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Old 13-01-2006, 15:08   #1
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Handrail Height

A recent tragedy has made me think again about what must be one of the greatest risks to sailors, and particularly cruising sailors, and that is falling overboard.
While personal flotation devices and lifelines are very important my general observation is that virtually every cruising boat that I see has handrails that I would consider to be too low.
No local council would permit a verandah handrail of the heights commonly used on yachts.
One only has to consider the possiblity of a sudden lurch when one is off balance, not to mention the number of items that one could trip over on deck.
When I look at what I would like 1000mm high hand rails would be my minimum, and if I was in the middle of the deep blue sea 1200mm would be desirable, with netting or wire to stop one from sliding under.
Purpose built marine handrails are so expensive that it is possible that a workshop set up to fabricate stainless steel could make decent ones for the same price.
Combined with very secure mounting we could possibly make dramatic improvemets in the safety of cruising yachts.
What does everybody think?
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Old 13-01-2006, 15:29   #2
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Lifelines work differently than 'guardrails' that you expect to see on buildings. Using building conventions guardrails would be typically be 36" and 42" in height. But guardrails would only work when there is closely spaced intermediates and frankly this would result in a very heavy structure that would make sailing next to impossible as the jib would hang up on the railings.

The more typical 30" offshore lifeline height is not really meant to resist a fall from standing and still keep you aboard. Moving low and slow, solid toerails or better yet bulkwarks, using solid grabrails located towards the centerline of the boat (and none of this plastic grabrail stuff either), good harnesses, tethers and jacklines are meant to keep you on board.

If you knew how to weld you could build rigid safety rails out of SS tubing but I unless this is a very big boat it strikes me as a pretty poor idea.

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Old 13-01-2006, 18:13   #3
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The Pardey's have some interesting things to say on this subject. First, they point out that the most important part of remaining safe on the boat is learning to stay on the boat. They have a lifeline set up that includes additional lines put in place between the shrouds and boom gallows, while sailing at a height of about 60" if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, as Jeff pointed out, lifelines are not safety railings. They are designed to be a last thing to grab onto before going overboard, and a solid bulwarks or even a toe rail will provide much more safety. Additionally, consider the additional leverage that must be supported with taller stancions. Adaquate handholds on deck are a must. The rule of one hand for the boat does no good if there is nothing for that one hand to hold onto.
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Old 14-05-2006, 19:51   #4
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As much as I disagree with the Pardey position being anti-engine on their heavy cruising boat I must admire their ability to stay alive! I was trained, as they were apparently, to never use the safety lines at sea.

Like Paul mentions, toe rails and bulwarks and handholds and tethers are what one works with offshore. When it is nasty I'm down on all fours on the foredeck anyway, unless being a monkey on the mast and boom dealing with the main. If I lose my grip on a deck handhold hopefully the safety lines will keep me aboard without my safety harness and tether being brought into play.

Still, I empathize with Chris regarding the low height of the safety lines when in calm waters and I am standing up. In that case the safety lines seem to be the perfect height at the back of the knees to trip you right overboard. Yet, as Jeff points out, what does one do so that the jib does not have to be on a 1.5 meter pendant in order to clear higher safety lines?
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Old 14-05-2006, 22:35   #5
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Handrails, not lifelines.

You know: bolted to the cabintop. Usually nowhere near your hand unless climbing up out of the cockpit, or when you're on the leeward sidedeck under considerable heel. So unless I'm re-positioning a jib car, there are few times when I ever touch them.

Usually, I'm standing up and using the shroud/lowers for balance, whether on windward or leeward sidedecks.
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Old 15-05-2006, 00:17   #6
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High flying jib

I am not sure that a high jib would impose such a heavy penalty.
A huge low cut genoa is a must have for racing boats but the extra fraction of a knot is a heavy price to pay for poor visibility and safety.
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Old 15-05-2006, 04:36   #7
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In my view, everything that looks like (or could be used as) as handhold must be built and attached as though it is a handhold. This would include such items as:
- Lifeline Stanchions, Pushpits, and Pullpits
- Handrails (interior & exterior)
- Steering Binnacles
- Tables & Bulkheads
- Dodger & Bimini Frames ~ one of the worst offenders, in many cases.

