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Banishing Sidedeck Jacklines Forever

Phyllis removing our sidedeck jacklines.

Phyllis removing our sidedeck jacklines.

There is no question in our minds that changing to a centreline jackline (as detailed in the last two chapters) has made us a lot safer than we were when we used sidedeck jacklines.


But here’s the very cool and surprising thing: It’s actually easier and faster to use our new system.

Read on for why:

  • A tether running on the centreline seems to foul less often on sheets or other lines than one running on the sidedeck.
  • In most evolutions that require access to the bow (most notably poling out the jib), one person works the bow and mast and the other the cockpit, so once we are both in position there are no added tether changes, whereas with the old system the bow person changed from the sidedeck to mast tether at least twice to complete the job.

Net result, we have actually reduced the number of tether changes compared to using a sidedeck jackline, running cockpit to bow, and a separate mast tether. 


And this is not theory. This summer we tested our new system by doing all of our normally-required deck tasks without resorting to the sidedeck jacklines even once (see the video at the end of this chapter).

Added Two Tethers

That said, though being attached to the tethers that run on our centreline jacklines allows us to accomplish almost every task on the boat, there are two exceptions:

Dropping The Main

jhhomd1-9261591First, when dropping the main, one of us needs to jump up on the mast pulpit to grab the halyard so that it doesn’t fly about, but both the tethers attached to the jacklines are a tad too short for this.

So we have added a tether that we leave permanently attached to a pad eye on the mast and change to it just before dropping the main.

Another solution would be to use a boat hook to snag the halyard. We did try that but found it awkward and I guess deep down I kind of take pride in still being able to jump up there at age 65.

That said, it’s not the safest or smartest thing to do, particularly for an old fart, so I have already made a note to see what we can do to fix it. Probably some sort of custom short handled hook that remains stowed at the mast.

But even if that does work, this tether will stay because it also comes in handy if we need to climb up on the dodger or bimini, say to tie in a reef, since it can be easily moved to one of the many hard points on the boom.

Furling The Main


Permanent tether (yellow/green rope) for working on aft cabin top.

Second, to furl the main, one of us needs to stand on the aft cabin top. We used to simply move one of the cockpit tethers to the top of the boom gallows to do this, but this got a bit awkward when we added our new cockpit enclosure, so we have added a permanent tether to the gallows, that can also be used for anything we need to do aft of the cockpit.

(You will notice that these two tethers are made from rope, not webbing; more on how and why in the next chapter, coming soon.)

Loose Tethers

Whenever I write about our system of using multiple tethers that remain attached to the boat, someone will worry in the comments about said tethers tapping on deck or washing out of reach.

And that worry would seem logical. However, in over 20 years of using this system, while sailing tens of thousands of offshore miles, some of it in pretty nasty weather, that has just not been a problem. Not really sure why, but there it is.

That said, we did find one new problem after our change to centreline jacklines: If I casually drop the cockpit tether inside the cockpit, as was my habit, after I have changed to the tether attached to the centreline jackline running from cockpit to mast, I will have a problem on my return to the cockpit because I won’t be able to reach the cockpit tether without disconnecting from the cabin top tether.


The solution was simple: we just leave the cockpit tether attached to a webbing loop we added to the bimini support as shown. Now if we can just train a certain old fart to remember to use said loop, all will be well.

A Surprising Safety Benefit

As is the case with most any project, no matter how well planned, once we got all this done and had used it for a while something unexpected became apparent, but the cool thing is that it was all positive for centreline jacklines:


You often see crew using their tether to steady themselves as they move around the boat. But as the above photo shows, with sidedeck jacklines this is at best a small reduction in fall risk and at worst an illusional benefit, since the tether is attached to a line at one’s feet and is therefore adding almost no real stability.


On the other hand, with a centreline jackline the stability benefit is real and substantial because the attachment point is both inboard (the direction of safety) and higher than our feet (on most boats).

You have to play with this offshore in some waves to really feel the gain, but trust me, it’s huge. I can also see how a quick grab at the tether, attached inboard, would stop me falling even after I lost my balance and particularly if the direction of my fall was backward.

Yes, I know, one hand for me, and one for the ship, and the one for me should always be on a rail or shroud (never the lifeline), but in the real world there are plenty of occasions where that rule gets broken and this added benefit could save the day.

Over To You

While each owner will need to think about the details, I’m pretty sure that the system we have detailed in this chapter and the last can be the basis of a system that will work on most any boat.

The Right Thing To Do

Let’s all get rid of those sidedeck jacklines now. Ours are gone forever, as shown in the photo that opens this chapter.

