Features February 2011 Issue

The Problem with Stainless Steel

One of the biggest hits to a boater’s wallet is the high price of 316 stainless-steel hardware. But trying to sort the good from the bad in a bin full of mystery-grade stainless-steel screws and bolts is like rolling dice.

However tempting the price, well-used stainless-steel shackles, blocks, turnbuckles, tangs, or similar hardware should not be used for standing rigging. These components break with little or no warning sign, and there is no way to tell just by looking at a piece of hardware how much life is left in it. Swage fittings on wire rope are notoriously unreliable. Old stainless-steel snap shackles bite the dust with regularity. Even seemingly bulletproof chainplates can crack without warning. Buying used vinyl-coated lifelines is courting disaster.

Brand names offer no guarantee against failure. Even relatively high-grade stainless-steel hardware from Ronstan, Harken, Navtec, Suncor, and Schaeffer have found their way into Practical Sailor’s Gear Graveyard. Nearly invisible crevice corrosion is a common cause of their demise, but some components have succumbed to misaligned loads or load cycles beyond their designed limits.

Bottom line: Don’t place too much confidence in used stainless steel.

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