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Old 07-06-2024, 15:47   #1
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Looking for solo mast climbing advice

I have folding steps all the way up my mast and inherited a Spinlock Mast Pro climbing harness with my boat. I'd like to combine the two to give me an easy, quick and safe way to work up the mast solo - any solutions that works for you in a similar scenario? Ideally something that allows me to climb the mast steps without having to work the Mastpro up and down too much as I climb.

Also, when I get up the mast and want to hang from the climbing harness so I can work, should I be backing up that with something too? If so, any advice on this part of it?

Looks for ideas and suggestions - thank you in advance,
Tom
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Old 07-06-2024, 23:16   #2
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

You'll probably get lots of advice on this. The fact is, there are plenty of ways to do this safely. Take advice not from boaters, but from rock climbers, on this one.

There is a very simple rig you can use that we used in search and rescue. It facilitates self-belay when ascending when you do not need to rely on the rope to ascend.

If you do not have a chest harness, I would recommend making one out of nylon webbing. You make a loop (circle) and cross it into a figure 8 and slip your arm through each loop of the "8" so the "x" of the loop goes between your shoulder blades and the two ends of the loop can be pulled snugly across your chest and secured with a carabiner. (Sounds complicated, but is super simple - just kind of hard to describe.)

The best thing to use is an ascender (also called a "Jumar"). You can do this with only a prusik knot instead, but that requires a bit more care. You clip the bottom of the ascender onto your seat harness and the top onto the carabiner on your chest. The ascender should be tight (not a lot of vertical movement possible), but not so tight you can't stand up straight.

With the ascender attached this way, as you ascend a rope, the chest harness will pull the ascender up, but if you sit down, the ascender will support your weight.

Now, secure the halyard so it is tight - the tighter the better. Any slack will just make your job harder and allow you to swing around if you fall.

Clip the ascender onto the halyard and just climb up. If you did it right, you should climb up without impediment and without having to take your hands off of their grips to fuss with rigging. I would have another short sling attached to the carabiner for my seat harness. I would use that sling to secure myself at the top of the mast by passing it around the mast over the top steps and clipping it back into my harness. This is just a backup while working.

Descending is a little trickier, but not hard. (The fact that the halyard is tensioned means you can't just rappel down.) To descend, you just need to disengage the ascender, squat down, re-engage the ascender, step down, repeat. Note, you must NOT RELEASE the ascender - you are just disengage it so it can slide down. You need to take your weight off or the ascender will not disengage.

I understand this sounds too complicated, but it is almost trivially simple to do. Once you see it, it will make perfect sense.

If you look up videos about using ascenders, they mostly assume you are climbing up on the rope - which pretty much takes a pair of ascenders and is more complicated. You only need the chest ascender piece of the puzzle since you are not relying on the rope to climb - just to prevent falling.

This guy actually shows it fairly clearly: https://youtu.be/_EilHTaSzq8

But ... note that his rope is not tensioned from below, so he needs to pull it down with his hand. And, also, he sticks his finger inside the ascender to disengage it which is a VERY bad idea. There is a trigger on the side for this purpose.

Note: There are countless ways to make an improvised chest harness out of nylon webbing. Choose whatever makes you happy. The purpose of this harness is not to support your weight. Its job is only to pull the ascender up the rope as you climb. (And, it will help prevent you from turning upside down if things go horribly.)
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Old 08-06-2024, 03:40   #3
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

I just recently installed folding steps on my mast and I use a linesman's harness. It's what I've always liked to use when there are steps.

I'm not promoting my channel but here is the video of it.

https://youtu.be/jbh-A7wGbfQ?si=ZAR8zl18N4n-L4jE

Maybe it will give you some ideas for your situation.

