Guard Wires - Inspection and Replacement Guidance
Replacing your Guard Wires, a step by step guide
Guard Wires, also known as Guard Rails and Lifelines are fitted through Deck Stanchions positioned along the toe rail or gunwhale between the pulpit and pushpit rails on yachts and boats, to help prevent any crew member from falling overboard.
As part of a yacht’s safety inventory, they should be regularly and meticulously checked for any visible signs of possible failure and replaced without hesitation if the need arises.
Insurance companies are becoming increasingly concerned with the age and condition of the standing rigging on yachts but, so far, they don’t seem to be pushing too hard for evidence regarding the provenance and condition of guard wires.
However, if you have recently become involved in a second-hand purchase, it will be advisable to thoroughly check the guard wires as well as the Standing Rigging.
Essentially, it is all wire rigging and subject to the same conditional age restraints.
Tackling the task of specifying, measuring and fitting new Guard Wires on a sailing yacht may seem difficult, but there is a procedure to follow that can make it a relatively straight forward process, for anyone who is reasonably practical and the Jimmy Green Rigging Team are on hand to advise with any tricky bits.
You will be able to purchase each wire with swaged terminals at both ends, finished and ready to fit, subject to the holes in your stanchions being a minimum 8mm clearance internal diameter. You can order yourself online or with help from the Jimmy Green Rigging Team.
You can take confidence from the fact there is a good deal of adjustment on the rigging screws, guardrail adjusters or the lashings to allow for any minor errors in measurement. It’s worth noting that Team Jimmy Green set the turnbuckles at 2/3 open, unless otherwise requested and undertake to produce the finished wires accurately, to within plus or minus the diameter of the wire.
If the holes in your stanchions only allow the wire to pass through and not the swaged terminal options, you need a slightly different approach, generally involving the purchase of each wire over-long with one terminal end swaged. The other end will need to be finished in situ by cutting to the exact length and fitting a DIY (mechanical) terminal. Modern swageless terminals from Sta-Lok or Petersen are simple to fit so you can be confident of success.
Guard Wire Checklist
- Carry out an overall assessment of the state of the current installation – consider whether repeating the same lengths as the existing wires will produce the desired result.
- Consider any design or specification alterations
- Identify all existing components including measuring the wire diameter.
- Take photos.
- Make a note of any tension settings.
- Determine any possible improvements
1. Guard Wire Installation Assessment
Begin by checking that your current lifelines are set up and tensioned correctly. This need not be as technical as it sounds - you just need to be sure that you will be copying a system that works well.
Assess the current state of the stanchions, the pushpit and pulpit together: all the deck fixings, the stanchions in their bases and the overall alignment of the fixing lugs and through holes. There is a tendency for the whole system to lean inboard too much due to excessive tension over a long period which you may need to address.
Stanchions should normally be a minimum 610mm high and are often as high as 900mm, with a maximum spacing of approximately 2 metres.
There are normally two wires fitted, an upper at full height (minimum 600mm) and a lower at an intermediate level.
The span between stanchions, gateway stanchions, pulpit or pushpit should be as short as practicable, in order to minimise the damaging effect of an impact in the middle.
Gates are commonly fitted amidships, port and starboard, on larger yachts. Gates require a pair of braced stanchions or short stabilising rails with a tensioning system at both the pulpit and pushpit.
If there is no gate fitted, the wires should run continuously fore and aft, with the tensioning system on the aft end where they attach to the pushpit.
Guardrail Webbing, sewn to custom measurements is a useful replacement for wire when a little more comfort is required e.g. where the crew may be leaning against it
Fender lanyards are commonly tied off on the guard wires. This practice is not ideal but is often the only practicable solution. It is advisable to locate the fender lanyards as close as possible to a stanchion to minimise their pulling effect.
Guardrail Netting can be fitted to improve overall security and prevent the egress of smaller objects or bodies.
Safety Checks for PVC Coated or Plain wire should follow a similar pattern with particular attention to damage or deterioration, caused by corrosion or deformation of the wire construction e.g. bending that results in a permanent kink.
Rust or corrosion will normally occur:
- On the section of wire that immediately protrudes from the PVC coating.
- On the wire immediately adjacent to the wire terminal, whether swaged or swageless
- To a lesser extent, between the two above
- On any section of wire where the PVC coating has been compromised and allowed water ingress.
Problems are likely to arise where the wire is unnaturally bent and exposed to chafe e.g. where it runs through the eyes in the stanchions.