As recent tragedies have shown, at best sidedeck jacklines are much less safe than centreline jacklines and, at worst, perhaps more dangerous than no jacklines at all, since they confer a false sense of security.

The Video

Here’s a new video that shows our complete system in action.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

36 comments… add one
  • Eric Klem Nov 11, 2016, 2:18 pm

    Hi John,

    Congrats on figuring out how to get rid of the side-deck jacklines. I really appreciate all the work that you and Phyllis have put into this.

    Very interesting points on using the tether for stability. I find that I either do exactly what you describe or I don’t hang onto the tether at all and wake everyone below up with the scraping of the hook. When heeled a lot, is it weird to have that support from grabbing your tether be to leeward? Do you worry at all about the extra distance you could theoretically fall when the attachment point is to leeward of you (making the potentially bad assumption that most bad falls are to leeward)?


    • John Nov 11, 2016, 6:42 pm

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      No, I don’t worry about falling further from windward to leeward because I’m clipped to a centre jackline rather than one on the side deck. First off, the difference may not be that great, because the centre line jacklines are so much shorter, so they deflect less.

      Second, I really don’t think about my tether as an anti-fall device, or even a fall arrest device. Rather I’m totally focused on making as sure as possible that in the event of a fall I don’t disconnect from the boat, or end up being dragged. Given that priority, centre line win every time.

  • Drew Frye Nov 11, 2016, 4:58 pm

    I love your out-of-the box thinking, but the “ban side deck” jacklines strikes me as overly broad. The problem is that on a small boat (<30-35'), a center jackline will stretch nearly to the rail under load if the sailor is significantly forward of the mast. In fact, it is not much different than being on the leeward jackline at that point. I've worked the bow on small boats in races, and a center jackline would give little confidence during the one operation where falling off seems plausible; gathering up a jib while beating.

    For a larger boat, I agree with John.

    I agree with everything else.
    * Because my jacklines run not on the deck but along the upper cabin edge, the leverage when used as a hand hold is much as John illustrates with the center line. Yes, that really helps, particularly as the knees get older. A longer fall? In his illustration he is holding the lifeline as well and is very unlikely to fall to leeward.
    * I've never had a jackline tangle anything. That is certainly a prerequisite.
    * I use climbing bolt hangers for hard points and to clip "loose tethers." These are 316 SS, about $5, and fit under any existing bolt head (3/8" required for full 5000-pound strength). I find them easier to clip, since they are designed for speed-clipping.
    * At the mast I run vertical jacklines, which resemble lower shrouds at a glance, but are separate. I originally installed these 3 years ago to solve a genoa sheet snagging problem on the mast-mounted winches, but quickly learned they gave great stability when working at the mast. Even when standing tall to reach up, the support is still at chest level, preventing any stumbles. This may not work for every boat, but they have proven very handy. They also provide excellent high handholds. Morgan's Cloud has rails around the mast, eliminating the need.
    * I like to wear gloves in all rough weather so that I will not hesitate to grab on tight to a wire shroud or lifeline, and so that I will not injure my fingers in the process. I feel this is important.
    * I have added a high lifeline from forward, up to the shroud at chest level, and back down aft, aided by the fact that my shrouds are outboard. This really helps, giving me high hand-holds on both sides during the critical "round the hard top" phase. Not so workable with inboard shrouds.

    The thing I like best is that John has taken the time to fit the system correctly to his boat, sailed the way he sails it. I'm sure that my system would not fit his boat as well as it fits mine and vice versa. My current system is not my first effort either; it has gone through several generations, much like John's, keeping what worked and discarding that which could be improved.

    Make the effort.

    • John Nov 11, 2016, 6:36 pm

      Hi Drew,

      First off, thanks for the encouragement and I love your last line. That’s really the whole point.

      Just to clarify, I never said “Ban Sidedeck Jacklines. What I wrote was “Banishing Sidedeck Jacklines Forever” which is complely different and refers to what we are doing.

      That said, I really can’t see any situation or boat where a sidedeck jackline has advantages over centre line. Even if you are on a small boat and clipped to the windward sidedeck jackline when you fall to leeward, the difference in fall distance will be quite small, and become zero at the bow. Actually, the fall distance may be further with the sidedeck jackline because it will be a lot longer that a jackline from mast to bow, and therefore will deflect more.

      To me, the best answer to deal with smaller boats is, as two people suggested on the last post, to simply terminate the foredeck jackline further aft from the bow and then rely on the slack in the tether to reach the bow. Perfect? No, as I wrote in the last post, I don’t think there is a perfect solution at the bow, but I can’t see sidedeck jacklines adding anything over centre line.

