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Rigger Top Stay Question

I received the following question from Jessica:

Mike,
I just finished Nuts and Bolts but couldn’t find an answer to a question that I’ve wondered about for a long time. What’s the right degree of tension to put into an adjustable backstay? It seems like every time I put one on, there is tons of room left to adjust it and get a “snug” fit.

Is there a rule of thumb to follow? Should there be some outward tension from the adjustable bolt to steady it against the hull?

Jessica—great question. Let’s see if this helps.

The top stay is an important piece of a rigger and has a main function of helping to secure the oarlock and pin in place. There are some very formidable forces placed on an oarlock pin during the drive, and the top stay helps the pin from deflecting towards the bow of the boat.

On some sculling boats you might notice that there is no top stay, and that basically is due to lesser forces on the pin in sculling than in sweep rowing.

I suggest that you do the following steps:

  1. With the top stay off set the pin/oarlock with the pitch and height desired
  2. Put the top stay on, securing it to the boat and to the correct place on the pin
  3. Gently snug the top stay up against the pin
  4. Tighten up all fasteners, and go row
01-07-13 - tightening bottom bolt.jpg

With the top stay snug it will be able to do its job. One way you can tell if you have done this correctly, and also to tell if your pin may have slipped, is to take the top stay off after the boat is rowed. If it comes of easily with no force needed then you’ve done a good job. If it is difficult to get off, possibly due to the nut or bolt attaching it to the pin being hard to turn, you may have too much or too little tension in it. (Or as I noted the pin might have slipped.) In either case just do the above steps again.

I hope that helps. And readers chime in if you have any thoughts you care to add.