Plain or bare wire is more easily inspected for signs of damage or imminent failure.
Inspection should also include a close visual scrutiny of all the other aspects of the guardrail installation e.g.
Stanchions and Gate Stanchions – are they bent or damaged, are the eyes causing an ongoing issue with chafe, are they securely fixed into the stanchion bases, are the feet on the brace firmly screwed down to the deck ?
Stanchion Bases – are they in good condition and with a strong and stable fastening to the deck or toe rail ?
Pushpit and Pulpit Rails – Is the welding on the attachment lugs intact and serviceable, are the deck fixings strong enough ?
Lashings – are they made off satisfactorily, are there enough turns to make up the requisite break load, has the rope suffered from UV deterioration or abrasion ?
2. Consider any design or specification alterations
Exclude any extra unnecessary shackles or fittings and make allowance in your measurements. A fork terminal is generally the optimum fitting for connecting to the lug on the forward pulpit rail.
The picture shows a guardrail adjuster with a fork end.
A fixed fork terminal can be used if no adjustment is required e.g. at the forward end
Research your tensioning options for the aft end: Bottle Screw/Rigging Screw/Guardrail adjuster/Adjustable Fork/lanyard Eye.
How to decide between PVC Covered or Plain uncovered wire for Lifelines and Rigging.
4mm and 5mm diameter 1 x19 stainless steel wire are available with a PVC coating.
4mm wire increases to 6mm overall diameter and 5mm wire to 8mm overall.
The PVC coating forms a protective sheath which has an aesthetically pleasing white finish with a more forgiving composition than bare stainless steel.
The composition and surface of the PVC sleeving is kinder to hands and any other exposed parts of the body, and less abrasive on sails and rigging.
The PVC may potentially hide deterioration in the wire and make it more difficult to detect or predict, but there are checks that can be carried out to reduce the chances of failure.
3. Close inspection of all components
Guard wires should be made from marine grade 316 stainless steel 1x19 wire, with a minimum 4mm diameter for leisure yachts and boats up to approximately 12 metres length overall - KOS Manufacturer Break Load 1280kg.
5mm stainless steel 1x19 wire is preferable as it is appreciably more substantial and considerably stronger - KOS MBL 2000kg.
6mm should be considered on larger yachts over 15 metres length overall – KOS MBL 2880kg.
The wire in the picture is a flexible construction (7x7 or 7x19) which is not advisable for guard wires.
1x19 construction wire is much stronger and has a smooth finish.
The wire terminals and end fittings, including any rigging screws, turnbuckles, guardrail adjusters and adjustable forks need to be at least as strong as the wire. This also applies to any lashings or lanyards that are used to finish and tension the wires.
Clevis pins, clevis rings and split pins should be made secure and wrapped with Insulation Tapeto prevent accidental snagging on sheets and sails.
Establish the size of every component and make notes. A good quality pair of callipers is an invaluable investment for producing accurate results.
Once you have confirmed the wire diameter, the approximate length and identified the terminals fore and aft, it is a simple online exercise to get an accurate estimate of the replacement cost on Guard Wires Lifelines and Guardrail Webbing Alternatively, Team Jimmy Green are happy to oblige based on the same information.
4. Take photos
Take photos of everything including zoomed in detail of anything you are not sure about and any others that will serve as a reminder when fitting the new wires..
There are standard pin and hole diameters that correspond with the thread size of the studs in the turnbuckles. Threads are generally UNF or possibly the Metric equivalent. If your current guard wire fittings are no longer available, the Jimmy Green Rigging Team can suggest suitable alternatives or source bespoke replacements.
5. Mark all tension settings
Make a note of any tension settings by marking them with tape or taking photos. If you loosen any turnbuckles to disconnect them, remember to return them to their noted settings before measuring. The new wires can then be made to the required length with the optimum adjustment, normally 2/3 open.
6. Determine any possible improvements
One last check to ensure that there isn’t a change of fitting or a tweak in the set up, that will make the new system an improvement on the old one.
1. Gate stanchions with bracing struts
2. Lanyard threaded stud passed through the stanchion hole with Lanyard Eye screwed on - Pelican hooks provide adjustment and convenient release and attachment.
3. Large stanchion holes provide all sorts of options for connecting the other side of the gate - in this example it is a fixed fork interlocking with a fixed eye terminal.
Staining or Discolouring on Stainless Steel
This guardrail adjuster is not compromised but merely needs the application of Stainless Steel Cleaner to restore it to a bright polished finish