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Seize the moment

How often do you check the shackles on your boat?

With a brew in hand, I came up on deck just as the sun broke over the harbour wall. All being well, the early start would make the best of the weather and set us up for a timely passage with a promise of moules et frites and glass or two on arrival.

As I slurped my tea, the phone slowly downloaded the day’s weather forecast and all looked favourable. Within 20 minutes we should be able to cast off and as the rest of the crew started moving below, I took a walk on deck to slowly ready our newly chartered boat. That’s when I saw it.

How can something so small create such fear?

The shackle pin glistened in the low sun, lying forlornly adrift on the bare ocean of the sidedeck. This inch of stainless steel had come adrift from somewhere, but from where and from what? And what would be the consequences now that the shackle was no longer doing its job? Maybe the pin had been lodged in some nook for years, and the last passage had set it free.

How can something so small create such fear, and what effect would it have on the immediate voyage? We’d have to delay our start and check the boat. Light was on our side, but time wasn’t.

We studied the stanchions, analysed the anchor and scrutinised the shrouds. Finally we found the culprit was not the rigging at all but part of the safety gear.

The shackle that had come adrift connected one of the jackstays to an eyebolt in the deck. We checked the jackstays on the other side and found them to be in place but loose. We continued to check the boat and found two more loose shackles. So we armed ourselves with pliers and shackle keys to tighten them all up.

Once clear of the harbour and with light seas and time on our hands, we set about securing and seizing each shackle pin that did not need to be opened regularly. For the anchor shackle, we used a few turns of monel seizing wire as this would be tough and corrosion resistant. Shackles connecting deck blocks and other items were seized using small cable ties.

A step further

Later in the cruise, when we were stuck in the harbour with strong winds we went one step further and checked all the fixings on deck and gave them a service. Whilst winches come in for a service every now and then, blocks and sliders rarely get cleaned and squirted with lubricant.

The gooseneck bolt was found to be slowly unscrewing itself and a screw on the furling mechanism was adrift. When we unwound the lashings on the guardrails we could that they had started to wear significantly and so we replaced them.

Boats get quite a hammering through a season, but at first glance they often look OK. They are tough, but it only takes one part to fail to start a pretty serious chain reaction.

Have a look around yours at the weekend - you may be surprised what you find.

  • Seize shackles that do not require constant opening
  • Check split pins in bottle screws and clevis pins
  • Flush blocks and bearings with fresh water to remove salt. Lubricate if recommended
  • Have a look around the deck at fixings, lashings and wiring to head of future problems
  • Cable ties require replacing annually as they degrade in UV light

Tell us of your experiences with loose shackles and other equipment failures.

Simon Jinks, RYA Instructor and Examiner 

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