The Problem with Stainless Steel

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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.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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