By Eric Smith | Shining Waters Marine
Should I leave my mast up for the winter or take it down?
We have been asked this question many times and it’s a difficult one to answer.
First, as with all boating, it is the skipper’s decision. You know your boat better than anyone. Some boat yards make the decision for you (as removal is mandatory), but if you store your boat at a yard with either option, hopefully we can help with a little insight.
Removing your mast each season can be expensive, and there is also a time component for disassembly and reassembly that should be considered. Looking back on lessons from my old man, he always took his mast down every season, removed all the standing rigging, radar and halyards and put a plastic bag over the mast to cover it.
But why? He reasoned that subjecting all the bits and pieces of your mast to the winter elements will reduce their life span, making costly replacement necessary. Other benefits include: ability to inspect the rigging (for corrosion and other fatigue on pieces), reduced stress/stretching of the rigging wires, easier to cover your boat, no noise from banging halyards, reduced vibration from wind while your boat is on the yard, no UV damage to your halyards, easier to service your turnbuckles, sheaves etc.
If you do de-step your mast, some downsides are if it’s not in covered storage there is a chance that rodents and birds could make your mast their home, if it’s not supported in the storage rack there is a chance of further damage, along with the potential loss of pins and other hardware.
On the flip side, leaving your mast stepped during the winter does have advantages too, it will save you money and reduces possibility of damage during removal and is just easier reducing your setup time in the spring.
Another point to consider about leaving your mast up is the windage on the mast during a Maritime Nor’easter. A typical mast is about 40’ tall and 6” wide, this is equivalent to 20 sq.ft. of sail area raised on your mast, not including the added windage from your shrouds, boom, spreaders and halyards (slapping away). This makes your boat move and shake in the wind and could cause unforeseen stresses on your hull or keel and the increased risk of your boat falling over in a storm. If your boat uses boat stands, some stand manufacturers do not recommend leaving masts installed.
As you can see there are many good and bad points for stepping or de-stepping your mast. If you choose not to remove your mast, then it should be removed at a minimum of every 2–3 years, for inspection. Protecting your asset during storage is important, which is why looking back on the lessons from my father, removing the mast each season just makes sense.