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.


38 thoughts on “Wire Rigging Vs. Synthetic Rigging Vs. Rod Rigging

  1. I wonder if you recommend to unmast my mast equiped with rod riging every year. Considering the rigidity of rod riging, doesn’t increase the risk of accidental dimasting? Considering Unmasting may be required for inspection, what is the frequency you recommand?

    1. Hi,

      Apologies for the delayed response, it’s been absolutely mad here. We recommend all masts be unstepped every 2-5 years for a more rigorous inspection, depending on geographical region and use, regardless of stay material. Rodd rigging should just simply be re-headed every six years or so.

      Hope that helps and happy sailing.


  2. Hey Guys! Thank you for this great read! Really informative thank you. Is there a recommendation on how often to change synthetic rigging? And what are the tell tale signs of a failure? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jenni,

      Are you looking at Dyneema synthetic rigging (see Colligo Marine), carbon fiber (Future Fibers), Kevlar (BSI), or PBO (Future Fibers). I think they likely all have different lifespans lasting from anywhere from 10 to 2 years, and likely in the order listed. Please contact specific product manufacturers for their recommendations.


  3. Great information! I heard you guys make a handy “emergency repair kit” that will work with either rod or wire rigging. Where do I find that on your site please? Thank you!

    1. Hi Denise,

      Thanks for saying that, who doesn’t love compliments. We are on the verge of launching a BRAND NEW E-commerce site…shhhh. It’s a secret! So for now I have tried to copy and paste the pricing in here. Hopefully it formats correctly.

      If interested, please fill out our Work Request Form so we can get the proper details fo your boat as each kit’s lengths are affected by your boats specifications.


      – CS Johnson Handi Lock Turnbuckle 1/2″ Pin
      – Spare Stay (N.E.R. V12 Clear 6MM)
      – T.R.C. Small Deck Loop
      – T.R.C. Small Mast Loop
      – Finishing Material (tape, zip ties, heat shrink)

      – CS Johnson Handi Lock Turnbuckle 1/2″ Pin
      – Spare Stay (N.E.R. V12 Clear 8MM)
      – T.R.C. Medium Deck Loop
      – T.R.C. Medium Mast Loop
      – Finishing Material (tape, zip ties, heat shrink)

      – CS Johnson Handi Lock Turnbuckle 5/8″ Pin
      – Spare Stay (N.E.R. V12 Clear 8MM)
      – T.R.C. Large Deck Loop
      – T.R.C. Large Mast Loop
      – Finishing Material (tape, zip ties, heat shrink)

      – CS Johnson Handi Lock Turnbuckle 5/8″
      – Spare Stay (N.E.R. V12 Clear 10MM)
      – T.R.C. Large Deck Loop
      – T.R.C. Large Mast Loop
      – Finishing Material (tape, zip ties, heat shrink)

      CUSTOM KITS AVAILABLE FOR STAYS LARGER THAN 12MM/ 1/2″ – See sales for details


  4. I have a 1968 Columbia 28 and needs new front stay. I can’t find a source for roller swaged stays locally here in Oxnard, CA. What can I do. Are hydraulic swages no good? I could those myself.

    1. Hi Ronald,

      My father was born and raised in Oxnard, Port Hueneme. I digress…we can make you a complete kit here: forestay, furler, lead block kit, furling line….dry build it in house, package it up and ship it to you. We do it all the time. We’ll need a pin (mast attachment) to pin (boat attachment) measurement, with pictures of where you measure to and from please. Lastly, we need the existing pin diameter and the pin hole diameter at the attachment points.

      If interested, please email info to sales@theriggingco.com


  5. Shannon also built their boats with rod with the capability to switch to wire. This is the case with our Shannon 43.

  6. I also thank you for this excellent summary! I’m cautiously returning to sailing in New England after a decades-long hiatus. I bought a 1982 Catalina 27, and I’m unsure of the age of the rigging or if it needs to be replaced. How do I determine such a thing? Also, if you have an inspection/maintenance checklist/schedule, I’d be very glad to see it. Thanks.

  7. I own a nine meter cruising catamaran. I had the mast and rigging done about 16 years ago. Being a cat the deck is one meter above the waterline so the rigging isn’t close to the water. The rigging is 8mm Compact 1 * 19 S/S. I do no more than 500 nautical miles per year (generally less). Should I look at replacing my rigging soon or can I probably get a few more years from it?

      1. “Cobwebs” is moored in a sheltered area on the southern shores in Lake Macquarie, about 80 miles north of Sydney. Most of the weather systems are south westerlies and passes overhead as Cobs is moored close to the land. I check the rigging on a regular basis and clean the lower sections with soapy fresh water. It’s going to cost me about $1600 Aus to replace the rigging so if I can stretch this out for a couple of years I will be happy to do so. Your thoughts on this issue will be most appreciative, regards Ross C.