      And the key point is that if sidedeck jacklines are present, people will use them, and I think that’s a bad idea.

      • Ed Finn Nov 19, 2016, 2:20 pm

        The difference in the words ‘ban’ sIdedeck jacklines
        versus ‘banishing ‘ side deck jacklines forever
        Is not clear to me.

  • Clive Arnold Nov 12, 2016, 4:41 am

    Hi John,
    This comment relates to the construction of jack lines rather than the method but I hope it’s ok here.
    I decided to replace my jack lines recently as they were looking a bit tatty though still apparently sound. When I had them off I thought I’d test the stitching by holding each part and giving it a yank. The stitching came part like a zip….
    When I had the replacements made the sailmaker used, I think, Tenara thread but also made slide on covers covering the stitching to protect it from UV. The covers are kept in place with a couple of stitches. I haven’t seen any others done this way but all mine will be from now on.

    • Stein Varjord Nov 12, 2016, 7:46 am

      Hi Clive
      Good point on protecting the stiches.
      Stiched webbing is tidy and looks the best, but I have found that I prefer knots anywhere that’s possible. It means the item is adjustable, meaning it will be adjusted until it’s works the best, and the strength will always be reliable. A knot does reduce the ultimate strength, but doing it right, that’s no problem.

      • Gerben Nov 15, 2016, 3:48 am

        Please also discuss the strength of tethers. “Broken safety harness was found on the starboard float, which means Guo wore life jacket when he fell into the water.”

        • Stein Varjord Nov 15, 2016, 7:50 am

          Hi Gerben.

          Strength and loads on tethers and jacklines have been covered in an earlier article here. It’s important, but looking at the pictures, I think it seems this tragic event is directly caused by exactly the topic in this article: Jacklines running along the side decks.

          I have been racing the same type of boats a lot, although not as big as this one and not around the globe. There are some factors that are totally different from normal cruisers, but the conclusions are the same. The consequences are just more brutal.

          This boat when sailing singlehanded will have an average speed of more than 20 knots, non stop. Not pr hour. Not per day. Average speed around the world, including doldrums and all. This means that normal “cruising” is around 30 knots, touching on 40 now and then. And this is real actual speed over ground. Not the stupid exaggerations many other boats claim.

          Handling a giant like this, at speeds like this, alone, non stop for a couple of months, including the roaring fourties and worse, is challenging….! There is no room for mistakes. Planning ahead so you can act before it’s needed is the only way to cope, since things happen too fast otherwise. Awesome stuff, but also crazy and very dangerous.

          The focus when preparing a boat like this is speed and technical endurance. When that’s ok, you look at how the safety systems should be. Even with huge budgets, people are just people. We all follow what we think is right. Jacklines along the side decks is a de facto standard most places. So that’s what was put in place.

          If I were to sail that boat like that, I would rather have had no harness equipment anywhere on the boat than those jacklines I see on the photo. There is no conceivable situation where they would prevent danger. Falling inwards on the trampoline will be prevented, but that’s no point. Falling the other way is certain death no matter what speed. There is no way anyone can get up those high smooth sides. So this is the perfect example of false feeling of safety being a real killer.

          A possible scenario could be:
          He was hooked onto the leeward jackline doing a gear inspection. Has to be done several times a day to prevent small problems evolving into big ones. Near the outward end of the main beam, waves quite often send a chopped off piece of water completely flying across the trampoline. When that hits you at 30 knots, you’re not in any type of control and will normally be thrown mostly backwards. The harness/jackline combination here would have pulled him off the trampoline towards the side of the boat. When already at speed that way, it’s hard to not fall over the edge. Unless the tether was extremely short, he would hit the water and be pulled aft with huge force. If he survived the compression of his chest and the tether didn’t snap, he would be skipping along the surface of the water until the tether chafed somewhere and the end would blow back to where it is shown in the picture.

          The question here is: Are professional sailors and professional racing teams and racing wharfs that incompetent? Answer: YES. Safety systems are improved when their flawed design is generally accepted. When it comes to jackline layout, this hasn’t happened yet.

          In March 2016 I sailed with two brand new Outremer cats from south of France to Tunisia and back as a test run for the owners. Outremer is aiming for the Porsche segment of long distance cruising cats. They have an outstanding reputation and make very nice boats, (lighter than others but still way too heavy for my taste). As a standard, all Outremer boats are delivered with webbing jacklines just inside the railing. If your tether is extremely short, like 1 foot 30 cm long, you will still easily fall over the top wire. It’s very easy to rig perfect continuous jacklines well inboard on these boats, making it impossible to get over the sides of the boat.

          Awareness is the problem. This site is way ahead of the general boating public and business when it comes to awareness on this topic. I hope we can spread that.

