Going up the Mast Safely. Our Top 5 Tips
We have owned Nemo for almost five years now and in that time both of us have been going up the mast regularly. Well, maybe Neil has been up a few times more than Sam!!
This week Neil went up the mast three times, which meant Sam had to winch him up three times! One stint saw Neil up the mast for two hours!
It’s one of those things that people can get a bit nervous about, so we thought we would share our top five tips for going up into the clouds safely!
Why do we go up the mast?
We have a professional rig check every year with Wickhams Cay II Rigging in the British Virgin Islands. Having sailed up and down the island chain for the last five years and tried riggers in pretty much every island, we think Wickhams they are the best!
So why do we go up the mast? Well to complete some of the tasks that Dean at Wickhams suggests in our rigging report and to regularly check:
- the standing rigging for any wear and tear, and clean and polish the stainless
- the deck and mast lights
- the main and spare halyard blocks
- the running rigging for any chaffing at the top of the mast
- the wind vane
- the radio antennae
And each year we remove the anemometer at the beginning of the hurricane season to protect it. We have done this now for the last four years, so we have saved 12 months of wear and tear!
Top Five Tips
So, what are our Top 5 Tips for going up the mast? We believe the safety equipment; how you manage the lines; project preparation; management of the winches and clutches; and how to record the status of the mast, are the top five things to focus on.
1: Safety Equipment – Bosun’s Chair or Harness
Make sure you have a good bosun’s chair or harness, or both! For the last four years we have been using the bosun chair we got when we bought Nemo. But frankly it wasn’t safe, and it was incredibly uncomfortable. Neil always felt he was going to fall out of it, had his circulation restricted and felt sick due to the pressure it put on his abdomen!
We could have got a self-climbing system. But for safety, we wanted to ensure that there are always two people on the boat when we go up the mast. We looked at Harken Bosun’s chair, but we decided on the AVAO BOD FAST harness from Petzl. It is great!
2: Managing Lines
Use two lines that are on the same side of the mast when going up the mast. One as your main winch line and a second as a back-up safety line.
Have each line on a separate winch. Make sure that one person can operate both lines on the winches. You can use the main halyard, spare halyards or the outhaul if the boom is dropped.
Before connecting the lines to the harness/bosun’s chair make sure they are not crossed or going to chafe on the standing rigging whilst you are winching.
We use a bowline knot and a shackle to connect each line to the harness. If you need a refresher on your bowline, Animated Knots have wonderful videos for every single knot you could ever want to tie.
3: Project Preparation
Don’t take everything up the mast all at once if you have multiple items to fix. It is so easy to drop things. We know!!
Use a halyard or a separate piece of rope to pull a bucket up with the bits you need for different projects. If you have some odd-shaped items that don’t fit in a bucket in quite the right way, use a little rope to make sure the items are secure in the bucket so they can’t fall out if there is a gust of wind. Make it an easy knot to undo for the person at the top though!
Items we always take up include gloves, helmet, Leatherman with a wrist strap and plyers.
4: Managing The Winching & Clutches
When winching someone up the mast, make sure your clutches are closed so that you can safely take the lines of the winch, if, for example, you get an override. Focus on the main winch and every few minutes pull any slack in the safety line.
It takes 20 minutes for Sam to winch Neil to the top of our 18m mast and we do it manually, as we don’t have an electric winch. We do have a winch adapter for a drill, but it has so much torque, it spins Sam around, not the winch!
As soon as you have finished winching the person up the mast, make sure your lines are ready for the descent. You don’t want any knots to scupper the descent as you are lowering someone back down.
Prepare your lines in a Figure of 8 Flake, with the free end of the line at the bottom of the pile, so that the lines can run freely.
Once your lines are ready, make sure that any mast clutch is open, the safety line has one wrap around the winch and the clutch is open and then get ready for a slow release. Should you want to see how to do a slow release on a winch, you can watch how Neil does it his Winch Training Video (Go to 3:43).
5: Recording The Status of The Mast
Take a camera, with a strap, up the mast with you. It takes quite an effort to get up to the top of the mast, so you want to have a good reminder of what you saw in case there is anything else that needs to be fixed.
The Petzl Harness
So we mentioned that we thought the Petzl harness was great. This is why.
The AVAO BOD FAST is a full-body harness that complies with all international standards for safety. It has adjustable straps all over it, multiple clip-on-points at the front and the back, and unlike bosuns chairs the chest and back strap mean you can’t fall out of it.
The low position of one of the front clip-on-points makes it very easy to get up high over the top of the mast. As it is a harness you have a lot of manoeuvrability and freedom than compared to a bosun’s chair.
The cost is the same as a decent bosun’s chair. We paid €270.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading our sailing blog, we hope you found it a good use of your precious time. And stay safe when going up the mast!
Neil & Sam
The BlueFoot Travel Team
About BlueFoot Travel
We offer sailing holidays in the Caribbean. Join us on board a shared yacht and experience an unforgettable crewed cabin charter. Use this sailing trip schedule to book a cabin for your sailing vacation – ideal for solo and single travellers, couples and small groups. Relax and recharge. Enjoy delicious healthy food. Get hands-on sailing experience with an RYA sailing instructor. And, have lots of fun as we sail from one beautiful island to the next. Sail in style with BlueFoot Travel.