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Cruising Sailboat Secrets - Seven Sailboat Deck Inspections You Need to Make Today  

By John N. Jamieson

Did you know that the number one most overlooked pieces of sailing gear measures about 1 1/2" long and looks like a bobby pin? Or that one simple inspection could catch problems with your headsail furling gear before you cast off the last line? Use these seven cruising sailboat inspection tips every time before you leave to keep your sailing crew safe and sound.

1. Inspect Boat Anchoring Gear

Start forward and work your way aft. Check the shank (long arm) of your boat anchor to make sure it's straight. Any distortion indicates weakness and you must not use that anchor. Open up the anchor locker and check that all shackles, chain, and rope rode are chafe free. Shackle pins should be moused (whipped) to the shackle body with stainless wire or plastic wire ties.

2. Look Over the Furling Gear

Check the cotter pins that hold your furling gear in place. Look inside the drum and make sure the furling line winds onto the drum without jams. Follow the furling line back to the cockpit and look for chafed, worn areas. Replace furling line that's worn to prevent unexpected failure underway.

3. Check Cotter Pin Integrity

Bobby-pin like cotter pins hold your rig together. Cruising and racing sailboats use these in turnbuckles at shrouds, stays, lifelines, and block-and-tackles like vangs or traveler blocks. Bent or missing cotters should be replaced right away. Turnbuckle barrels can back off of threaded swages without cotters to hold them in place.

Choose a snug cotter just smaller than the clevis pin or fitting; cut the legs so that they stick out no more than 1/2 of the fitting diameter; bend the legs out 15 to 25 degrees. Avoid the temptation to put a "U-bend" into cotter-pin legs. That's unnecessary and could cause problems if you need to remove the cotters in a hurry in an emergency.

4. Tape Pelican Hook Bales

Some sailboats use lifeline gates with pelican hooks on one end. A bail slides over the "beak" of the pelican hook, but these bails can slip over the hook and open. Tape the bail in place with riggers tape. This prevents unexpected failure that could lead to an overboard emergency or injury.

5. "Chafe-Check" Every Line

Start at the headsail and work aft. Inspect the bowlines at furling headsail clews and follow the line aft to the sheet blocks and winches. Look for chafe and wear. Next, check the visible parts of halyards, boom vangs, traveler track lines, mainsheet, and sail controls like the topping lift. Address serious chafe now so that it doesn't become a major problem later on.

6. Attach and Fairlead Halyards

Remove the mainsail cover and attach the halyard. Check that the halyard clears lazy-jacks, shrouds, and spreaders so that you can hoist the mainsail without problems. If you have a hank-on headsail, check that the halyard isn't wrapped around the headstay.

7. Test the Rudder

Release the sailboat wheel brake or free the tiller. Move the wheel or tiller all the way to the left and then all the way to the right. If you hear clunking or it binds, locate the source of the problem. Open the wheel gear inspection port and check the quadrant cables. A jammed rudder could indicate that you've grounded inside the slip. Wait for the tide to come in before you attempt to leave.

Add these seven sailboat cruising inspections to the top of your underway check-off sheet. This will give you confidence and peace of mind to enjoy your sail--wherever in the world you choose to cruise.

Captain John Jamieson shows sailboat cruising skippers the fastest, easiest ways to learn sailing seamanship. Get his popular free report "Save Hundreds on Marine Ropes for Sailing with These Seven Tips" at

Captain John offers free reports, videos, tip-of-the-week, and a free ezine with subscription at

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