Common Issues With Sparkman & Stephens Sailboats

Common Issues With Sparkman & Stephens Sailboats | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

S&S sailboats are considered the best in the business. However, you should be aware of some common issues with Sparkman & Stephens sailboats.

Purchasing a sailboat is going to be a significant investment, which is why you will want to get it right the first time.

Like with any other sailboat, common issues in Sparkman & Stephens Sailboats include leaks, broken masts, and engine issues that may appear over time. Problems with the electrical system and pumps are also commonly found in used S&S sailboats.

If you are looking to invest in a used Sparkman & Stephens sailboat, you should know of the common issues that can occur while you are out at sea. Here, we are going to outline those issues and some easy fixes to help you on your sailing trip.

As avid sailors, we have years of experience on S&S vessels and can provide you with all of the information you need on the common issues to look out for on Sparkman and Stephens sailboats.


Table of contents

Common Issues with Sparkman & Stephens Sailboats

Sparkman & Stephens sailboats are solid upwind vessels designed for sailing rather than marina lounging. The naval architectural and brokerage enterprise founded by Olin, Rod, Drake Stephens, and Drake Sparkman in 1929 is the culmination of a career of extraordinary success in yacht design.

Sparkman & Stephens remained a preferred designer as the yachting industry transitioned from wood to fiberglass and from one-off creations to production brands. However, as with many other yacht brands, Sparkman & Stephens sailboats also have some common issues that you need to be aware of to increase the longevity of your S&S sailboat.


Varying sorts of leakage will need to be dealt with differently; therefore, prevention can take numerous forms. A certain amount of leakage is unavoidable aboard every seagoing vessel, but if you fail to account for any potential sources of water, you may quickly find yourself with a bigger leak than you planned for.

In addition to leaks, persistent exposure to water eventually catches up with all boats in the long term. The core of the boat, foam cores in more contemporary fiberglass hulls or wood panels, and cotton stuffing in wooden boats can get saturated due to long-term leaks, insufficient paint application, or faulty construction. The boat's performance suffers substantially as a result of this saturation, both in terms of speed and stability.

Whatever the case may be, keep in mind that your boat was built to be in the water, and some boats even include water leaking into their design. Water is supposed to fill in the wood, causing it to swell and create a tight seal as the planks expand; wooden boats are built to leak a bit on the first splash. Because this sort of design is less common in current hulls, don't anticipate a leak to go away on its own, but know that you don't have to be concerned about every drop of water.

When purchasing a used sailboat, open the lower unit and allow a small amount of oil to drip onto your fingers so you can see it. If they refuse, you might offer to replace the bottom unit oil at no charge to the seller. Problems with the lower unit are common in sterndrives as well as outboards which are usually hard to recognize until it's too late. They usually arise as a consequence of a poor seal or a hairline breach in the casing that allows water to enter. The only way to confirm that the bottom unit oil is correctly sealed is to run the boat and check it for a milky look.


Watermakers aren't a major deal on non-cruising boats, and just a handful has them, but they may be the difference between life and death on a long journey. A watermaker can easily give the best of sailors a scare once they notice foul-tasting water. Thankfully, changing the pre-filter and running some pickling solution through the system is all that is going to be required to fix this problem. However, it is important to note that around 12 boats (8 percent) experienced serious breakdowns, rendering their watermakers useless, so it is something that you should take seriously.


If stainless steel is deprived of oxygen, it develops hairline fractures and crevice corrosion. According to reports, high-load SS fittings should be x-rayed every ten years, and the chainplates should be replaced. Where they travel through the deck, it’s a good indicator that there's rust. Rust indicates that water has been standing in the image for a long time. All keel bolts should be made of stainless steel, which rusts only when submerged in water.

Wood Erosion

Because so many boatbuilders ceased using untreated wood in the construction process, rotten wood isn't nearly as common as it formerly was. However, rot is still visible on occasion, particularly on older vessels. This is most typically observed in the deck coring or transom. Easy-to-see fractures on the borders of the transom are a sure indicator of collapse. Also, feeling a strange soft feeling under your feet while walking on the wood is another red flag that indicates rot and should be checked.

Electrical Issues

A boat's wiring can be a tricky business, especially because the wiring of sailboats tends to run along the length of the vessel through the deck. During the inspection, switch on each and every electrical component one by one, from lights to electronics. Then turn them all on at the same time.

While you’re at it, examine the fuse box as well. If you notice a variety of different brand fuses, it's likely that some or all of them have been replaced before (and if the problem was fixed). If you notice tin foil in the fuses, get out of there. Pay attention to the wiring's overall condition as well. If you're staring at a rat's nest of cables, make sure they're easily accessible.

Steering Issues

Don't take the ease with which the wheel's steering mechanisms work for granted. Improper maintenance and impact damage are to blame when steering systems fail. If the steering cables get too slack, a sheave or a quadrant may fall off. The tension in the system might drop out due to bad scantlings or tension in the system, causing the wires to slip off the quadrant. A steering system turning block that has been separated from a bulkhead can also cause this type of damage. If your ram is coupled to the rudder stock, one option for regaining steerage is to utilize the autopilot.

Use your emergency tiller if you don't have an autopilot. It will just take a few minutes to install this, but it will restore your steering. If none of the options above appeal to you, drop anchor if you're in shallow water. If you still have control of the quadrant, remember to tighten and re-fit the steering cables. Last but not least, use motor oil to lubricate the sheaves and cables twice a season.

Hull and Deck Joints

Whenever feasible, keep a watch on the hull to deck joint, especially if you notice any anomalies in the rubrail. Remember that a broken rubrail is a sign that the point has collided with another vessel in the past. It's also a good idea to thoroughly saturate the rubrail with a hose all the way around. Then examine for locations where water has gotten through (or see if there is water in the bilge), suggesting that the joint's seal has failed.

Many issues may be prevented or at least mitigated by attentive observation, regular checks, and periodic maintenance. Few things go wrong without some sort of forewarning. If a spare is brought onboard, an alternator belt failure is merely a nuisance, but it is only a planned maintenance item if changed before it fails.

The boats that didn't have any severe breakdowns all mention their meticulous preventative maintenance. But caution will only take you so far; something unseen or unseeable will ultimately break, and you'll need the correct components and equipment on board to cope with it.

This is the main reason why newer is sometimes better. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get used S&S sailboats. A survey on a yacht in that price range might be a waste of money. Learn what to look for and make the best decision possible. Ask the owner as many questions as you can, as well as anyone else who has sailed her. They'll almost certainly want to tell you about her if they wish to sell it.

Choose the one that appears to be the cleanest, well-kept, and well-rigged. Select carefully; there are many of these boats to choose from. Sparkman & Stephens sailboats are beautiful yachts. However, it is unlikely to be the greatest starter boat; you would most likely choose something more ordinary. What’s great about these boats is that you can't go wrong with S&S when it comes to pricing and popularity.

Common Issues With Sparkman & Stephens Sailboats
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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