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Old 13-02-2024, 07:35   #1
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Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

We've discussed this a million times, but I keep coming back to the subject.


For decades my technique has been to use two halyards, one of them put on to a mast winch and the other led back through a turning block to an electric cockpit winch. Both halyards through clutches.


I put on BOTH a climbing harness AND a bosun's chair.


Two additional crew are required -- one to man each halyard.


The lifting is done with the electric winch, and the other halyard is the safety line. During ascent, the crew at the mast winch only needs to pull the slack out through the closed clutch.


So far so good, but it gets interesting on the descent. Here, both clutches have to be open, and my life depends on the crew not mishandling the ropes on the winches. This is the part I would really like to improve.


So what I think about is securely fixing the end of the safety line halyard at the mast base. Using an ascender and/or grigri myself on this line, instead of having a crew man the safety line.


This has the additional benefit of making mast climbing possible with only one helper.


Other issues -- getting high enough to work at the very top of the mast. My fear of the crew on the electric winch not taking his finger off the button soon enough when I reach the top, and jamming the end of the halyard in the block, or God forbid, breaking something.


For the first thing, I guess I will make some stirrups which I can sling over the top of the mast. Or is there some other solution to this?
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Old 13-02-2024, 08:21   #2
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

I'm paranoid about going up the mast.
No less than two halyards for me, thank you very much, and this only after an inspection for any fuzzy sections denoting wear.
And I don't trust my life to the snap shackles on the end of the halyards, attached to the bosun's chair, no thank you. Nothing less than a bowline tied with my own hands.
Electric winch ?? fugetaboutit, I want an experienced " hand" on the manual winch and if that means hustling up some experienced deck hands, so be it.

I've had masts steps on a previous boat, which I thought were secure enuff for me to shimmy up the mast, but still had a halyard around a chest brace.

I don't much like heights, especially so when I'm dangling on a tall stick the size of lamp pole.

My paranoia aside, you could consider some mast steps near the top of the mast, just a pair, side by side, to give you some extra footing and support.
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Old 13-02-2024, 08:35   #3
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

I'm with MicHugh not trusting electric winches, too many thing to go wrong. Two man on mast winch is good. For descending I use to hold on to halyard in use, that makes me, if needs to stop, half of my weight incase something goes wrong, easy to try when coming down how it works. Or coming down along the forestay ie furled sail, more to grab on and you get your feet around it..

ps. for my own boat soon to be wet but mostly single handling I've thought about rope ladder, just hoist up with halyard and tighten with winch, maybe a couple of "stays" to half way on both sides.
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Old 13-02-2024, 08:47   #4
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

Steps.

Put 2 double steps at the mast top. Te upper ones sited to allow good working height. But you need to be careful because you can get too high and end up upside down.

Most people hate steps, I hate falling even more and need to be able to do it alone.
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Old 13-02-2024, 08:50   #5
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

It depends...

If doing serious work, I drop the main sail slugs out of the track and rig a MastMate. I'll wear both a climbing harness and bosun's chair, both on the same halyard. I'll climb the ladder, with Sheila just keeping a bit of tension on the safety halyard. The halyard gets a wrap or two around a winch before the clutch. The MM has twin loops at the top, so it's (relatively) easy to stand in it.

For a quick trip up, I'll usually just wear the climbing harness and get lifted on a halyard. As a safety, I'll have a sling & a Prussik on a different halyard. (I'm an idiot & gave away most of my climbing gear, including Grigri's and ascenders. D'oh!)

It's not too much of a hassle. Years ago, I helped teach rock climbing classes. I'd NEVER hear the end of it if I broke myself climbing a sailboat!
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Old 13-02-2024, 08:52   #6
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

Two halyards for me. Hauled up on in a chair with one while the second one is fixed; through a clutch and tied to a fixed point on the boat so it is fairly taught. Wife hauls me up and let’s me down. Wearing a simple climbing harness while in the chair which is attached with a short runner to a jumar - older style ascending climbing device. The jumar is attached to the fixed halyard. I slide the jumar up in the normal operating mode as I go up in the chair.

As I am lowered I need to hold the jumar gate open to allow it and me in the chair, to slide down the fixed halyard. The instant I release the jumar gate it jams on the fixed halyard and the downward travel is halted.

The gate would be released to give the belayer a break or in case of any issue with the lowering.

Works for us
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Old 13-02-2024, 08:53   #7
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

I kinda liked the mast steps, many people don't, saying the halyards get wrapped up in them, but I never found that to be a problem.
I actually installed my own mast steps while the mast was up. It was an interesting experience to say the least. Mind you I was in my 20's then, and wouldn't dream of doing that today
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Old 13-02-2024, 09:12   #8
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

I spent many years mountaineering and ice climbing. I have spent countless hours 'on belay'. Someone belaying you shouldn't be prone to 'fumbling' a line.