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Old 08-06-2024, 04:06   #4
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

I have fixed mast steps I put on myself almost 20 years ago and they have been great. Personally, I just climb up the steps for most small jobs with no harness. It's like going up a steep ladder with big steps, but I don't consider it dangerous. Certainly less dangerous than the typical mess I see most boaters make of hauling someone up with a haliard. For medium jobs that require both hands I wear a standard man-overboard harness with a short tether. I take a few wraps around the mast with the tether so I am held tight to the mast and wouldn't fall at all if for some reason my feet slipped or one of the steps broke. My feet support my weight. At the very top of the mast I have two steps that are at the same height so I can stand and reach the masthead--that's where most complicated work takes place on my boat. For heavy duty jobs that require a lot of time and both hands I also wear a bosuns chair that I have someone pull up with me using a haliard as I climb, and it then gets cleated off. That requires assistance though. That's how I put the mast steps on in the first place.
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Old 08-06-2024, 04:29   #5
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kettlewell View Post
I have fixed mast steps I put on myself almost 20 years ago and they have been great. Personally, I just climb up the steps for most small jobs with no harness. It's like going up a steep ladder with big steps, but I don't consider it dangerous. Certainly less dangerous than the typical mess I see most boaters make of hauling someone up with a haliard. For medium jobs that require both hands I wear a standard man-overboard harness with a short tether. I take a few wraps around the mast with the tether so I am held tight to the mast and wouldn't fall at all if for some reason my feet slipped or one of the steps broke. My feet support my weight. At the very top of the mast I have two steps that are at the same height so I can stand and reach the masthead--that's where most complicated work takes place on my boat. For heavy duty jobs that require a lot of time and both hands I also wear a bosuns chair that I have someone pull up with me using a haliard as I climb, and it then gets cleated off. That requires assistance though. That's how I put the mast steps on in the first place.
It took me several trips up the mast to learn this very important step in placing my wedding ladder at the right height so I can stand in the two steps that are at the same height.

It makes such a big difference on your body.

I have an ascender attached to my harness as a backup which is connected to a halyard.

At the top though, I still try to have one arm around the mast while working up there just in case.
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Old 08-06-2024, 05:31   #6
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

Quote:
I have an ascender attached to my harness as a backup which is connected to a halyard.
I get the thought, but I find that when climbing every extra strap, line, piece of gear just adds to the number of things to distract and get tangled, reducing safety instead of concentrating on making sure each handhold and foothold is secure. There is a mental process used where you move each hand and foot deliberately to its next secure place one at a time and then do a mental check off, "OK, secure handhold established." I find that if I also have to deal with sliding up something or moving a line around something or untangling something caught under a fitting it means one of my secure handholds has to be let go of. One thing I often do is haul a bucket with all my gear up to where I will be working so I don't have to carry up the stuff.
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Old 08-06-2024, 06:44   #7
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

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Originally Posted by Kettlewell View Post
I get the thought, but I find that when climbing every extra strap, line, piece of gear just adds to the number of things to distract and get tangled, reducing safety instead of concentrating on making sure each handhold and foothold is secure. There is a mental process used where you move each hand and foot deliberately to its next secure place one at a time and then do a mental check off, "OK, secure handhold established." I find that if I also have to deal with sliding up something or moving a line around something or untangling something caught under a fitting it means one of my secure handholds has to be let go of. One thing I often do is haul a bucket with all my gear up to where I will be working so I don't have to carry up the stuff.
The ascender is definitely a PITA to deal with all the way up so maybe next time I'll wait to attach it until I reach the top or wherever I'm working.

Most recently I was removing and replacing my forward lowers so I didn't use any safety equipment. Just set the webbing ladder for the two even steps in the right position and worked from there.

Removing the old cotter pins was the hardest part as they wear under the tangs on the mast side.
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Old 08-06-2024, 06:48   #8
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

40-year rock climber hear, with many hundreds, maybe thousands, of climbs up and down a climb solo, with a rope. Most were rock or masts. Many were in industry.

https://www.rocorescue.com/product/p...fall-arrester/
https://www.rocknrescue.com/product/camp-safety-goblin/

The above devises are designed to ride both up and down the rope without climber attention. You do not have to reach over, unlock, and move when descending. They are rated for fall arrest.

Single ascenders are not rated for fall arrest. Google Petzl. They will damamge the rope (tear the cover off--I've seen it in testing), they can come off when unlocked to slide down. They are not that strong. They must be used in pairs with no slack in the system. Thus, they can work as part of a two-ascender climbing system, but NOT used singly for fall arrest.

I have used many models. Each has a limited size rang of ropes.

These are MUCH better than ascenders for use with steps because you don't have to keep messing with it. Just climb and it will follow the rope on its own.