        • John Nov 15, 2016, 12:11 pm

          Hi Gerben,

          Will do in the next chapter. In the mean time, I agree with Stein, his tragedy was not a tether strength issue, but rather caused by the attachment point of said tether.

    • John Nov 12, 2016, 9:01 am

      Hi Clive,

      An important point. I will be discussing the construction of jacklines, including UV damage, in a later post.

  • Stein Varjord Nov 12, 2016, 8:10 am

    Hi John.

    Thanks! I completely support banishing sidedeck jacklines. In fact I have been nagging people about those dangerous and useless things for quite a while.

    There is one more message in your piece that i think is an almost as important quality of your layout. Tethers remain in their designated spot on the boat and not on the harness. You show it and mention it here and have pointed it out several times earlier, but as simple as it is, it was still a new idea to me when i first read about it here quite a while ago.

    I immediately accepted it as an important improvement, but even an anti traditionalist like me find it’s hard to get rid of the image that a harness comes with a tether dangling from it. That’s why I mention it again. That change means the whole system works as planned, not haphazardly as the tethering practice of each often incompetent crew. Also, wearing the harness is less of a hassle, meaning it will be worn more.

    I actually think it might be worth considering to banish tethers following the harness too. On our boat, they have no function anymore and are not allowed aboard.

  • Petter ;-) Nov 12, 2016, 11:08 am

    Thanks for another educating article, John.

    I am currently one of those who have sidedeck jacklines – and now see the benefits instigating some changes. You mention a number of pre-attacheded tethers. So far i guess there are 6 of those in place
    – 2 cockpit
    – 2 between cockpit and mast, one on each side
    – 1 on mast
    – 1 on the jackline leading from the mast to bow

    Would you care to confirm whether this is a correct interpretation of the setup? In case you already have done so, a small pointer to the location on the site is appreciated.

    Enjoy the day!

    • John Nov 12, 2016, 5:21 pm

      Hi Petter,

      Yes, that’s right. Just one missing: the green rope one (see photo above) that we have permanently attached to the boom gallows.

  • Rob Gill Nov 12, 2016, 8:57 pm

    Hi John,
    I have been sitting back absorbing this excellent continuation on centre jack-lines and everyones’ comments. We are well down the track in adapting your system for Bonnie Lass and I am tremendously grateful for your work on this. What I really like is the way you have divided your jack-lines into work zones that relate to yacht handling processes (like mainsail handling) to minimise the amount of times a tether needs to be changed. Awaiting your final articles, I have left our bow area to last as this has inherent problems and risks particularly around pole handling as mentioned in your previous article.
    I wonder if we need a further “exception” for the centre-line tethers at the bow. I have been trying to analyse the issue by considering the combination of problems and hazards faced by the foredeck crew in waves:
    The pointy end reduces the effectiveness of the central jack-line, the need for the crew to be secured but able to reach from mast to jib clew without restriction or changing tethers, manage a heavy pole swinging around with the rolling vessel or caught by cross-wind, the bow is the point of greatest movement (vertical and horizontal) on the boat, the unnerving moment of weightlessness as the boat pitches downwards, the inevitable feeling of “weight gain” as the bow comes up, the impact of unexpected wave strike and the distance from the cockpit increasing the likelihood of miscommunication with their support crew. Finally, and in my view the greatest but perhaps most overlooked risk is the foredeck crew letting go of their grip on the pulpit and reaching up above their heads to attach or detach the jib sheet to the pole. This is a job often requiring “two hands for the job” breaking sailor’s Rule 1. The tether at the bow offers no support as the angle is wrong.

    Faced with the above conflicting hazards and requirements I am not yet satisfied with the “sometimes you have to know when not to fall” approach. As a company director with responsibilities (and strict liabilities) for worker safety today, I think I can say that view wouldn’t wash under an industry health & safety inspection so I am wondering, what are some additional risk mitigation points we could consider for Bonnie Lass?
    1) Dick’s new “old” idea of using netting in the bow area increasing the effectiveness of the single tether by preventing the wearer from going out through the deck and lower life-line slot. This makes good sense and we will do this.
    2) Could we use a further single purpose tether attachment at the bow, which being forward facing can be shortened but still allows freedom of movement once the pole is in position against the forestay and before we reach up to attach the jib sheet?
    3) Would two tethers be better than one at the bow anyway? Since one or the other is likely to have all the load of a dangling foredeck crew, and the “lazy” tether would make an ideal ready retrieval strop to attach a halyard to.
    4) Could we attach a second temporary tether to the clew itself whilst the pole attachment is done? There is a risk of the support crew launching the jib whilst the foredeck hand is still so attached (frightening), but if the sail launch process is ALWAYS that the foredeck crew is back at the safety of the mast or in the cockpit before launch, is this less or more risky?
    5) Lighten the pole using carbon – I confess we have already made this change buying a length of carbon tube direct from a composite manufacturer to the same internal diameter as our existing pole end fittings – the pole is so much easier to handle being a little over half the weight of our old aluminium one.
    6) Once we have selected the best combination of mitigation points, develop a written and conscious step-by-step process for handling the pole that we use in light or heavy weather.

