The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Sidedeck Jacklines Worse Than Nothing?

We at AAC have long argued that sidedeck jacklines (jackstays) are not safe because of drag risk.

But PBO are taking that up a level by suggesting, based on some very sobering testing as well as even more sobering analysis of sailors falling overboard and being dragged by their tethers, that it might even be safer to not be clipped on at all than to use a standard-length tether clipped to a sidedeck jackline.

We agree with the problem they identify, but feel we have a better and well-tested solution that reduces drag risk to near zero while still staying tethered.

Read the Practical Boat Owner article, highly recommended.

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Drew Frye

Let’s also amplify their main take away; if a person is in the water, tethered or not, you need to think about stopping. If they are still tethered, you need to stop as fast as possible, and in the case of Reflex Lion, they didn’t. It seems obvious, but put the wheel over, stop the boat, and get the tethered person into the lee if possible (the distance to the deck is less). In most cases, it seems the helmsman freezes and just keeps straight ahead, perhaps afraid he might b=make something worse. The thing is, if the person is right in the bow wave at full speed, there isn’t much worse.

But you are right about deck-edge jacklines. There are better ways. Move them inboard, keep the tethers short, and there is nothing wrong with crawling, scooting, and sitting.

Stein Varjord

Hi Drew and John,

I totally agree, of course, that side deck jacklines and long tethers are just dangerous. Also that the system discussed in the right thread on this site is the obviously right solution to this problem. However, the vast majority of sailors, including experienced ocean sailors, boat builders, naval architects, and whatever relevant, are totally or partly unaware of the seriousness of the problem, or that there is a vastly better way. That’s why, if a boat has a tether system at all, it’s almost always the dangerous system.

The only way I know to handle this issue in my life is:
– Nag about it to anyone I think could have an interest.
– When I’m sailing on a boat with a poor tethering system (never sailed one with a properly good system. I’ve sailed a LOT of boats), I strictly forbid using the wrong parts of it. Side deck jacklines will be removed, (or I leave the boat). That means only very short tethers and fixed points remain. Not good, of course.

I’ve ranted about this before, but I firmly believe, and have observed innumerable times, that humans, myself included, are far less logic than we think. Of our constant small evaluations and choices every day, I think at least 90% are pure habit / emotion, totally without real evaluation. The remaining 10% is still mostly the same, but we might at least think about it, before we follow our emotion…

This makes us able to make the most incredibly stupid “decisions”. Decisions we can easily understand are stupid, but we just don’t engage analysis. We follow what we feel is good, perhaps because someone said so, even when it leads us into obvious danger. If we step out on deck, it should be after a proper logic evaluation.

If it’s dark and heavy weather and we have no tether and no vest, we most likely will do just that. If we still go on deck, we’ll be acutely aware of the very real danger, and we’ll be vigilant and as careful as if on a tall cliff. If on the other hand, we put on a vest and clip onto a bad system, feel safe and go on deck with that illusion of safety in our head, the probability of falling is dramatically higher. We start doing things we wouldn’t if we weren’t tethered.

If the tethering system isn’t significantly SAFER THAN NO TETHER, our mind and actions have made the poor one into an active danger, much worse than no tether. The boat has a rigged trap for its crew!

How can this status quo be changed? Is it enough that it’s discussed here among us “nerds” :-)? Will awareness spread well enough? How many will die from totally fake “safety equipment” before those who should know better (boat builders and equipment producers) actually do something?

Perhaps we need someone to sue some boat company to wake up the commercial side of this? I don’t know, but it seems incredibly hard to break through the wall of (perhaps pretended) ignorance in the business.

Garryck Osborne

Funnily enough, I feel the same way about stanchions and lifelines. They provide the illusion of safety, whilst in actuality contributing very little, thereby encouraging risk-taking that we wouldn’t dare attempt if we knew there was nothing there at all to catch us.

This article has provided yet more ammunition to argue for going with Junk-rig, rather than Bermudian.. no sail changes necessary, and all sail-handling performed from within the cockpit, means there is never any need to go forward on deck when underway. Using short tethers is much easier to manage when you never have to leave the cockpit.