The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Going Up The Mast—More Improvements

This article should not be acted on without reading the entire series.

Last fall I wrote a series on going up the mast, inspired by Matt’s article on his industrial fall protection approach to the task.

My three articles were really the story of all the dangerous mistakes I had been making—in common with most cruisers, and even many recreational climbers—over some 50 years of climbing masts, and the changes and improvements Phyllis and I were making.

And even at the end of that process, after I climbed the mast for the last time in the 2022 season, I identified more areas for improvement, .

I then had the winter to improve the system and have just tested it out with my first climb of the 2023 season.

By the way, I’m a firm believer in going up the rig to check it over after stepping and initial tuning, but before sailing. This also allows us to leave the fragile things like instrument wands and wind indicators off while stepping.

So lets take a look at these improvements to last year’s system.

Login to continue reading (scroll down)

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrew Todd

You need a proper fall arrest harness. The fall arrest point on a harness should be on the upper that the shock load is distributed through as wide a area of the body as possible. You also need foot loops on the fall arrest harness. Otherwise, post fall, constriction of the femoral arteries could cause potentially fatal injury…. particularly if it takes some time to get you down.

Andrew Todd

A hip only harness is a bad idea for fall arrest. Climbers, with such a harness, will have a belay partner to ease the shock loads and immediately bring the climber to safety. You’ll find climbers using full harnesses when appropriate. I haven’t found the attachment point on the back a problem when using a FAD and the foot loops allow you to stand well above the top of the mast. And with a full harness it doesn’t matter if you fall a little bit from the top of the mast.

Drew Frye

I’ve done industrial climbing. I’ve also spent more time rock and ice climbing than sailing, which is to say, quite a lot. I have fallen on a rope not dozen or hundreds of times, but thousands, and I’ve never broken a nail. Obviously, something is working. A couple of falls just last week, and though John has a few years on me, I’ve got some white hair. Over 40 years of climbing.

Fall with a back hook-up and you have a good chance of loosing teeth. Try it (don’t). Fall in a seat harness and nothing bad happens. You may have seen a climber with a full-body harness (aid climbing or a small child with no bones), but he was not using a back hook-up (not even the child).

Fall on a typical back hook-up harness and your femoral arteries will be compressed, making recovery to the ground urgent. If you are alone you will like have permanent circulation damamge. You have this backwards. A back hook up is more dangerous re. arteries because they are toward the front of the leg. I’ve done enough fall and hang time to very sure of this.

Fully body harnesses are mostly needed for fat people with no waist. That is not John. They also have some advantages in head-first falls–a trip on a scaffold–but that is not the case here. Climbers and arborists use seat harnesses.

Tower climbing (full body) harnesses do have front and side loops for positioning (work). Sometimes you climbing the long (many hundreds of feet) ladder sections using the back hook up, not because it is a safer fall, but because it keeps the tether out from under your feet. A front hook up is annoying when climbing a ladder. But no tower climber is going to fall on the ladder.

Do make certain the belt is tight enough that you can NOT push the chair down over your hips, no matter how you push. Personally I prefer modified claiming harnesses. The problems with seat harnesses in industry is they have to allow for sloppy fitting and out of shape users.

Foot loops. I always carry some slings and rope that could fashion these. Dedicated foot loops are not needed, only an understanding of the purpose.

FTR, I do not use a screamer because the maximum fall distance is about 1-foot and I have polyester halyards. John’s system is different. I do not use an ascender for fall protection, I use a dedicated fall protection device that tracks up and down the rope, similar in function to John’s.

Pete Running Bear

Drew, you will be probably be able to answer this one which has me a bit confused….

I was recently shopping for a climbing harness to make going up the mast safer and easier, inspired largely by John’s excellent articles.
I ended up going with a petzl body harness for one main reason; petzl say that the Ventral attachment point by your navel, on a sit harness, shouldn’t be used for fall arrest. Only attachment points marked with an A should be used for fall arrest. The body harness has a sternal attachment point (chest level) marked A specifically for fall arrest. It also has a dorsal attachment point marked A which I’m not intending to use.