    Thoughts on this would be most welcome thanks.

    • John Nov 13, 2016, 9:41 am

      Hi Rob,

      I agree, it would be better if we could come up with a tether system that would 100% prevent drag risk at the bow. The problem is that I have failed to come up with anything practical that won’t be so cumbersome to use that it will actually increase risk, rather than reduce it.

      That said, I think there is another way to come at this: With the pole system we use, there is no necessity to be messing with the pole and sheet at the bow. In fact the only time we ever go to the bow is to run the pole foreguy or tack the asymmetric. Both are done before the sails are set (jib still rolled up) and so can be done very mindfully and on hands and knees if required.

      Our pole system is much like Colin’s detailed here: Except we don’t use an additional sheet.

      In summary, my recommendation would be to look at ways of reducing visits to the bow since no matter what we do that’s always going to be a high risk place to be.

      • Rob Gill Nov 14, 2016, 6:04 am

        Hi John,
        Yes, I was coming at this with a race boat mentality. Our jib is always rolled up to deploy our pole, however we are careful to use even sheet pressure ensuring the sail is rolled tight and kept under control. I read an account (and saw some video) of a yacht in the Atlantic that got caught in strong winds executing a poor furl on their jib/genoa, which resulted in a large flap of jib flogging high up the rig in the wind, that they then couldn’t untangle without going up the rig. It ended I think in mast failure and abandoning an otherwise well found and fully (race) crewed vessel.
        What I didn’t connect for some reason (force of habit) is by using leeward sheet pressure we can loosen the windward sheet enough to attach it at deck level (duh). An extra step for sure, but much safer offshore (and inshore). I will still implement the netting and an additional short bow tether if we require it. I think this will get the safety committee sign-off thanks John.

  • Stein Varjord Nov 13, 2016, 6:09 am

    Hi Rob

    I’m sure John will have good input to give here. Just a couple of thoughts….
    Your description of the risks at the bow etc are realistic. I sail mostly multihulls. Cruising cats have virtually no heel and also no nartow bow area. This makes them way safer to work on, but again we risk becoming lulled into feeling false safety.

    At speed in heavy weather, any boat can have the foredecks washed by blue water. From racing on extreme boats i have experienced that there is no way you can hold on then, no matter how steady and strong you are. The water hits you like a huge sledge hammer. On cruisers, this will be rare, but it will happen.

    Bottom line is that we need to be tethered so we can recover easily after the hit. I think nets on the railing is very good, especially on a monohull. On the extreme racers we sometimes used dual short tethers to two different fixed points in exposed positions. This gave more support and made the fall distance very short. I’m generally doubtful to the idea of using a halyard for tethering, but if uded in combination with a short tether to a fixed spot at the foredeck it might give some extra, worth the hassle?

    You also mention a carbon tube for your pole. Great stuff, but just be aware of the corrosive properties when combined with metals. The fibres are extremely conductive, meaning that carbon is like a metal more noble than any you will use on deck. 🙂 That means any metal in electrical contact with the carbon piece will becom an anode and be eaten up. Aluminium will corrode quickly, but also stainless steel will suffer. Especially rivets and screws are vulnerable. If you insulate to make sure there is no electrical connection, all is fine.

    • John Nov 13, 2016, 9:58 am

      Hi Stein,

      I agree, in an extreme situation right on the bow a second tether makes sense. That said, on our boat the only reason we would be up there in extreme weather would be to repair something that can’t wait and that I would see as having failed either in preparation or shortening the boat down for extreme weather.

      As a certain very smart Norwegian said “Adventure is the result of poor planning”.

      To put it another way, like you, back in the day when I ocean raced as bow man I got hit by green water and washed around the foredeck many times, but since I started short handed cruising I have a very different approach to sailing my boat and that has meant that neither me or my crew has ever been put in that kind of situation in over 100,000 miles of sailing, some of it in quite heavy weather.

