarine wind transducer

Oh… the VHF antenna could use a replacement too.

Metz VHF antennaThanks for taking a look at the view!


Posted in Baltimore Sailing, Cruisers, Home is where the heart is, Modern Yachts, Rigging, Views from aloft, Yacht Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swageless Mechanical Fittings or Swage Terminals…

Noresman mechanical eye Swage marine eye

…Which do you prefer?

When talking about wire standing rigging for sailboats, there are two primary ways to secure a fitting to the end of the cable, the swage fitting and the mechanical fitting. One requires a specialized, expensive machine (pictured below) that is used to essentially squeeze or hammer the fitting onto the wire, this is called the swage fitting. The other simply requires the use of some wrenches (a vise is a great tool here too), some thread locker, a bit of patience, and some experience wouldn’t hurt either ;0). The latter is referred to as the mechanical or swageless fitting.


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Swage stud Alexander robertsHigh quality swage fitting manufacturers used by The Rigging Company (TRC) include: Hayn, Alexander Roberts Co., Stalok, C Sherman Johnson, Global BSI, and up until recently Gibb a parent company of Navtec. A swage fitting has more length and is a slimmer design than the equivalent swageless fitting. Swage fittings have a long drilled shaft relative to the wire’s diameter (diagram 1). The depth of the shaft dictates how much wire will end up buried inside of the fitting prior to swaging. Once the wire is inserted into the fitting, the fitting is then rolled through (or hammered by) a set of dies, to squeeze the fitting onto the wire. The machines used to do this can be very expensive, from $5k to $50k and up…dies not included.

Hayn Swage marine eye

Diagram 1

Yes, there a few other types of swaging techniques which we might save for another time. One of which we commonly refer to as the “Nico Press”, a generic term. This is an entirely different ‘box of frogs’ all together. If you are interested read more on that here, written by our friends at Sailing Services.


Hi Mod Marine eye

Our favorite high quality mechanical or swageless terminal manufacturers are: Hayn Hi-mod and Stalok. Let us not forget Noresman (Navtec), one of the more popular fitting manufacturers on the market up until recently, as they have since shut down production. A mechanical fitting is typically a three part fitting (sometimes four). This type of fitting does take a bit longer to execute than the swage fitting, even by the most experienced of rigging technicians. The real bonus here is it does not require a ridiculously expensive machine. Which makes it a very appealing product for the DIY project.



There does appear to be some controversy about which type of fitting is better, so I’ll try to clear things up a bit. Let’s take a moment to talk about the pros and cons regarding these two styles of wire terminals. Swage fittings require one of these expensive machines, so you will likely have to pay someone to do it for you. Whereas Mechanical fittings can be the perfect solution for the DIY sailor. Swage fittings are substantially less expensive than mechanical fittings. For example, a swage stud for 1/4″ wire with 1/2″ thread retails for around $25 and the comparable mechanical fitting retails around $75. Multiply that times the amount of fittings you’ll need and it can make quite a difference in price when replacing an entire rigging set.

cracked swageThe swage fitting is more likely to suffer from metal fatigue issues like cracking as the metal is being cold formed during the swaging process. Mechanical fittings do not have this problem. Therefore it is a general consensus that a mechanical fitting will last longer than its swage style counterpart. However, if I had to pull hairs I’d say that the wire strands are a bit more stressed with mechanical fittings (caused by the forming), instead of the fitting itself. Hayn tried to combat this with their Hi-mod design in using their “Crown Ring” to keep the cover strands straight instead of bending them over the end of the cone (wedge).

Having said all of that, a properly made swage fitting will last about 7-20 years or roughly 25,000 nautical miles, depending on geographical region and use before replacement is recommended. Regular inspection, regardless of fitting choice, is always recommended with service intervals around every 3-5 years.

mechanical fittings do crack!Mechanical (or swageless) fittings are not without their problems either. We just completed two recent jobs with mechanical fitting failure; one where the toggle straps cracked on multiple fittings, not so much where the wire goes into the fitting (although that has also happened), but the jaw of the fitting itself… fatigue. The other job was on a furler where the mechanical eye fitting at the top of the stay, came unscrewed by the spinning action of the furler. So, unfortunately there is no perfect solution.