There are obviously a lot of people climbing with sit harnesses and falling in them, why do petzl say you shouldn’t fall on the navel attachment point? Seems strange…

Pete Running Bear

It looks like EN 361 points are for fall arrest and EN 358 are for work positioning and restraint. Perhaps others have 361 points at the waist, I have no idea.

Stephen Gray

I come from a climbing background and was pleased to see that my mast climbing kit closely resembles what you have landed on.

After watching some truly horrific mast climbing practices, particularly from captains sending others up the mast, I wanted a system where I was always in control. Here is what I do:

Going up, I tie off directly to the primary and that halyard goes to a winch for someone to help grind me up. I use a Petzl Micro Traxion as a progress capture on the backup. I also take a carabiner with me. The backup is secured (usually by a self-tailing winch and cleat). Everyone on the ground knows to not touch the backup under any circumstances. I’m winched up and do what I need to do. Upon lowering, the backup is transitioned from the Micro Traxion to a simple Munter hitch on the carabiner. The person below on the winch lowers me and I simultaneously lower myself. If the ground person were to slip on their beer can and let go, I wouldn’t lose an inch.

(For the transition I tie a quick figure eight below the Micro Traxion and clip it to my harness using the spare carabiner. Then I remove the Micro Traxion and pocket it, then tie the munter to the carabiner that the Micro Traxion was on. Finally, the figure eight gets removed.) This system adds some complexity but it keeps me in control, which makes me much more comfortable if I need to go up and don’t have a lot of history with the ground crew.

Stephen Gray

Hey John, thanks for your reply. I’m not sure if I got across my main concern so let me try to simplify because I do think it is an important one.

The point I was trying to make is that, for me, having a backup in place when coming down the mast is just as important as having a backup when going up and many times this is not given quite as much thought. In climbing the majority of incidents happen on the way down. When coming down, unclipping a progress capture or fall arrest device and being lowered by the person on the ground removes the redundancy. (I may have missed it but didn’t see much talk about coming down)

Mentioning the munter hitch probably distracts from the point but to put it simply, the munter hitch is a simple technique for repelling a rope that only uses a carabiner. Disregarding the mechanics, it allows me to control my descent down the backup line. On the descent, if there was a mistake or equipment failure and the primary went slack, I still have the backup.

Stephen Gray

Got it. I had missed that your device traveled freely and was acceleration activated. That explains are few other parts of the system that I didn’t quite grasp and makes for quite a nice setup. It certainly simplifies my method. Thanks for your detailed responses and comments.

Michael Buda

You asked about adding a third carabinerbetween the safety line and the screamer, rather than just passing the line through the webbing.

That is not a problem at all – rope-on-rope or webbing-on-webbing or webbing-on-rope connections are made all the time in climbing practices without problem (eg. the tie in point on harnesses; or the use of soft-shackles in all sorts of very high load points on boat). The only time you would not want to do this is if there is going to be movement at that point (i.e. leading a running line through a webbing loop instead of using a block or carabiner is going to lead to failure from friction pretty fast.) But, in your application, there is no movement when tying a bowline thru a webbing loop.

The only reason climbers wouldn’t do tie directly into a webbing loop instead of using a carabiner is for convenience – it is quicker. In fact, adding a carabiner is making the system weaker since the carabiner has a lower breaking strength and more failure modes than a strong knot on a bar-tacked webbing loop (however, both are WAY stronger than needed so it doesn’t matter much). Lots of load testing of this issue in the middle of this video and tons more on this very knowledgeable Youtuber’s channel:

Maciek Sarnowicz

So if I understand correctly, you have moved your Absorber device to be between your secondary halyard and the safety line, and it is hauled up all the way to the top of the mast. Is that correct? In that setup, does the absorber really functions the same way as when it was attached between the ASAP device and you? Will it open/stretch when it needs to do it?

Second question – the red safety line can just hang loose, right? No need to make it tight.

Best regards,

Stan Blakey

What a great discussion. It seems you are being winched up. That has the disadvantage you mention that the ascending line has to move and so you have the concern about failure of the turning block. Using an ascender I can go up faster than someone winching me and with less effort and I can secure the halyard at the foot of the mast.
It adds cost and complexity but works well for me.
While it would let me ascend with no help I think it would be a bad idea to have no backup person keeping an eye on things.
I use a descender to come down but like the idea of the Munster hitch as a backup plan.