• Mobile App For Android Now Online!

    Download it here. The app is searchable in the Google Play Store under Sailboat Owners.

    Sorry iPhone/iPad users, we are still waiting on Apple. :(

    Click the X in the upper right corner to make this go away

Block and tackle mast climb

ambler

.
Dec 7, 2013
45
catalina 22 Watauga Lake, TN
Funny, my halyards take the strain of a 77,000 # boat being pulled or pushed along by the wind and you don't consider them safe to take a 240# man aloft? Interesting math. A lot more climbers die than sailors who go aloft.
The halyard is only taking the strain put on it by the winch raising the sail - not the full weight of the boat.

The issue isn't static load but impact load. Even a fall of a couple of feet (e.g. off of a mast step) puts an amazing strain on the rope. Climbing ropes are built with stretch (up to 30% length before failure) to cushion the impact. Halyards are chosen for minimal stretch. It's also hard to tell how much a rope has deteriorated from visual inspection since the strength is in the core, not the braided sheath. Climbers periodically inspect their ropes by feeling for spots where the core is soft or thinned.

I can't find stats for deaths from falls from sailboat masts although a search turns ups many news reports of individual accidents. Falls are the 3rd leading cause of accidental death. Falls are the 3rd leading cause of accidental deaths. For example, in 2010 falls cause 26,000 deaths (compared to 36,000 deaths from car accidents that year).

American Alpine Club issues an annual report with analysis if every US climbing fatality. Typically there are about 30/year almost all resulting from failure to follow safety guidelines.
 
Jan 19, 2010
938
Catalina 34 Casco Bay
So you are basically free to swing around and slam into the mast or out around a shroud, because both your feet and arms are occupied?
ABSOLUTELY NOT !... The board is captured by the line that enters the top eye runs thru the cam and exits the bottom eye. As stated, that line is Taut !
 
Feb 20, 2012
9
First Edition Windward 850 West Vancouver
How much line would it take on a 3:1 block and tackle system to get to the top of a 30ft mast?
Here's my procedure.

I use a headsail halyard, NOT a spinnaker halyard, to haul up a 4:1 tackle. (Why not a spin hal? What if the block or mount gives way? With an inside halyard, the fall is stopped by the mast. With an external halyard, the fall us stopped by the deck. )

The bottom end is attached to me, with "me" being me of course, a bosun's chair and a safety harness.

The bottom end of the tackle is a ratchet block with cam cleat. The ratchet block allows me to hold myself suspended with two fingers, the cam cleat is for when I need both hands.

I bought the very biggest diameter blocks I could find, the reason being that friction is an incredible enemy here. While a 4:1 setup does mean that 4" of pull results in 1" of lift, it does NOT mean that 25 pounds of pull will lift 100 pounds. If you're lucky, you might get 90 pounds of lift, if not so lucky, a whole lot less, making the added expense of the 4:1 over the 3:1 somewhat moot.

The issue is not the friction in the blocks; all decent, modern blocks are very good. It comes from bending the line 180 degrees, which requires stretching our generally unstretchable line around the outside of the sheave and compressing it on the inside. It takes a WHOLE lot of energy to do this, and as the mechanical advantage goes up, so does the friction.

So, 4:1 tackle on one halyard. On a second halyard, again with one end running inside the mast as safety against a block failure, I simply draw it tight and make it fast. This line has an "ascender" on it, of the sort a climber might use. Should the 4:1 assembly fail or I do something dumb, this should stop me from falling.

Yes, a Prussik knot might work as well as an ascender, but since this is there to protect my butt, spending a few bucks seemed prudent.

So, I pull a bit and lift the ascender, pull a bit and lift ...

Sadly, all this apparatus prevents me from getting right to the top, so I installed a series of folding mast steps to allow me to climb the last three feet.

Having said this, while my scheme has worked well for some years, my spring project is to add (folding) mast steps all the way up. Age has brought an increase in weight and a decrease in strength to the point where I actually looked twice at my neighbour's power boat. (I looked away pretty quick, but I did look.)