        1. Hi Ross,

          If this lake is fresh water you are very likely in better shape than those on Saltwater. The three factors are: salt air and water content, how close you are to the equator (sunlight), and also use. Use, encompasses the boat sitting at the dock. At the dock, the rigging experiences what they call “Cycle Loading” even if not sailed. So fresh water and the rigging being removed and stored when the boat is not in use will generally offer the longest lifespan.

          Having said that 16 years even in those ideal conditions is nearing it’s end. So inspect it more than regularly, and prepare yourself for the inevitable.

          PS – $1600 sounds reasonable for what it’s worth.

          I hope that’s somewhat helpful.



  9. Thank you for your super helpful article, as it’s really informative having a side by side comparison for the three rigging types in one place. I have a 25′ trailerable coastal cruiser that I’m pondering switching from wire rigging to synthetic. The spreaders, though, just have a filed groove on the end for the shrouds to pass through (and the small holes on either side with which to wire the shroud in place). How do you eliminate chafing and make sure the shrouds stay in place with synthetic rigging running over the end of the spreaders?

    1. Hi Brandt,

      Find a piece of heavy rubber or vinyl or plastic tubing that the stay material fits through freely. Then cut about 2″ or so of said tubing with nice clean ends. Then file the slots open to accept said piece of rubber tubing or the like. Then, roll up a piece of sand paper to make the edges smooth and soften the aluminum slot. This should give you a fairlead and allow you to seize the synthetic stay to the spreader as you would with wire. The tubing should acting as a ferrule or buffer between metal slot and synthetic rope.

      Hope that makes sense and is helpful.

      Good Luck,

  10. Good article but you never gave us an idea how much does rod last like you did with wire. Is there a guidance number of years and miles? Thanks

  11. This article should be updated. Synthetic rigging suppliers now say that it should be sized based on creep rather than breaking strength. Synthetic rigging tends to be much more elastic than wire rigging.

    1. Thanks Jake,

      No doubt, this (creep) is a major factor in choosing the right stay material size. Carbon rigging perhaps being the exception, but I am curious for more information on this.

      We will indeed update this soon. For now our suppliers still size by tonnage. Also the pin sizes associated with the stay’s diameter are a factor in how we decide which diameter stay your boat requires.

      Thanks for caring and thanks for the comment. Most of these seemingly simple write ups require regular updates as the market and the knowledge associated is changing constantly.

      It’s comments like these that help us stay sharp.


  12. I am going ocean sailing on a hallberg rassy 26 the rug needs replacing. Its all 6mm1x19 the back stay is 5mm I want to change to dyform the same size with stalok fittings to make it stronger. Your thoughts please

  13. I am thinking of taking my hallberg rassy 26 on ocean passage and need ro renew the standing rigging she has 6mm all round and a 5 mm baxkstay I want stronger so am rhinking of using dyform same sizes with stalok fittings. Any thoughts ?

    1. Hey Pete,

      Sorry I am just getting around to this. Things are a bit hectic here. I think it all sounds good, you would improve the performance as well as the strength by upgrading to this type of wire. One consideration is parts availability. I can't go without saying that, consider what ever was there to begin with was certainly suitable and has worked well thus far; so there's that argument. 

      Thanks hope that helps and let us know if we can help you out further.


  14. I have a C & C 42 Landfall with rod rigging. 1978 year is old but it is what i could afford. Think about long cruising at 68 but want somebody to look at rigging before i go. Atlantic Yacht Basin got all my money and say dead batteries? They laugh they fixed alternator and recommend i come back.

  15. In my mast with rod uppers there is a clindrical device that holds the rod ends at each side. Can the rods be removed? And how is the clindrical device held to the mast?

  16. Informative article. I am looking at a boat now with carbon mast and boom with PBO rigging. I took particular note of your comment on PBO “good luck with that one”. What do you mean by that? I am assuming that you are not a fan of PBO rigging.

    1. Hi Charlie,

      Thanks for reading and the kind words. HA! No...I was referring to the pronunciation of the word Polybenzoxazole. Having said that, the stuff is very expensive and no one seems to know how long it really lasts, so it gets replaced very quickly. If replacing I would look toward Carbon Strand fiber rather, if staying with synthetics. 


  17. Another super informative post thank you!
    If you fancy a holiday in NZ then my wire rigging needs replacing next year. Also the spinnaker halyard keeps jumping out of the sheave at the top of the mast requiring someone to go up every time to get it down. As you can imagine this is getting quite tiresome! Anyway we will get the mast out next year to sort it. We do have a good rigging team here in Christchurch who can sort it. (unless you fancy a holiday that is…?!) ha ha.
    By the way is that the reflection on the transom of that yacht? What a great paint job!

    1. HA! Thanks Viki! Actually, the wife and I have always quite fancied a vacay to NZ. It may be a long shot, but doable. We’ll need to exchange a few emails, answer a few questions. First let’s see what the wife says.

      Yeah, that boat is incredible.


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