      In summary, I think cruisers should be first and foremost thinking about how they handle heavy weather to stay off the bow. More here:

    • Rob Gill Nov 14, 2016, 6:53 am

      Hi Stein,
      Agree with the “false sense of security” – there was an account in our local NZ Boating magazine a few years back by a French cat sailor and his first-time-sailor girlfriend. He was on the foredeck without a tether in a fresh breeze, but felt safe being on a big stable cat. Hey, what could go wrong? Then his trampoline parted and he plunged into the water between the hulls. To cut a long story short, amazingly his girlfriend got the yacht turned around, the sails down, the motor started and recovered him alive but deeply shaken. As one wit is rumoured to have said after, “lucky it was his girlfriend and not his wife”!

      Electrolysis and carbon was also worth touching on. The tube supplier (Kilwell NZ) who make all types including fishing rods, made the first three or so wraps using glass cloth before changing to carbon. For good measure we paint sprayed the pole with epoxy paint (to reduce UV damage and match our “silver” alloy mast – looks super-cool). Next we epoxy glued the pole ends on, since they will mostly be under compression. We are unlikely to ever get the fittings off again without destroying the pole, but there was such a big saving in re-using our fittings, and benefit in avoiding electrolysis problems the it seemed worth it. The lighter/stronger pole makes a significant difference to ease of handling and so I believe our foredeck safety.

  • Charles L Starke Nov 15, 2016, 11:53 am

    We have Mustang float coats and just had a Lirakis harness sewed on the outside of each. That way, we are automatically wearing a harness whenever we feel a bit cold.
    We also have Spinlock harnesses with crotch straps, but it’s not automatic to us to put a harness over a float coat or foul weather gear: it’s an extra step.
    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of using midline jack lines and am thinking of how to change. We already use tethers permanently attached to the boat.
    Our current bow-to-stern side deck jack lines wear unacceptably around rigging and we don’t have confidence in their strength because of unavoidable chafe. Perhaps midline will solve this chafe.

    • John Nov 15, 2016, 6:23 pm

      Hi Charles,

      Interesting on incorporating the harnesses into the float coats. That said, I do wonder if you can and/or will get the chest straps tight enough to be safe from slipping out of the whole rig in a fall. See this chapter and the one after it for some thoughts and testing of this issue:

      • Charles L Starke Nov 15, 2016, 7:01 pm

        Hi John
        You are right. The harness has to be fairly tight. We have several extra sizes of Lirakis harnesses and had the proper ones sewn in so that float coat and harness are tight and proper. The harness rings just come together properly for a tether, and the coats are fairly bulky, fit tightly, and have the extra support and limitation with the sleeves and zipper. I would think it would stay on in a fall but have not tried it.

        • John Nov 16, 2016, 7:31 am

          Hi Charles,

          Sounds good. You might want to test it, as I did here in the linked post. Only takes a moment and gives piece of mind.

  • Drew Frye Nov 15, 2016, 9:15 pm

    What I would like to see are foul weather jackets with a pass-through for harness clips. There are numerous ways this can be done, and I generally wear mine under the coat with the coat unzipped a little. In addition to fit, I do this because I take the jacket off (our hard top provides a lot of protection even in terrible weather) in the cockpit and to go inside. It is much easier.

  • Rupert Nov 20, 2016, 3:29 pm


    Thank you for all your hard work on encouraging us all to think about jack lines and tethers.

    However, unlike many of those who have commented I do not find your system of several discontinuous jack lines with the attendant need to attach and re-attach to be practical — at least for me. I think, too, that most people who sail offshore, at least in temperate and tropical waters, would agree. Nevertheless your emphasis on short tethers and the difficulty of pulling someone back on board once in the water do raise some valid questions.

    Given that being over the side and dragged along is certainly dangerous and possibly fatal it still seems to me to be preferable to being unattached to the boat and seeing it disappear over the horizon.

    So…assuming 2 or more people on a boat what can be done to deal with a situation in which one crewmember is over the side but attached to the vessel?

    The first thing to do would seem to be to alert those below of the situation. Whistle, voice, knocking on the hull or some type of electronic device might answer.

    Second, the boat needs to be stopped. The alerted crew could do this but it would be nice if there was some simple way to disengage the vane gear or auto pilot by the MOB. Not only would this slow the boat quickly but the slating of the sails would alert the off watch. Over the years I have intermittently wracked by brain for some simple disengagement for our Aries vane gear via a trailing line, so far without success.

    Once stopped and with other crew member(s) on deck retrieving the MOB could proceed as one would with someone in a Life Sling.

    For us, therefore, side deck jack lines still have a place on board. Thanks to your work I will shorten the tethers and we have always arranged them with the fixed end around the jack lines and the hooks at the harness end. As a boat with hank-on sails and at mast reefing moving around deck is a natural part of sailing, not to mention the pleasure of sitting on the pulpit when surfing down an ocean swell or standing at the shrouds to check sail trim. I can, mostly, force myself to wear a harness and sometimes even hook on, but attaching and un-attaching several times is a bridge too far.