Hope this helps.

Alan
 
Mar 26, 2011
2,914
Corsair F-24 MK I Deale, MD
Funny, my halyards take the strain of a 77,000 # boat being pulled or pushed along by the wind and you don't consider them safe to take a 240# man aloft? Interesting math. A lot more climbers die than sailors who go aloft.
The poster sails a Catalina 22. Think 3/8" polyester that has been in the sun for 10 years.

As for the climbing board, note the eye screws that retain a halyard that is strung bar-tight. The hands are around the mast. I've seen them in use. You're in a boson's chair, belayed by crew. The difference is you are doing the lifting, not the grinder.

Your climber safety math is deeply flawed. Gyms couldn't exist on math like that. If you compared the number of climbs (rock vs. boat), I suspect climbing would be many hundreds, perhaps thousands of times safer, since the participants are better trained and the equipment more frequently inspected. But I'm not going to research the stats on this. But there are a LOT more climbers than sailors, and they go up in the air a LOT more often. For example, I will probably climb the mast twice a year on the average. Last week I went to the local crag for a little stretch of the arms and legs and rapped 5 times, climbed 5 pitches, and took two falls on something a bit too hard for me). So that was at least 3 times the rope work (more if you consider the impact of two 8-foot falls) in a single week. The ratio for the year will likely be 50-100:1. When I was younger, I climbed more and the ratio would be several times higher.

I've been up the mast many dozens of times. I figure my number of roped accents on rock and ice at over 5,000 and the number of falls, rappels, and lowers several times higher. I been around more than 10 times that many accents by others. One fatality (a teenage beginner that did not buckle his harness correctly--landed 4 feet from me after ~ 200 feet of air time) and only two injuries requiring more than a bandaide or ibuprophen. I have never witnessed or heard of a rope failure, other than over the internet. Very, very rare, and always the result of rope cutting across a sharp edge.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes: LloydB
Aug 2, 2005
1,120
Pearson 33-2 & Typhoon 18 Penn Yan, NY (Seneca Lake SP)
I have seen a a rigger, whom I respect, use a block and tackle system that did ratchet as mentioned earlier. He did walk up the mast as he pulled on the line. I believe his rig was a 4 to 1 purchase as also mentioned above. Importantly, he never used the boat's halyard to secure himself or his equipment for climbing. He and his helper stitched a dedicated climbing line to the halyard then pulled his own climbing line up to the top of the mast, through the sheaves there, and back to the deck where it was cleated securely to the closest available cleat. He wore a climbing harness as well as sneakers and his helper used a second line (might have been a jib halyard) as a safety line. I think he also sat in a cloth Bo'son's chair so he could sit to work at the top of the mast. His tool bag was a separate item.

I have used a nylon climbing ladder hooked to and pulled aloft with the halyard. I did not consider the danger of a failed halyard at that time, but I am wiser than that now! The problem with the ladder was difficulty getting my feet into and out of the stirrup type loops of the ladder. It is difficult to see your feet when you are hugging the mast to stay under control! I put lengths of clear plastic tubing around the loops, but that wasn't much help.

My favorite climbing method was to use a climbing harness and ascenders. One ascender attached to a nylon web line for my feet and the other attached to the climbing harness. The stand up/sit down method worked very well as long as the climbing line was secured on or near the mast after most of my weight was put on the climbing line. A second harness providing attachment to the mast was a lineman's belt that also served as a safety attachment. We used a dedicated climbing line designed for rescue work. I enjoyed the work aloft and only got "a little excited" during passing boat wakes or when people stepped onto or off of the boat without shouting a warning to me!

As a footnote: I gave that climbing equipment to a boat yard employee who had borrowed it to work on a boat and wanted it for use on his own boat. At 71+(that's my age) my wife is unanimous as she insists I won't be doing any more climbing!
 
