In gear/ the journal

Hauling Your Woman Up the Mast

by Jeff Delaney

Going up the mast is not the the most enjoyable activity in the world. If you’re smart, you may be able to convince your wife to agree to this extremely terrifying and utterly unsafe activity. In just her second trip up the mast, Breezy managed to install a new VHF antenna, fix part of the roller furling, install new spreader boots, and fully clean the standing rigging.  Following these few simple tips should get your woman up the mast and back down safely, and she might even enjoy herself.

My wife at the top of the mastTips for Convincing your Wife to go Aloft

Simply saying “Honey, I’m cranking you up the mast today to replace the VHF antenna”, is unlikely to get positive results. If you add a little encouragement and pizazz, you may get a better reaction.

  • Tell her how AMAZING the view of the harbor is at 40 plus feet.
  • Compliment her weight. It’s a rule that the lightest crew member has to climb the mast.
  • Assure her that you’re a disciplined yachtsman and will take all safety precautions.
  • Give her a safety word when she’s ready to come down.
  • Say something like “We need pictures for the blog and it should be you’re beautiful face up there”.
  • Remind her that the halyards have a breaking strength of 7,000+ pounds.
  • Start with an easy project, like cleaning the shrouds.
  • Offer to to take her shopping with the $100/hour you saved on rigging labor.

If none of these worked, I’m sorry. You can stop reading now and hop in the chair yourself.

She Said YES!

Now that you got her to say yes, you’ll need to properly rig the bosun’s chair for a safe and pleasant trip up. Here are a few safety and comfort tips that we have learned from our mast climbing experiences.

1. Tie a Proper Knot. Hint: NOT a Bowline

Figure 8 Knot for Bosun's Chair

Always use a figure-eight knot. The most common mistakes I’ve seen with bosun’s chair rigging its (1) tying a bowline knot and (2) using a the halyard shackle itself. Many people seem to default to a bowline knot, however, you will get considerably more strength and security from a figure eight knot. In order to get the knot around the bosun chair d-rings, you will need to use the figure-eight follow-through method. Rock climbers use the same method for securing the harness to their main support line.

2. Create Safety Redundancy

Breezy Mast Climbing in Harken Bosuns ChairThere should be no single piece of equipment that can fail and result in a fall, except for maybe the mast itself. Tumbling 40 feet is going to mess up your better half’s good looks at the very least, if you’re lucky. I’m sure you’ve heard stories around the marina of riggers who have died from this potentially dangerous chore.

The first obvious safety measure is a backup harness. It’s best if this can be rigged to a spare halyard in the same way you rig the bosun’s chair. If a halyard is not available, it may be necessary to create safety line that can be wrapped around the mast and adjusted by your wife on the way up. Either way, having a backup harness is essential.

When trying off lines, it’s best to have two secure points holding the line. In our case, the line runs through a clutch and is then secured around a self tailing winch with plenty of wraps. If the clutch fails, the winch will provide backup support.

3. Get the best Bosun’s Chair Money Can Buy

Do you really want to put your life in the hands of a muffy 20-year old canvas chair you bought at a swap meet? If you have multiple projects that requiring mast climbing, a new bosun’s chair is a worthy investment. We went with the Harken Deluxe Chair, which will set you back about $200. It’s comfortable, has plenty of tool storage space, and appears to be very strong.

4. Bring a Cell Phone Camera

When she installed the new VHF antenna, Breezy texted several pictures throughout the process. She had never spliced a coaxial cable before, so she was able to send me pictures with questions. If you both have iPhones, you can actually face time to see exactly what’s going on in real time. Here’s a few of the sweet pics she was able to snap on her phone.

Spliced coax cable at top of sailboat mast. VHF Antenna at Top of Mast Sailboat

Final Thoughts

Putting off projects up the mast can result in catastrophic failures down the road. Our VHF antenna was still working, but as you can see, it was due for a replacement with the coax fitting almost completely corroded away.

Corroded coax fitting from VHF on mast

Being self sufficient on a sailboat means you and your first mate should be prepared to go aloft. We’ve both found that the most rewarding projects are those done from the seat of a bosun’s chair. It’s a great feeling to overcome fear-invoking challenge and mark a boat project off the list at the same time.

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