We, at TRC, recommend using swage fittings over mechanical fittings when the stay is rigged with a furler, i.e. forestay.

There are also hybrid sets made, utilizing both types of fittings, with Swage fittings at the top of the stay and mechanical fittings at the bottom. This is the meet in the middle solution when price becomes a factor. Also this method is commonly practiced when building new masts.

TRC has had great success with the longevity of our swage fittings over the years {knocking on wood}. I’d say this is attributed to the use of high quality fittings, wire, the right machines, as well as proper execution. We end up selling mostly complete rigging sets using swage fittings. When discussing options with our customers we can really only justify the additional cost of mechanical fittings when the boat is going to endeavor on high mileage journeys. This way the wire can be replaced, the fittings inspected, and re-used with new cones (wedges). One of the other big benefits of mechanical fittings is/was at sea repairs. As the sailor could use wrenches and some Loctite to terminate a new cable at sea if needed, but not without the purchase of some good quality wire cutters (not cheap). With developments in synthetics we think that this problem can be much easier overcome with the use of Dyneema or Vectran. We offer a TRC Spare Stay Kit specifically for this purpose…no tools required!

Emergency Offshore Spare Stay Kits Now Available at The Rigging Company!!!!!

T.R.C. Spare Stay Kit.

Either fitting, if not made properly, will have issues and can cause failures. Conversely, when done properly, either of these fittings will provide the boat and its crew with many years of trouble free service. With either fitting, given that they were executed properly, age, geographical location, and wear are the biggest enemies for standing rigging longevity.

First, when choosing a mechanical fitting ensure that it is for the correct wire type being used, i.e. 1×19, 7×19, and Dyform/compact strandYou’ll need to disassemble the mechanical fitting (with Sta lok you can leave the former inside of the fitting) and then read the directions which should be included (or can be found online). The general gist for any mechanical fitting (regardless of manufacturer) goes as follows: start with a nicely cut end of wire. Then the socket portion of the fitting gets slipped onto the wire.
Noresman Mechanical fitting instructions

Diagram 2

Next, the end of the wire must be unlaidunsplayed wire 1x19 evenly (the tricky part), so that the core strands are exposed and the cover strands are evenly splayed open.
Making mechanical fittingsOnce that is done, the cone (or wedge piece) is pushed onto the core strands. With the outer wires surrounding the cone evenly, work the socket back up to the end of the wire, and re-lay the cover strands onto the core. Do this until the outside strands protrude from the end of the socket evenly and parallel (as pictured below), and the socket cannot slide up any further.
Making mechanical wire terminations This is all done while keeping the cone (or wedge) appropriately submerged below the end of the cut wire by the recommended amount. The amount of core stick out varies by fitting manufacturer, so read the directions and follow the guidelines closely. The outer wires cannot be flared out (see diagram 2) and must be parralel or curved-in slightly. You will not be able to assemble the fitting properly (or at all) if you don’t get this step right. Now, (unless using a Hi-Mod fitting for which you will need to rig their “Crown Ring” in place) you are ready for the fitting to be screwed together and to form the wire. To do this we use Loctite primer and red Loctite to help lubricate things as shown in the video above.
WARNING: stainless on stainless will gall (or cold weld) with too much friction and you’ll have a fitting that can’t be screwed-on OR off. 
Once screwed down completely we recommend that the fitting be unscrewed again before the Loctite activates (so hurry depending on temp) and checked for proper forming of the cover (outside) strands. Lastly, if all looks to be fine, we coat the threads with more red Loctite and then screw it back together tight!Properly formed wires swageless fittingsSome manufacturers recommend the use of sealants along with Loctite into the fitting before the final assembly to mitigate water intrusion and to help secure things. Recently it seems that most manufacturers are getting away from this, perhaps because of oxygen deprivation causing corrosion. So again, please follow the instructions and guidelines that come with the fittings that you have.
various types of swageless manufacturers…so there it is in a nutshell. As I always say, seek the council of your local rigger for product specific information as well as any tips and tricks so that you have it right.

Thanks for the read and leave us your comments below.


Posted in Classic Yachts, Cruisers, Modern Yachts, Multihulls, Product Review, Racers, Rigging, Tech Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments