The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Harnesses and Lifejackets and How to Use Them

Phyllis Nickel at the helm of "Morgan's Cloud" during a sunny windy afternoon sail off Jonesport, Maine.

In this chapter I’m going to look at harnesses both separate and built into lifejackets. But before I get started I want to make one thing crystal clear. This chapter is not about what you should do. Rather I’m going to explore the way our thinking about harnesses has, and continues, to evolve.

My hope is that the chapter will inspire you to think carefully about your own practices, because this, like most everything about person-overboard prevention, is an area where (despite what various “authorities” may try to ram down our throats) there are few, if any, hard and fast rules that work in every situation.

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richard dykiel

Thanks for this informative post. I have been using West Marine’s inflatable life jacket with harness and West Marine tethers which are simple webbing (no spring). Your spinlock jacket is an improvement over this and I can’t wait to read what you have to say about tethers.

Nick Hallam

Yes – you’re so right to remind us how important it is to be able to put a harness on quickly and easily. Crotch straps are definitely not great. Have you seen the new harness/lifejacket developed in England by a young designer? It is designed to tow you on your back if you go overboard, so you don’t drown (not a bad idea). The harness tether attaches at the front in the usual way, but rips out of a hook-&-loop channel to form a double bridle originating below each shoulder-blade. He has tested it by a simple method: jump overboard at ever-increasing boatspeeds and get an assistant to record if he drowns…. Really. It may not be the answer to all harness/tether questions, but it’s great to see minds at work on the problem. Have a look at

I just have to salute your fabulous picture of ?Phyllis at the helm, the epitome of heroic glamour. No tanker captain is going to phase this sailor!

Chuck B

Agreed, I’m glad folks are actively thinking about and working on this. I do feel a little concerned about the TeamO design though for 3 reasons relating to the way the tether attachment deploys around to the back: 1) it seems to increase the distance you can go, which could mean ending up on the wrong side of the lifelines; 2) the added distance can mean increased forces at the end of the fall; and 3) is it at all possible that the bridle straps could wind up around your neck in a fall?

Steve Guy

Hi John

Thanks for that Lion accident link. I find these terrible accidents push me further. I didn’t know about the Sydney Hobart tragedy until I took the SAS class in Charleston 2011. As I researched that event, I was encouraged to be able to sail those conditions. There’s so much we can talk about in the Lion incident. I know we’re on a harness topic but as a solo guy, my tether falls just short of reaching the toe rail and I’m in my climbing harness. I know we’re on the water but it’s not a water thing for me. NO overboard period! I do realize that it’s different for racing and the Lion is small with a small narrow foredeck. But still those condition are screaming at me for NO overboard. I’ve been looking at the spinlock’s and considering another look at my entire restrain system. Thanks for the stimulation. May re-evaluation stay alive.

Nick Hallam

Since launch of the “Team O” lifejacket/harness at Southampton boat Show last autumn, a great silence seems to have descended on the project. There was talk about the designer hoping to license the idea to mainstream manufacturers, so I can imagine what a world of pain THAT will turn out to be, but I hope something finally emerges from the process. I also read on a forum some thoughtful criticism of the prototype: you don’t necessarily want the tether to deploy from your back simply because you have lurched across the cockpit. Perhaps the water-activation bladder-inflation system could be used to release the tether from a ‘normal’ front position once the user had definitively ‘left the building’ and the lifejacket was inflating. Until that point, you would really want the tether to remain fixed at the front of your chest and to have the same sort of SWL as existing ones, but as soon as the bladder inflates, it could withdraw a stainless pin from a jaw, thus releasing the tether to pull out into its ‘towing’ position. Better brains than mine (I’ve been told there are quite a few) should soon have that detail sorted out.

I was very attached (sorry) to the old foul-weather jackets I used to wear in my yacht-delivery days, which had the harness built-in. That had to be the easiest thing to put on in a hurry: the fact that it might not be wet on deck really didn’t matter; you just put it on. I also have a pair of (French) Guy Cotten oilskin trousers which have two soft webbing eyes at the waist, forming a harness-attachment point: not perfect, but it allows you to rush on deck, half asleep, and clip on a tether to keep you on board. I’ve never seen this before and I like it; sadly, I think it is no longer offered. The steamroller of conformity flattens many an innovation…..

Ed Arnold

Sailing singlehanded emphasizes planning for reboarding after a fall. I cut two small step in each side of the hull above the normal waterline which hopefully would enable me to reach the deck. I also made stepping points on the outboard hung wind vane rudder that could have been helpful in climbing aboard. I never did think of a good way to disengage the wind vane if I fell overboard which would be extremely helpful.

Fortunately, I never went overboard so never tested my ideas in real situations.


Justin C

Lifejackets are bulky and uncomfortable to wear for long periods, and, if you’re solo off-shore and go over the side then that’s it, game over. Floating isn’t going to get you rescued. When off-shore the options is to not go over the side. My preference would be for a harness that was less bulky, because I won’t be needing the lifejacket. Harness recommendations will be gratefully received.

I’ll keep the lifejacket for in-shore family daysailing, when I’m not tethered, and may go overboard.


The idea of being towed backwards is good, but we don’t wan’t to get that far (wet), do we?
The issue with the Teamomarine lifejacket is that there is no really harness function to keep you on board. As soon as the lifeline tightens when you’re about to fall over board, the strap on the lifewest rips out and gives no kind of support, and instead of being strapped onboard you’re getting wet.

Matt Marsh

Henrik, I think you’re right.
If you are *already* overboard, it’s better to be pulled from the back than from the front.
But by the time that happens, your system has already failed. You weren’t supposed to go overboard in the first place.
If your tether is short enough that you can’t fall overboard, you don’t have to worry about the direction you get pulled.
Not incidentally, a short tether also means you have a shorter distance over which to accelerate before the tether stops you, and therefore have a lower peak load on the tether and harness.
All of this is really pushing me towards having lots of strong, low-stretch jacklines, and a short, high-stretch tether that- at full stretch- won’t let my body go past the gunwale from any position.

David B. Zaharik

Hey John, only because of the “don’t go over” thoughts above I ask this. I have not measured or tried this on a boat with centre jack lines. If you measure from your foot to where the harness attachment is, I would estimate that would be anywhere from 3 feet to 4 feet depending on the length of your legs. If you took into account the movement or lift on the jackline and made a tether adjusted to this length, even in a worst case scenario I find it hard to believe that you would be in danger if you were pitched over the lifelines and dragged. The initial impact would drag you both back and possibly up (as the beam increases) so your head and chest would be well out of the water. The bow is the only area that I can see the possibility of going over while utilizing taylor made tethers to specific beam widths of each yacht.

What would you need to do that would require a longer tether at the bow? (That is a sincere question from ignorance). Or are you saying perhaps that even with a short tether the low side is still low?


Perhaps someone can put to rest a question I have. I was with the understanding that the SpinLock is not Coast Guard approved. thx

Marc Dacey

The Spinlocks indeed lack the USCG stamp of approval, because as I was told they didn’t care to spend the near million dollars required to acquire it. The Deckvest is seen on open ocean racers and increasingly on the more knowledgeable sort of cruisers. I saw my first one on a delivery in ’09 and have worn them at boat shows. I’m getting three for the entire family once my son gets a touch more man-sized.

The crappy “bag o’ foam PFDs” make excellent coaming cushions on watch. They snug to the kidneys nicely. As for saving your life….

Jim Cleary

Does the Spinlok vest weigh down on your neck? My wife and I wear Mustang vests with the HIT inflators and built in harnesses. I find that after an hour or so the weight of the vest is too much for my neck and becomes uncomfortable. I push the vest up so the weight goes more on my shoulders. That’s not a good solution because the vest is now in the way of my sailing the boat. The Spinlok looks like it has a waist belt that supports the units weight. Is that correct?


We purchased spinlock PFD’s last year and wore them to Mexico and back from California. We wear PFD’s all the time whilst on deck and in the cockpit and never found them uncomfortable at all, just get the adjustments correct and Bob’s Your Uncle


Hi John

I really appreciate the link to the Lion tragedy. At the Charleston SAS class 2011, there was so much mention of the Sydney Hobart incident. I had no idea what the Sydney Hobart was at the time. Here’s a great video— ( look for all 5 parts). The Sydney Hobart tightened me up. It made me realize that 35 to 50 winds in 25 foot seas may very well be a warm up/practice for some really big crap. There’s so much we could talk about and learn from in the Lion tragedy it would make a great discussion topic in it’s self.
I’m remembering the final scene of Moby Dick where Captain Ahab is lashed to Moby by his own “tethers” and dives to his death by his own hand. Solo sailing no one is going to help me. I don’t want to be Captain Ahab. On Halcyon my tether falls short of reaching the cap rail. I simply can’t go overboard. Although I have to lean into my taught tether at the lifelines and bow pulpit, I do have enough maneuverability to deal with fouled head sails i.e. Lion. I was just telling Kathy my girl and admiral of Halcyon of the Lion tragedy. Her response was awesome and so to the point, “aren’t the jack line there to keep us on board”. I don’t mean to get off point here but damn, In your harness, nasty conditions, hanging off the bow with an inflated vest dying on your own boat while responsible for the crew? I don’t want to die and fail my crew. Wow! if that don’t make you think? Thanks again for rattling the cage.


Sorry about the double post oops. I agree with you Justin. My inflatables are for guests and in shore sailing. I can’t take the over the neck thing 24/7. Tight jack lines and a climbing harness, keeps your hips down. If your planning on being in the water, the climbing harness would be wrong. Too much pivot, you need to be “towed” from the chest. This is my main one . It’s pretty quick and comfortable. The other I cut down to a waist strap just fro the cockpit and sleeping.

Philip & Sharon

Another solution.

In preparation for our cruise north this sailing season we have purchased the top of the line Salus foul weather/flotation outfits. One big benefit is that they have a harness built into the outfits. We look forward to having a harness and a PFD on as soon as we put our foul weather gear on.

We received the gear recently and as forwarned by the manufacturer (a Canadian company) it is initially a bit bulky and stiff. However, we were assured that it would “break in”. Also the sizes run just a bit smaller than standard foul weather gear (probably due to the flotation or just their newness) so if one is on the border of sizes perhaps going up a size would be good. You also would not want to purchase this gear for use in a warm climate.

We don’t understand why more foul weather gear manufactures do not offer the option of built in harnesses.

We will be reporting on our new Salus gear as the season progresses.

A side note: The Salus company was EXCELLENT to deal with and we have no financial or other interest in the company that would affect our reporting.

Alan Teale

Hi Philip and Sharon, Thank you for drawing attention to the Salus gear. From what you describe I infer that yours is out of the Odyssey range? Can I just encourage you to follow through with your review in the not too distant future. I, for one, would be most interested and would value your assessment. Alan

Marc Dacey

Off-topic, but related to your photography skills:

John, that is an exceptionally well-lit and composed shot of your missus at the helm. I don’t know if you used a bounce board or just got fortunate with the angles, but the effect is superb in terms of separation of foreground and background elements. I come from a film and TV background, and have a pretty good handle on how to make shots look “pro on a budget”, but that looks phenomenal if you just grabbed it on the fly.

The Spinlock people should buy it from you!

Ron Brown

I’m going to go out on a limb here and ask if any foul weather gear comes with reinforced waist & crotch so you could sew in a quick clip or maybe double D rings so you can attach your inflatable life jacket to the pants portion of your foul weather suit. You could even have those quick buckles with males on the life jacket and females on the legs or hips. So you would put your inflatable life jacket/harness on last and quickly snap your life jacket to your trousers in place of the crotch straps. Great article. RB


I have a pair of shorts that have a waist harness built in with two D rings at the hips. The only use I have found for them so far is a good place to clip my key rings

Nick Hallam

Yes, Ron – I like the idea of being able to drag on oilskin trousers and get on deck still able attach a tether. If the braces were strong webbing instead of elastic (they could still include some elastic for comfort, ease of donning, etc.), you’d have a good harness. You could even incorporate Oliver Mead’s clever ‘over the shoulder’ towing harness into hollow braces, though only if the front attachment point stayed solid at max. SWL until you hit the water.

It would be great to hear from mainstream designers and manufacturers: here’s a crowd of people with a lot of miles and experience who seem to be saying there’s more development to be done here. Why did it take so long for the ‘over-the-shoulder’ idea to surface, and then only via a young enthusiastic sailor? If it really takes $1 million to get USCG approval for a lifejacket, there’s part of the answer. Maybe at the end of this discussion, we will have an outline specification for the ‘next-gen’ lifejacket and tether and then maybe involve the major boating magazines.


C est un article interessant, le harnais est un element de securite auquel il convient d ‘ attacher une attention particuliere comme: a) un ajustage rapide pour faire face a des situations imprevues b) facilites de pose c) solidite et simplicite surtout pour les manoeuvres au pied de mas par mer tres forte etc ( experience personnelle) …..

Dick Stevenson

Dear John,
One problem I have had over the years with inflatable vests is where to put gear I want ready at hand. On my Lirakis adjustable harness (now well over 25 years old I think) I have a knife, a small laser flare, a strobe and a whistle attached to the webbing. I just do not trust these items to pockets as things fall out and they can be hard to access, especially if the harness tightens on the coat, they are velcroed shut, or the need is urgent. A “tool” belt has not been satisfactory either. My harness also adjusts from wearing a T shirt to the multiple layers and full foul wx gear that seem to be the order of the day these last few years. Inflatable POB lights that are built in that I have seen seem to be quite lame incandescent affairs and I have not figured ways to attach other items that would not/might not interfere with inflation. Does the Spinlock (or other inflatables) address these concerns?
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Yes, my Lirakis harness has a robust buckle that allows it to be adjustable and allows for a snug fit. I have seen few around, but must admit that I do not know the details of other people’s choices, even many friends, on their boats. Not racing or crewing long distances with others, one is deprived of benefitting from seeing alternative choices in action.
I too was concerned about the looseness of the non-adjustable harnesses, Lirakis or otherwise. I actually find the snug fit with the wide webbing more comfortable than looser fits.
Glad to hear that Spinlock is making a vest with a chest pocket. I have seen EMTs and First Responders wear a very smart design which allows important items to be ready at hand with a minimum of search and grappling. Even in everyday actions, fully kitted up, getting a flashlight or knife out of a pocket is often a 2 hand operation, one to hold the coat down while the other rips the velcro pocket open. In a fire drill or hanging on a harness this would be likely impossible.
On another subject, does the Spinlock webbing loop for the tether protrude sufficiently to get the tether’s shackle clear of an inflated vest?
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Dick, yes the Spinlok has a built in knife, it’s sole purpose is to cut the supplied Spinlok tether should you need to such in the case of the boat becoming inverted and you finding yourself tethered or maybe being towed and needing to detach yourself from a tether under tension. I always carry a Emerson knife which opene as it leaves my pocket one handed, there are many other knifes which are also easy to operate with one hand.
Incidentally even a small weak light shows up like a Christmas tree to night vision equipment. I keep a simple monocular as part of our safety equipment and of course the USCG always uses night vision equipment.
Oh, the Spinlok tether uses a soft loop to loop connection to the pfd , no hard biners

Dick Stevenson

To all: I would appreciate it if URL suggestions are accompanied by a description of the site and its relevance to the topic. I have limited internet access and so pick & choose my explorations. Cold URL referrals also seem a tempting source for abuse, though there may be guards in place on the AAC site for protection.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Simon Wirth

Hi Johan

Thanks for onother facinating articel on a critical topic that thends to keep me unhappy. It sounds to me that what really would be necessary is a tether that holds hard in the beginning, but as the shockload comes up it should use a dynamic breaking function to keep the load below a certain limit. Also it sounds as if ther should be some kind of timeing on the “towing” straps. Like 10 seconds under towing load until it is released.
I think there are devices capable of doing just that. The reall challange would be to work out the right setting so the gear does what it is supposed to do.
Keeping a device that unlocks after a certain time under load and breaks peak loads small, simple and working after years in contact with seawater sounds like a reall challange to me. One that could save many lives.
Let’s hope someone has the right idea and finds a solution.
Both points are tecnically solvable.


Eric Klem

The engineer in me keeps coming back to a tether that ratchets. It is possible to build a tether that is sort of like one of those retracting dog leashes that would automatically lock when there was a large acceleration or load. There are 2 distinct advantages to having as short a tether as possible. One is that you are less likely to end up overboard. The other is that you have less distance over which to accelerate before the tether starts to decelerate you. The obvious advantage of having a long tether is it makes moving around on deck much easier and allows you to reach things without unclipping. By having a variable length tether, you can move around easily with a very reduced chance of going overboard. The problem with something like the tethers that have a bungee sewed inside is that they provide a lot of resistance when you are trying to work normally but do not provide nearly enough resistance when you are thrown against them so they are effectively quite long.

Unfortunately, this “solution” introduces a whole new set of problems. The device is likely to be bulky and expensive as well as being prone to having issues with corrosion. There is also a component of user error. Since we are all sailors, we accept that not everything can be made idiotproof but we must take user error into account. An example would be someone who is working at the port rail facing forward but has the tether wrapped around the port side of their body going back to the jackline so that there is already a lot of extra length in the system that could allow the person to go overboard if it were straightened out.

It would be interesting to approach the entire attachment system from the standpoint of defining a need and then a set of requirements and specifications that would need to be met to deal with the need. You might well find that we all worry about being able to go overboard because of deflection in the system but that actually, it is highly unlikely provided that you always go forward on the windward side or something else simple like that. You might also end up with a solution that puts everything close to centerline and at chest level instead of foot level. Then again, you might end up with a system that works really well with cars on travelers instead of jacklines and stuff like that but that is so expensive, difficult to install and disruptive that no one will ever use it. It just means that you need to include all of the requirements, not just the safety ones.


Keith Jones

Hi John,
I was at the Annapolis boat show and purchased a much coveted and long awaited Spinlock Deckvest. I registered it on their site and found a statement concerning the US Sailing Report on the Uncontrollable Urge (UU) accident. Apparently of 6 crew members 5 wore Deckvests and 4 of the 5 had their head slip under the bladder on the left side, including the person who died. The US Sailing report was critical of the Deckvest.

It should be noted that the crew were being pushed to shore by extremely large breaking waves.

Practical Sailor did an update after the report was issued – .

PS’s report reiterates a concern that they have that the bladder is attached at 3 points not to the entire yoke. Apparently the strong breaking waves were able to push the bladder over the wearers’ heads (all on the left side).

I did contact Spinlock and they pointed out that the conditions encountered by the UU crew were more extreme than even the testing that all vests must undergo, namely a 10 foot drop. I applaud Spinlock for answering my query and realize that the conditions of breaking surf were unusual and outside the realm of testing.

In that I don’t have an offshore trip planned in the near future, I chose to return my vest and hope that the design is improved to deal with what appears to me (and PS) as a design shortcoming.

Something I thought you and your readers should be aware of.

S/V Pearl

P.S. The boat Uncontrollable Urge was a new Columbia 32C raceboat that lost its rudder. Another of the same model lost its keel in the Bermuda One-Two.

Dick Stevenson

Thanks for the report. This appears to be a difficult design item. Is there any well built inflatable life vest with adequate strength tether attachment, crotch strap and a chest access pockets (preferably of mash) for flashlight, knife, etc.? The latter is important as I see hung by a tether or even floating as making pocket access difficult or impossible.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Keith Jones

Hi Dick,
I have this pouch for my mast climbing harness – it might fit the bill for you as well. . CMC makes great gear is widely available from them directly or safety retailers for more of a discount. I find looking at professional safety, particularly water rescue gear is far more complete than marine websites.