    Again, thanks for the good work and please keep it up. If a (near) center line jack stay system that would allow a single tether attachment from bow to stern could be devised you will have scored a home run. In the mean time, for me, this remains a work in progress.

    • John Nov 20, 2016, 4:18 pm

      Hi Rupert,

      Obviously you must do what you think is right for your boat. That said, I think you are missing some very important points in your analysis:

      • We have two deck jacklines, not several.
      • Repeated timings have shown that our system is actually faster and easier to use than conventional systems.
      • On a well thought out cruising boat very few trips forward of the mast are required. In fact on our boat a good 80% of trips from the cockpit are just to the mast and therefore only require one tether change. (One less than with a conventional system.)
      • Before considering systems to recover a person being dragged we need to think about an important point: as recent tragedies
        have shown, you will probably be recovering a dead body. The point being that the trama of a fall and being dragged is far higher than most sailors realize. Just ask a climber.
      • Any idea that a person being dragged could activate a boat stop system, or even blow a whistle is probably flawed, at least if the boat is doing more than about 3 knots.

      So, what I would suggest is that you try our system before writing it off. I guarantee you will be surprised by how easy and fast it is to use.

      • Rupert Nov 20, 2016, 6:54 pm


        Thanks for your reply.

        Taking your points in order:

        I counted 3 or possibly 4 separate jack stays in your system, bow to mast, mast to cockpit, cockpit to stern (green line) and perhaps one in the cockpit too. Probably I misunderstood.

        With respect to speed, I can’t dispute your timing but it is hard to see how clipping and unclipping 3 times to get to the bow can be faster than doing so once.

        Definitions of a well thought out cruising boat vary but as I said we have hank on headsails and therefore need to go up to the bow whenever a headsail change is required. Apart from that I do not think that going up to the bow, or anywhere else on the boat for that matter, is something to be avoided. Speaking for myself, the day I feel it imprudent to leave the cockpit is the day I should look for another occupation. On our boat (center cockpit like MC) we are able to clip on to a 6′ tether from (just)inside the cabin which allows us to reach mast, bow and stern with no tether changes. I’m not clear how your system has one less change than a that.

        Recent “tragedies” have by definition concerned incidences where people have drowned or been seriously injured. I wonder if there are any statistics of cases where people have gone overboard while tethered and survived. Regardless, I’m sure that it would be an unpleasant experience and obviously to be avoided if at all possible. The fact ,however, that you suggest I ask a climber means that he survived such a fall.

        Finally, I don’t know what the likelihood of someone at the end of a tether being able to sound the alarm and I don’t think you do. We can only conjecture. Some of the more obvious facts that could affect this are the speed of the boat, as you mention, the fitness and age of the MOB and the length of the tether. Just as you have put a lot of thought into your proposals I hoped that you and/or your readership could bring your considerable experience to this problem. And for single handers surely having a trailing line or something similar to disengage a vane gear is worth thought.

        I’m sorry if all this seems argumentative. That is not my purpose. Rather, I wanted to suggest a middle way between those sailors that have never worn a harness (guilty, mostly) and those that feel, perhaps wrongly, that your system might prove too cumbersome either in terms of execution or tether lines and jack stays on deck.

        Thank you for opportunity to express my thoughts. I will not comment further on this matter.

        • John Nov 20, 2016, 9:21 pm

          Hi Rupert,

          Thanks for your thoughts. That said, I’m pretty confident in mine which are the result of some three years of work and thinking and 150,000 miles of sea time. As you say, let’s agree to disagree and leave it there.

  • Stein Varjord Nov 20, 2016, 8:55 pm

    Hi Rupert.

    I think you might miss some of what I feel is the main point John is presenting.

    You’re right that a jackline system must be easy to use and practical. Otherwise it will not be used enough. Also, an extremely safe system might that way in reality be dangerous because it’s too cumbersome and won’t be used. However, that logic works both ways.

    If the user friendliness has made the system much less safe, it’s not a safety system. It’s a trap. If you think your harness will save a fall, you will take that risk. If the tether system can’t save you, it killed you by fooling you. It’s just like making the tethers out of pasta looking like rope. This is the core of my message and what I think one should have very clearly in mind: I strongly prefer zero tether to a flawed type of tether system.