”In order to better understand the forces involved and the failures experienced in lifeline systems, Ralph Naranjo* organized a joint U.S. Naval Academy/US SAILING multiphase research project that was partially funded by the Cruising Club of America. Their goal was to quantify the loads imposed upon lifeline components and determine when and how failures occur...”
“...Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy are taught that sailboat lifelines are a grab-rail of last resort. They learn that these system need to be carefully maintained and regularly checked for wear and tear...”


Lifeline Study: http://www.ussailing.org/safety/Stud...line_study.htm

* Ralph Naranjo is Cruising World's technical editor and is the Vandestar chair for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD
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Old 15-05-2006, 16:59   #8
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Chris-
"I am not sure that a high jib would impose such a heavy penalty." No offense meant, but you are trying to build a sea-going veranda not a sailboat. The nature of boating, sailing, and venturing out to sea is that it is inherently dangerous. Ending the jib four feet above the deck would be a significant change as you would totally lose the "end plate" effect that is gained by bringing sails down to the deck. How much you would lose woudl depend on overall sail height, so if you have a particular boat in mind, run the numbers to see the square feet of sail you will lose, and then perhaps double them to compensate for the loss of the end-plate.

You would be adding weight in one of the worst places to add it. And, in order to make those fences strong enough to resist the load of a 250# crew being thrown against them from the high side, you'd probably have to build them out of 2" pipe. Congratulations, you'll be building a hurricane fence with posts every four feet along the rails.

Now, if it makes you personally happy to sail or motor that way, by all means do it. That's your choice. But for most of us? I think of those lines as being called "lifelines" the same way that a line drawn in the sand is called a "deadline". Cross it, and you'll pay with your life. If someone told you it was there to keep you on the boat, they lied. It is there so cruisers have a place to hang laundry. So rail meat has something to limit their position. And to make it easier to grab the boat or tie off fenders when docking.
It's not there to save your life.
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Old 15-05-2006, 19:46   #9
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When I go from aft to forward I use every solid hand hold in calm weather. I do it becuase it builds a sense of memory to where the holds are that count the most. In that brief moment when I slip I'll know by memroy where it is and grab on for all I'm worth. I can do it with my eyes closed or perhaps while I'm looking at something perhaps more important.

I never grab a life line becuase I know it's not a slam dunk save my life hold, but I'll grab it on the way over because I do know it's there. The dynamics of a life lines can't make it strong enough to be solid even if it could hold you. It will give and it won't be solid. I spent a while this weekend helping a friend rebed a stantion. What pathetic things they are. Most will snap off and many rip right out of the boat if you fell on them.

Using jack lines regularly and using all holds as you move about the boat does build a memory sense like a blind person does of where things are in space. One step grab here, two steps grab there, and those palces where it takes two steps you reach a little farther and quicker. You need to build a sense of where everything is so you just plain know with so much certainty you could find it as you were thrown off balance, slipped or fell. It's that last effort that you make withoput thinking that will matter most of all because you'll just know and not have to think about.

Gord mentions the grab rail on the dodger as you step down into the copckpit. I have a good one. Not as strong as the wooden grab rail along the cabin top but it is solid. Dodger designs often lack a good step from the deck into the cockpit. Often it is an odd twist or an awkard lurch to make that transition. You need to think about how solid a hold is and how much you can count on it on those nice days when you don't need it so you'll becertain on days when you might. That onme moevemnt is something I would test on any boat I board as i find it so dangerous. Just as you go into the cockpit you get thrown overboard.

After you do that then think about rigging jack lines and how you should move about the boat to maximize the best holds and afford yourself the best protection. I would agree that the lifelines are meant to make an illusion that you can't fall overboard. In the end you have to make do with what you have or can compensate for before you leave the dock. Practice is iomportant and can make a difference. I know I go forward when it gets difficult weather knowing where the good holds are and what is around me as I do those things like retie the bowline on the jib clew that never came loose before, but did just now.
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Old 15-05-2006, 20:01   #10
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Paul-
"Most will snap off and many rip right out of the boat if you fell on them." Actually that is probably a GOOD thing. Following the concepts of "when push comes to shove" and the law of unintended consequences...stanchion rails are akin to the crumple zones in modern cars. If the stanchion didn't crumple and absorb some impact as it deformed, the frail meatware that impacted it would probably break ribs and bones instead. Easier to replace a stanchion than a rib cage.
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Old 15-05-2006, 20:12   #11
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Perhaps so, but they don't perform what at first glance they seem like they should. It clearly is a wrong first impression but to say it won't break your ribs as you fly overboard isn't much. The debate seems to be if it is enough. My own opimion is I want something inboard that is solid I can grab and hold on to.