Keith Jones

Hi John,

I thought I’d update my post about the Deckvest from last year. I met the folks from Crewsaver/Survitec (from the UK) at the Annapolis show and learned about the Crewsaver Ergofit vest. Seem to me like a real improvement. On the one trip that I’ve done I’ve found the vest very comfortable. The vest is similar in appearance and how it is worn to the Deckvest, but it has some nice improvements:
• Lifting straps for hoisting MOB aboard
• Sculptured bladder for better arm movement
• Bladder is fully secured to vest, not the 3 points like the Deckvest
• Integral crotch straps
• Hammar or UM inflator choice and 38gram or 60gram cartridge choice (190N/290N respectively)
• Chin floatation to keep unconscious crew’s head above water
• Very quick turnover to face up position
• Pockets for knife and AIS PLB locator
• Spray hood and water activated light

BTW, on a recent trip we discussed the crotch straps on the new vest and I recalled a scene in a movie that reminded me of their importance in a humorous manner,

I have been on 2 different boats recently where in testing a very high percentage of onboard inflatables failed (one boat 75% failure). All were aging Mustangs. I’ve always tested my old inflatable manually – seems like a manual activation to check it makes sense.

Seems like a new crop of harness/life jackets are coming out of the UK.


Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
With regard to your comments to Drew, I wear my very easily adjustable harness tight across the chest, tighter than I like to have it and tighter than is comfortable because I have hung from it and worry that, even quite tight, I would squeeze out of it if put to some of the loads you have been talking about. Likely with 2 dislocated shoulders to then deal with.
Since a tight harness is uncomfortable, I suspect that most sailors would gravitate slowly to comfort and not tighten enough to be safe, making some of the safety aspects of the harness illusory.
Do you have a url for Spinlock’s testing of their vest/harness and whether they subjected their guinea pigs to substantial over the head loads? I was looking at their equipment the other day and saw a quality well executed piece of equipment, but did not think the fundamental design all that different from other’s designs. In other words, I felt, loads high as has been discussed, their vest/harness could be yanked over one’s head.
That is why I have been looking at vest/harnesses with substantial leg attachments. The load gets spread so there is less chance of injury and when hanging, the attachment will not be in one’s mouth, well-illustrated in the picture you modeled for.
Don’t rock climbers all have leg attachments? That may explain how they can tolerate numerous falls.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Drew Frye

I am not aware of any sailing harness testing with people and falls of any length. Hurts too much and the risk of injury on a chest harness is staggering. The ISO test drops are done with a wooden dummy. We could start a whole new thread discussing why marine safety gear testing is not more real world. I’m sure John will get to many topics, one article at a time.

Climbing harnesses are seat harness with padded leg loops rated at full harness strength. Seat harnesses should ONLY be used for mast climbing and never as a deck harness, because they would tow you in a very dangerous posture. You can also fall out of a seat harness if you are over weight (no waist) or it is adjusted wrong (saw that happen 200 feet above me).

Because climbing falls are on a stretchy rope, impact forces over about 500 pounds are extremely rare, and the ropes are required to keep the force below 1200 pounds in a fall factor 1.8 (fall 8 feet on 10 feet of rope, by starting well above the anchor point, without energy absorption by the harness, climber, or anchor point). I’ve seen real falls over 60 feet (caught one of those as belayer). Real world testing of a sort, and a little scary at first.

To John’s point, once you are over the rail you are in big trouble.

Jeff Bander

Hi Drew & John,

Both you and John have warned against the use of climbing harnesses because of the added risk of death by dragging. I guess that the risk you’re speaking of assumes the sailor clips into the seat harness at the waist. Also, John has reported that PFD crotch straps are not meant to carry “fall” loads . Which made me wonder about somehow integrating a light climbing harness with a PFD and clipping into the latter. Wouldn’t this be the best of both? Robust seat harness to spread the load of the fall while also holding the PFD down low, helpful both during a fall and when in the water. As another climber who became a sailor, I’ve been uncomfortable about how mismatched an integrated PFD/harness is when acting as a fall arrester. Any thoughts?