    Obviously, the discussion then must be how to define what is easy enough to use and what is the minimum level of safety. I don’t think I can say the final word on that topic, but after about 40 years of sailing, much in quite extreme boats, I feel I can say with some credibility that falling into the water, tethered or not, in conditions where you actually need the help of a tether, is extremely dangerous. It should be considered close to certain death.

    Hanging off the side of a boat in bad weather sounds like it’s better than falling off the boat, but isn’t very much so. Even at the very moderate speed of a boat where the sails have been let out, which is still normally at least 3 knots in rough weather, the force of the water flow and waves is completely overwhelming. You’re a useless sack of potatoes. You can get one single arm out of the water, for a short moment, if you’re lucky. You will definitely not be pushing any buttons. You will also be able to make one call only, while falling. When in the water you’ll be busy trying to not drown. You can kick the hull, but none will notice it, as the sound level of all else is much louder. When the skipper of a racing boat can die hanging on the tether of a racing boat just next to 4 other strong guys working on the same deck, unaware of that he fell in, with not too bad weather, it does prove a point or two.

    A safe tethering system has to make it IMPOSSIBLE to get into the water, no matter how hard you try. At the bow of a monohull, that is hardly possible, but all other parts of the boat that is no problem. From my own observations and what others report, I see very few options to these conclusions valid when I’m Skipper: Jacklines close to the side of the boat are forbidden. Tethers following the harnesses are also not allowed on my boat. Going on deck untethered is safer than using a system that does not follow atleast the first one of those rules. If you’re not tethered, you know what you’re risking, and act accordingly. “To be aware”. Important little thing.

    • John Nov 21, 2016, 9:52 am

      Hi Stein,

      Thanks. I’m in total agreement. Better no tether than a flawed system that will result in dragging.

  • David B. Zaharik Jan 12, 2018, 4:16 pm

    As you can well imagine, after my experience, ( see previous posts of my falling over board 5 miles off-shore) I have some very strong opinions on this. Like most sailors I never really gave the subject much thought and then post event, accepted rather poorly thought out concepts and equipment without analysis.

    The gist of my strong opinion is “stay on board.”

    NKE has an autopilot MOB function that sounds nice in that when the person with the remote control around his neck falls overboard, there is either an alarm, or the boat hoves to. I however, would never want to remotely attempt to use it. As has been clearly delineated in these articles, getting back on board in any kind of sea will be extremely difficult, even more so, shorthanded. However… it would always be worth the attempt! Likewise, life jackets are great within 5 miles or so off-shore but further out their purpose is more for body recovery and identification rather than life preservation. If you don’t drown, hypothermia will suck the life out of you rapidly. Sorry to sound cynical or morbid but I doubt if I could survive my swim again being 15 years older and not as fit… albeit the layers of blubber I have accumulated have to count for something!

    My hope is to develop a system like that on Morgan’s Cloud where it is near impossible to fall off the boat. That will require multi tether system of specific lengths, centreline jack lines where possible and of course padeyes as necessary.

    Here is a video of a very well thought out system by a friend of mine who runs Voyageur Sailing Training Adventures. The video is self-explanatory and he has given me permission to post this…

    One nagging thought that is constantly coming to mind as I read through this eBook is how many sailors seem concerned with “speed.” When I was learning to fly, (39 years as a commercial airline pilot) emergencies were always taught to be executed rapidly. Over the decades in both private and commercial aviation, this ingrained training caused serious accidents and even death. What I learned and implemented for the past 39 years was to do the exact opposite… slow down… assess… and methodically move with caution. I would like to say here that I believe the same should apply.

    We, as humans, have a natural tendency to react immediately in circumstances that require action, sometimes with a sense of urgency often putting action and concern for equipment above personal safety. No one can ever tell me that a flogging sail, a caught sheet or something jammed that may possibly cause equipment damage and obviously a cost, is more important than my life. If my gennaker blows out and is destroyed because I took 5 extra seconds to clip a new tether on then that is a risk I would sooner take. Far better to risk a replaceable then risk the irreplaceable! And I am not saying be a sloth in movement or action, but rather put safety first!

    Hope these comments provoke some thought.

    • John Jan 13, 2018, 1:29 pm

      Hi David,

      Lots of good points, thanks. I particularly agree with the importance of slowing things down when things go wrong, rather than immediately reacting.

  • Courtney Feb 16, 2018, 3:14 pm

    Quick question, and maybe I just missed it…

    How do you have the tethers secured in the cockpit? You wrote about the risk of clipping in directly to hard points so what do you clip to as you come out the companionway?

    • John Feb 17, 2018, 9:47 am

      Hi Courtney,

      That reminds me that I need to add a pic of the cockpit, thanks.

      In the mean time, we have short jacklines running along the front face of the cockpit benches each side.

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