How to Step a Mast

Sean Simmons Working Hard to Get the Mast Ready to Step

Before stepping the mast there needs to be several preparations in order for everything to go smoothly once the crane arrives. So take your time and double, triple check everything in order to keep from having to go aloft, or worse, having to re-step the mast once the mast has been stepped. Below you’ll see a few tips and guidelines on how we step a mast…

First, we fill out our pre-step checklist. So before we are even ready for the crane we must:

  • Build the mast either track up or track down depending on whether the crane will be set up forward of where the mast sits or aft of where the mast sits (bow-in or stern-to)
  • Hang all standing rigging
  • Ensure all turnbuckles and stays are new or have been inspected and serviced
  • Install spreaders and make/ seize spreader ends onto the wire
  • Install spreader boots
  • Test all light fixtures through the mast
  • Ensure mast butt/step has proper drain
  • Ensure mast butt/step has proper electrical access or wiring hole
  • Rig mast boot if keel stepped
  • Ensure all halyards are run correctly and on the correct side of the spreaders and root bars (if present)
  • Run-in halyards or tie all messengers to be used to deck level, leave all unused messengers tied off tight aloft
  • Ensure all clevis pins are inserted properly and cotter pins are bent correctly
  • Silicone any remaining wiring holes or spreader cotter pin legs
  • The Windex has been installed and aligned
  • All remaining masthead gear and electrical items have been installed
  • The chain plates are in place and clevis pins and NEW cotter pins have been laid out next to chain plates
  • The mast step is in place, clean and secure
  • The deck ring (if keel stepped) is in place and secure
  • The foresail furler(s) has/have been pinned and secured
  • The rigging and the furler(s) has/have been lashed to the mast, ready to be lifted

Stepping a sailboat mast

Now we are ready for the crane. When rigging the crane’s hook to the mast, we use a 4′ endless lifting loop (this is generally long enough for most mast diameters, for larger masts a 6′ loop may be a good idea) which is rated adequately.

~Ultimately we suggest seeking the counsel of the crane operator.  

First we tape open the mousing latch. Then we rig the loop in a ‘single basket hitch‘, making sure not to trap any halyards (except for maybe one or two that can be used to help retrieve the loop later). It is also important to be mindful of which side of the loop the forestay(s) (or backstay, depending on the mast being track up or down) is placed relative to the crane. The correct side (port or starboard) can be determined by where the crane is set up relative to the boat’s fore and aft center-line (the stay needs to be opposite the crane).

Before attaching the lifting loop to the crane hook we have a heavy duty tag line with a large bowline tied in one end. The bowline is then slipped over the two ears of the lifting loop’s basket hitch and attached to the crane’s hook (see picture above).

~The loop NEEDS to be placed somewhere above the masts balancing point, this is VERY, VERY important and can cause the rig to upend if not picked from above the balancing point.

In doing this, be mindful of any gear on the front of the mast that might snag on the crane once vertical. Finally, the lifting loop is slightly tensioned by the crane, and the tag line is tied off tight using three half hitches around the mast. These three hitches should be placed at a strong point near the deck (underneath halyard winches, the goose neck or any available horn cleats).

Mast Being unstepped!

Once the mast is sitting securely on the mast step, pin and lightly tension all of the stays. If for some reason you still find either the backstay or the headstay has been ‘locked out’ by the crane, make sure you have something, halyard or alternate stay, to take either forward or aft depending on your situation. If the mast is keel stepped there is  slightly less of a chance of anything detrimental happening. However, you should still take every precaution before releasing the crane.

TIP:  On a multiple spreader mast, the loop likely needs to be attached above the lower spreader. Therefore it might be difficult to retrieve the lifting gear without going aloft once stepped. In this situation we will tie a retrieval line (long enough to be reached from deck level) to the lifting loop. This helps to retrieve the loop once it is off the hook. Also before stepping take note if the crane’s hook can swivel freely. If so, attach another small control line to the crane’s hook itself (If the hook is fixed just make sure the open end is facing the masthead). This will help to manipulate the swiveling effect, and get the loop off of the hook. 

A properly installed mast boot, from SSI, by The Rigging Co.

Now that the crane is out of the way, the mast has been technically stepped! There is still lots to do before you can go sailing. Next, take all halyards and lines away from the mast so that you can see what you are doing. Then chock and boot the mast at the partners (if keel stepped). Next, tunepin and tape the standing rigging. Now, hang/rig the boom, connect all electrical items, and finish running the lines…………as I always like to say, ready for sails! ~exit the rigger

Have a question? Leave us a comment!

Related article: How to Un-step the Mast.

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