Having spent alot of years mountaineering before I started sailing I don't seem inclined towards hand holds that are not attached and don't move. I can be convinced easily when required .
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Old 16-05-2006, 00:01   #12
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In real life...

When I was looking at boats I looked at a steel 50' Adams that had handrails at about 3' that were made from 1.25" stainless. They looked real sturdy, and that they would actually keep me on the boat if I fell against them.
The point comes up quite frequently about how little cruising yachts actually sail.
This Adams had a 30 odd hp Lister and a 1000 litre fuel tank and had clearly been set up for tropical cruising.
If it had been a little cheaper I would have brought it.
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Old 16-05-2006, 02:00   #13
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Chris, I remember reading something about rails and life line etc in the Cat regs. My book is out on the boat, so I can't check. But is there anything in that in regards to rail height???
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Old 16-05-2006, 03:49   #14
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On my project boat I HAD planned to use substantial lifelines over 30" high and make the stanchions vertical. Then I read an article on lifelines that pointed out a geometry lesson that I hadn't considered. The higher the lifelines and greater the heel, the narrower the walkway. So my stanchions are going to be 30" high and slanted out at the top slightly. I suspect that the Paradeys mostly crawl around deck with the height they build their lifelines, if they are heeled over, which is probably a good idea anyway. I like Paul's idea of solidly anchored grabholds and practicing using them.
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Old 18-06-2016, 01:19   #15
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Re: Handrail Height

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pblais View Post
When I go from aft to forward I use every solid hand hold in calm weather. I do it becuase it builds a sense of memory to where the holds are that count the most. In that brief moment when I slip I'll know by memroy where it is and grab on for all I'm worth. I can do it with my eyes closed or perhaps while I'm looking at something perhaps more important.

I never grab a life line becuase I know it's not a slam dunk save my life hold, but I'll grab it on the way over because I do know it's there. The dynamics of a life lines can't make it strong enough to be solid even if it could hold you. It will give and it won't be solid. I spent a while this weekend helping a friend rebed a stantion. What pathetic things they are. Most will snap off and many rip right out of the boat if you fell on them.

Using jack lines regularly and using all holds as you move about the boat does build a memory sense like a blind person does of where things are in space. One step grab here, two steps grab there, and those palces where it takes two steps you reach a little farther and quicker. You need to build a sense of where everything is so you just plain know with so much certainty you could find it as you were thrown off balance, slipped or fell. It's that last effort that you make withoput thinking that will matter most of all because you'll just know and not have to think about.

Gord mentions the grab rail on the dodger as you step down into the copckpit. I have a good one. Not as strong as the wooden grab rail along the cabin top but it is solid. Dodger designs often lack a good step from the deck into the cockpit. Often it is an odd twist or an awkard lurch to make that transition. You need to think about how solid a hold is and how much you can count on it on those nice days when you don't need it so you'll becertain on days when you might. That onme moevemnt is something I would test on any boat I board as i find it so dangerous. Just as you go into the cockpit you get thrown overboard.

After you do that then think about rigging jack lines and how you should move about the boat to maximize the best holds and afford yourself the best protection. I would agree that the lifelines are meant to make an illusion that you can't fall overboard. In the end you have to make do with what you have or can compensate for before you leave the dock. Practice is iomportant and can make a difference. I know I go forward when it gets difficult weather knowing where the good holds are and what is around me as I do those things like retie the bowline on the jib clew that never came loose before, but did just now.
I was reading this thread while researching rails. I was looking into ss rails above waist height. Simply because the flimsy railing setup on sailboats is just that, flimsy. Anyway I came accross this thread from years ago and I thought this post was so good I've resurrected in the hope that others could learn from this sailors wonderful safety thoughts on boat railings.

Taking, person overboard precautions is a high issue on my list. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
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