When you stop to work, two things.
  • There is a locking lever. Then the devise works like an ascender and will hold your weight.
  • ALWAYS take a sling and some carabiners to wrap around the mast. As soon as you stop, secure yourself to the mast as a back-up and to reduce swinging. This will give you two hands to work.
Don't carry your tools. Trail a haul line from your harness and pull them up in a canvas bucket or an electrician's ladder bag.


As for the harness, A recreational climbing harness is fine if you are reasonably fit with minimal gut. You MUST be able to tighten the belt enough that it cannot slide over your hips without breaking something (inverted fall). If you have a gut you will need a full body harness. Better yet, you should probably get someone lighter to climb. Be realistic. Can you easily do a half dozen pull ups? If not, stay on deck.



However, these harnesses are not designed for hanging for more than a few minutes, Soon, your legs will go to sleep, which will be painful and potentially dangerous. The solution is to add wide, firm foam padding to the leg loops, like foam floor tiles. It can be held in place with duct tape.
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Old 08-06-2024, 08:15   #9
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kettlewell View Post
I get the thought, but I find that when climbing every extra strap, line, piece of gear just adds to the number of things to distract and get tangled, reducing safety instead of concentrating on making sure each handhold and foothold is secure. There is a mental process used where you move each hand and foot deliberately to its next secure place one at a time and then do a mental check off, "OK, secure handhold established." I find that if I also have to deal with sliding up something or moving a line around something or untangling something caught under a fitting it means one of my secure handholds has to be let go of. One thing I often do is haul a bucket with all my gear up to where I will be working so I don't have to carry up the stuff.
Excuse me if I'm misreading, but it sounds like you're saying that you don't use a lifeline because it distracts you from climbing safely.
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Old 08-06-2024, 10:48   #10
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

I would point out that some strategies for ascending do not play out well if you have to ascend in bouncy conditions. Obviously, you try to ascend in calm conditions, but sometimes fate has other ideas. We had the main halyard jam on a failed masthead sheave with sails up on our way into the marina. So, I got to be hoisted up the mast on the jib halyard (no steps). It was pretty modest swell and wind waves, but still ... a bit of a wild ride.
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Old 08-06-2024, 11:19   #11
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

I don't use a "lifeline" of any sort with my steps. But then again I am solo so there is no one to help me. Like Kettlewell, I don't like anything that gets in the way. Be it lines, gear or tools. I too find them to be a distraction.

By using the linesman's harness as I ascend when I let go one hand to reach for the next step there is a momentary pause as I loop the belt over the step I am leaving. Reverse the process on the way down.

It's really simple and easy and I would even say intuitive once you get used to it. I have deliberately dropped my feet off the steps to show someone what would happen - which is I drop about a foot and the belt catches me and I pretty much body slam the mast. Not fun, but not damaging either.

The only time I use a bosun's chair is when I have to do something at the end of the spreaders. I can't reach them from the mast with the belt.

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Old 08-06-2024, 12:24   #12
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

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I don't use a "lifeline" of any sort with my steps. But then again I am solo so there is no one to help me....


The method I described above is for solo operation. Practically every long non-caged ladder in industry uses something equivalent.


In fact, I just returned from some morning rock climbing. I used a Goblin. It follows on a safety line and you concentrate on climbing. Easy peesy. This is the modern way to climb steps solo.


---


Note: it is helpful to tension the safety line lightly with a bungee tot he deck. The devises will feed more smoothly. Only a few ounces or tension is required, just enough that the rope does not lift or blow in the breeze.
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Old 08-06-2024, 13:45   #13
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

Thanks all. Thinwater, your answer was exactly what I was looking for. I've just ordered the Petzl ASAP. And also just bought your "Keep a Cruising Boat for Peanuts" ebook and I'm enjoying it thoroughly!

Tom
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Old 14-06-2024, 08:43   #14
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

ATN Mastclimber works great. Iíve used it to install a radar, inspect rigging.

ATN Mastclimber Bosunís Chair (formerly ATN Topclimber) is a bosunís chair that allows you to hoist yourself up the mast. Safely and quickly hoist yourself up the mast using only leg muscles, even when the boat is heeled. The ATN Mastclimber has a hard seat with a backrest and one-way jammer and leg straps with foot loops and a one-way jammer. From start to finish, the Mastclimber makes ascending the mast easier than ever and you can do it alone
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Old 14-06-2024, 08:50   #15
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Re: Looking for solo mast climbing advice

Don’t look down
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