Drew Frye

I like to focus on accident scenario that we actually know of:
*POB dragging and possible drowning.
* Tether failure with probable internal injuries when clipped to hard point (I know of no failures clipped to a jackline). Sailors lost.
* Internal injuries clipped to hard point, no tether failure.
* Internal injuries from striking objects on deck.
* Sailor slipping out of harness or PFD during recovery.

I’m not too concerned about leg loops breaking, because I don’t think they do in actual practice; falls may be as severe as climbing, but in a different direction. I’m also not going to wear them. I am concerned about high forces when clipped to a hard point. I’m concerned about what you can hit (the tops of stanchions are bad). As a single-hander, I like a harness I can comfortably sleep in or put on in seconds; minutes may be to long. I am less concerned about PFDs; I’m not that optimistic about my chances in cold water. As for slipping out of the harness during recovery, that will ONLY happen if the sailor raises both arms, which you must remind them not to and which they should not need to if you have a good recvovery method (think Life Sling)—my daughter has hauled me aboard without help, using a winch.

Rob Gill

Hi Dick
Harness’ become complicated when we incorporate the life-vest function – doubly with an auto-inflate type. Since most of our sailing is coastal with some offshore I like this functionality. If you tighten the straps enough to prevent any possibility of slippage, should the life-vest inflate with a wave or by hitting the water, you will be almost suffocated by the vest and your chest crushed enough that it is difficult to breathe. NZ Coastguard recommend to leave enough space for your fist (palm side down) inside the vest/harness as the correct adjustment for once the vest inflates.
This may not be tight enough suspended without inflation. I guess the answer is to try it and see?!

Jeff Bander


I can confirm the difficulty-breathing scenario, something I learned in the most benign setting. I was dinghy sailing close to the docks on a summer day, wearing my Mustang with integrated harness. For this kind of sailing I should have been wearing a plain foam life vest instead, but live and learn. When the sailor at the tiller lost control and flattened the boat we all went flying. My vest inflated as advertised but to such an extent that I had real trouble breathing. I didn’t know how to partially deflate the bladder. I learned the moment I got back to the dock. But, it was a shock to believe for a few minutes that this lifesaving device was trying to kill me.

Until then I had no reason to question the design of an inflatable. Now I’m more cautious. A few weeks ago on a cold and windy day aboard a coastal cruiser, a crew mate put on his inflatable and then a zippered windbreaker on top of that. I caught what he had done and made him start over, putting the PFD on the outside. If he had gone over the side he may not have been able to breathe at all, with the jacket restraining the ability of the bladder to expand outward. Live and learn.

David B. Zaharik

Good point Rob

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
Just to clarify, I went to an REI site (compliments of Rusty) and found their harnesses do indeed have leg attachments but only with a belt and no chest straps. I would want the chest strap for sailing and the harness attachment higher (than climbers seem to) such as the arrangement I sent a url for in an earlier message.

Stein Varjord

Hi Dick.
I guess harnesses will be discussed under the next chapters, but I totally agree with your thoughts about substantial leg attachments, belt heights, etc. For racing, it’s often solved with a combined solution. A proper climbers harness connected to a safety harness. The climbers harness mainly consists of a padded belt around each thigh and a belt around the waist. All three connected by a small webbing ring in the front, where the tether is also attached. This alone is good for hanging in the rig, etc. Big wall harnesses are the best for comfort.

The attachment point is low to make movement free. That means less stability too. Another belt and shoulder straps can be added. Then one will have two attachment points. The earlier mentioned climbing point and another for the safety tether that is about at the hight of the solar plexus when not loaded. With good belts and correct adjustments, none of the points will move too much when loaded.

My preference is to look for specialist climbing harnesses and working harnesses and make a connection from webbing. Equipment specially made for boats isn’t always maximum value…. 🙂 Spinlock do have a decent rig climbing harness meant to be combined with the safety harness in their vests.

Jeff Bander

Yes Dick, along these lines. I didn’t know such an integrated solution already exists.