Jan 1, 2006
5,984
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
... Importantly, he never used the boat's halyard to secure himself or his equipment for climbing. He and his helper stitched a dedicated climbing line to the halyard then pulled his own climbing line up to the top of the mast, through the sheaves there, and back to the deck where it was cleated securely to the closest available cleat....
That's what a friend that does rigging work professionally does. It makes sense to me. Having seen halyards part sailing I can't see using one to risk my life. But my feet don't leave the deck so....
The riggers at the Greenport Brewer's use a bucket lift.
 
  • Like
Likes: Hunter216

capta

.
Jun 4, 2009
4,290
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
The halyard is only taking the strain put on it by the winch raising the sail - not the full weight of the boat.

The issue isn't static load but impact load. Even a fall of a couple of feet (e.g. off of a mast step) puts an amazing strain on the rope. Climbing ropes are built with stretch (up to 30% length before failure) to cushion the impact. Halyards are chosen for minimal stretch. It's also hard to tell how much a rope has deteriorated from visual inspection since the strength is in the core, not the braided sheath. Climbers periodically inspect their ropes by feeling for spots where the core is soft or thinned.

I can't find stats for deaths from falls from sailboat masts although a search turns ups many news reports of individual accidents. Falls are the 3rd leading cause of accidental death. Falls are the 3rd leading cause of accidental deaths. For example, in 2010 falls cause 26,000 deaths (compared to 36,000 deaths from car accidents that year).

American Alpine Club issues an annual report with analysis if every US climbing fatality. Typically there are about 30/year almost all resulting from failure to follow safety guidelines.
<My spinnaker halyard, which we use takes the weight of the boat, I believe. We renew it and the block frequently, as I'm not a fan on running over a multi-thousands dollar chute should either fail.
 
Oct 2, 2008
3,550
Pearson/ 530 Strafford, NH
I could never convince a fire chief to do ladder practice at a marina. I’d drive that 100 foot bucket truck right up to the dock and reach over three boats to get to mine. Sadly, I’ll never have that opportunity again.
 
  • Wow
Likes: sailme88
Jan 19, 2010
938
Catalina 34 Casco Bay
I could never convince a fire chief to do ladder practice at a marina. I’d drive that 100 foot bucket truck right up to the dock and reach over three boats to get to mine. Sadly, I’ll never have that opportunity again.
Musta been close to the shore.. 100' aerial is 92' from the turntable.. bucket so outriggers of at least 6' more likely 8' now gives you 84' minus any seat back or parked cahs..... it would be close but doable..;)
 
Mar 26, 2011
2,914
Corsair F-24 MK I Deale, MD
...I have used a nylon climbing ladder hooked to and pulled aloft with the halyard. I did not consider the danger of a failed halyard at that time, but I am wiser than that now! The problem with the ladder was difficulty getting my feet into and out of the stirrup type loops of the ladder. It is difficult to see your feet when you are hugging the mast to stay under control! ...
Piece of cake.
  • Store the ladder (Mastmate) rolled in exactly the manner the instructions say. Common mistake. That way the steps pop open.
  • Wear deck shoes. They slide right in. Plastic hose will make it worse because the hose can roll.
  • You do need to lean out a little to see your feet, like any ladder. Easy. No need to hug the mast with both hands anyway. Sometimes grabbing a shroud adds stability (rubber faced gloves).
  • I use a belay device on a spare halyard (Golblin). I take a few slings to secure myself at the top. My climbing harness has supplemental padding for long hang-time while working. Easy, no helper required.
I can climb the mast in just 2-3 minutes with the ladder. 40 years of constant rock climbing practice may be a factor.
 
  • Like
Likes: All U Get
Oct 2, 2008
3,550
Pearson/ 530 Strafford, NH
Musta been close to the shore.. 100' aerial is 92' from the turntable.. bucket so outriggers of at least 6' more likely 8' now gives you 84' minus any seat back or parked cahs..... it would be close but doable..;)
My thought was off the back, but the plan B was to anchor next to a bridge with my mast near the guard rails. When the tide went out my boat would heal over and the masthead would be where I could reach it from the bridge sidewalk.