Sizing Up the Autumn List


If you live in a place where the leaves change color each autumn, then September is your dessert-that last sweet taste to savor before its time to put the boat to bed. Some of the best sailing I ever had was September on Narragansett Bay, pretty close to heaven in my mind. But before we let a long September reach carry us away-and hopefully carry us through winter-its a good time to take out a pen and pad, and start to build the winter work list.

It’s a bit of drudgery that might spoil the magic, so save it for the last hours of the day, after you’ve had your fill of September. These are only the things you want to check while your boat is underway; a dockside inspection can cover the other items that might need addressing-such as gelcoat repairs, varnish, running lights, etc.

  • Chafe – Check running rigging and sails for excessive chafe. Are leads fair? Furling-line fairleads are commonly misaligned, causing an uneven wrap around the drum. Ideally, the line should exit perpendicular from the furling drum. Check for spreader chafe on the sail. Are your chafe patches doing their job?
  • Steering – If yours is a tiller-steered boat, is there too much play in the rudder bearing? Wheel-steered systems-cable and sheave, push-pull cable, or hydraulic-should be thoroughly checked while underway to avoid any surprises in the spring. For more tips on steering inspection see my previous post “Steering System Checkup.”
  • Rigging – You should have done final adjustments on rig tension in the spring. Now is the time to double-check the tension and note the turnbuckle or tensioner settings for next season. For more details on what to look for, see “Do It Yourself Rig Survey“.
  • Blocks, boom vangs, winches, and travelers – If you’ve added any new deck gear, take a close look at how it is performing. Check the bearings for friction, any UHMW plastic components for cracks, and stainless steel bits for corrosion. Reviving your winches is a good rainy day project, but is also something that you can do over the winter, but now is a good time to assess their. See “Winch Servicing Basics.”
  • Belowdecks – Go below while beating on each tack. Listen at the mast step for creaks and groans. Is everything below staying put? Drawers and cabinets latching securely? Are their any improvements or modifications that might improve comfort and storage below while underway? Is your mast leaking, then a DIY mast boot might be in order.
  • Electronics – Are all the sensors working correctly underway? Is the depth-sounder transducer working on either tack? How about the masthead instruments? If you pull your mast each season, that will make upgrades and replacement easier.

If you approach your September sailing hours as a way to inform your winter projects, the checkpoints usually become self-evident. Each boat will have additional things worth inspecting. If you have some other checkpoints to add to our list, add them in the comments section below. You can also email me directly at

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at