Some thoughts on mast climbing safety

I’ve been running up and down the mast quite a bit lately, having replaced all of the standing rigging on Satori. When I first climbed to the mast top I didn’t know that there was a Mast-mate on board and used prussiks to ascend. After switching to climbing up the Mast-mate, it has become very easy to go up and down the mast. Most sailors are not accustomed to hanging from a leash off of a harness and so I thought it would be cool to explain in detail my setup for tethering and securing myself while working on the mast.

I’ll start with an equipment list:

Really you could probably get by with less but I like having about 4 different ‘leashes’, which is what the wire gate carabiners and slings are for. The daisy chains are great because you can shorten and lengthen the distance from your belay loop to where you are anchored off, be it the ascender or a rung of the mast ladder. If you’re bringing tools up, you can tape a loop to the end of a pair of pliers and clip them to your daisy chain. A crescent wrench already has a loop so a simple square joining knot and carabiner attached to the daisy prevents tools from getting dropped. Extra locking carabiners allow you to clip one to a ladder rung, lock it in place and then easily clip another locker attached to your daisy chain. If you are climbing to the same spot a few times (say on the spreaders or masthead) then leave a locker or two there on a couple of different ladder rungs.

Another word about safety is about always having two anchor points at all times that are not dependent on each other. If you haul the Mast-mate up with your main halyard, don’t clip the ascender to the other end unless you’re cool with the potential risk of it failing with no backup. You can use the jib halyard as your backup but you’ll end up unclipping and re-clipping to pass the spreaders (jib halyard is on the other side). You can eliminate this problem by securely tying off both ends of the jib halyard and using the bitter end side to ascend. Make sure the bitter end runs straight down the mast and nothing is in the way of you running an ascender leashed to your harness all the way up the mast. Secure both ends of both halyards so you can use either side as an anchor. Some people lash themselves similar to loggers would to climb a tree using a pole belt. I tried this technique but it was rather slow and cumbersome compared to using an ascender, daisy chains and clipping to a ladder rung. I was able to get up the mast without stopping and once I made it to where I wanted to be I simply hung off of the ascender, set the daisy length and clipped to one of the ladder rungs or the ‘D’ ring at the top of the Mast-mate.

Using a daisy chain clipped to a mastmate rung I can lean out away from the mast
Using a daisy chain clipped to a mastmate rung I can lean out away from the mast

A final word on comfort. If you don’t like hanging from a harness it’s pretty easy to made a bosuns chair out of a piece of board and some nylon line, webbing or whatever. I personally didn’t need to sit because I would simply stand in the ladder rungs clipped off to something and sat back. The longer the daisy, the less force was applied to the harness when I needed to reach outward to the ends of the spreaders. Most other work involved on the mast is directly on the mast so no need to use a long daisy.

Using another daisy chain I can tether tools to my harness to prevent accidental dropping
Using another daisy chain I can tether tools to my harness to prevent accidental dropping

If you have an extra track on your mast, get a Mast-mate. If not, get an extra track. I don’t understand why anyone would want foldable mast rungs permanently attached to their mast. I would also hate to have to prussik up the mast (speaking from experience here). It’s probably the slowest way up and a simple task of going up and back down again could take upwards of 20-30 minutes compared to just climbing up and down the Mast-mate. Not only that but I can see other potential problems with mast steps like weight aloft, lots of holes in the mast, windage and their small area to hold on to.

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