The Problem with Stainless Steel

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.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 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 at