I would do this slightly differently. I would include either an ATC or a Gris Gris on a couple of carabiners on my harness. I would secure the second halyard as a fixed line, then I would repel down the fixed line.

If you really want a 'belt and suspenders' solution, then get lowered by one halyard, while running a gris gris on the second, fixed halyard. You would and hold open the Gris Gris as you descend. The second you let go of the gris gris, you stop descending. A gris gris defaults to the closed position if you let go. It acts like a dead man switch of sorts.
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Old 13-02-2024, 09:14   #9
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

Tree climbers have well-established, widely used practices that have a good track record safety wise. Look for "rope walk ascent" -- there are many web sites, videos, books.


In essence:
- Use a single line, one designed for climbing with a sewn eye in one end. (For mast work, this is shackled to the halyard and hoisted before climbing).
- Use a harness and a hybrid ascent/descent device. I have a rock exotica akimbo, there are others. Using a hybrid eliminates the need to switch from ascenders to descenders at height which is a potential source of accidents.
- Use a foot ascender on one side and a knee ascender on the other side to allow rope walking. These operate on the same rope as the hybrid.


Practice near the ground first so that you have confidence in the motions to clip and unclip everything and to control your descent. The Akimbo requires some dialing-in for the proper amount of friction for the rope in use and the weight of the climber and will slip if set wrong.



This will allow you to ascend and descend by yourself with whatever halyard you're using securely tied off. There's no potential for miscommunication with whoever's on the winch. You can stand on the foot and knee ascenders if you need to work above the top of the mast though this will be most comfortable and secure if you use a flipline and a harness equipped for a flipline.


I carry a figure 8 and some extra carabiners, and a knife, so I can improvise an emergency descent if necessary.
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Old 13-02-2024, 09:30   #10
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
We've discussed this a million times, but I keep coming back to the subject.


For decades my technique has been to use two halyards, one of them put on to a mast winch and the other led back through a turning block to an electric cockpit winch. Both halyards through clutches.


I put on BOTH a climbing harness AND a bosun's chair.


Two additional crew are required -- one to man each halyard.


The lifting is done with the electric winch, and the other halyard is the safety line. During ascent, the crew at the mast winch only needs to pull the slack out through the closed clutch.


So far so good, but it gets interesting on the descent. Here, both clutches have to be open, and my life depends on the crew not mishandling the ropes on the winches. This is the part I would really like to improve.


So what I think about is securely fixing the end of the safety line halyard at the mast base. Using an ascender and/or grigri myself on this line, instead of having a crew man the safety line.


This has the additional benefit of making mast climbing possible with only one helper.


Other issues -- getting high enough to work at the very top of the mast. My fear of the crew on the electric winch not taking his finger off the button soon enough when I reach the top, and jamming the end of the halyard in the block, or God forbid, breaking something.


For the first thing, I guess I will make some stirrups which I can sling over the top of the mast. Or is there some other solution to this?

I use a similar method with my wife hauling me up in a bosun's chair on a 2 part halyard with an angle drill with winch attachment. I also wear a climbing harness attached to the second halyard with a carabiner and a gri gri that I slide up the halyard as I go as a safety. This allows for easy descending as well. A Klemheist knot or Prusik hitch work just as well if you don't have a gri gri. The only "hitch" in this system is communicating with my wife so that I don't get sucked through the masthead sheave. This has always been accomplished by screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard over the angle drill and winch. Thinking of trying something like this:https://www.amazon.com/Retevis-Walki...18&sr=1-1&th=1

If I am by myself I use an ascender, pulley and gri gri setup as described on the excellent L36 site. https://l-36.com/mast_climbing.php
To reach the top I have 2 mast steps about 4' from the masthead and pass a line from my waist around the mast.
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Old 13-02-2024, 09:43   #11
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

It depends a bit on what kind of shape you are in, but I like using a Top Climber to ascend with one crew, usually my wife, working the jib halyard attached to a separate harness I wear. I control both ascent and descent with the main halyard and attached line secured in place before going up. When I reach the top my wife tightens the jib halyard which pulls my chest up and almost against to the top of the mast. Makes it relatively easy to work on things above the mast. Been doing this for years and it works well.
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Old 13-02-2024, 09:48   #12
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

As 40-year rock and ice climber, and sailor (still active in both), I settled on what I believe is the fastest, safest single handed system.


  • Two good halyards. If they are not, pull a climbing rope into place first.
  • Hoist a Mastmate or other step system on one halyard. If folded correctly, the steps fall open.
  • Wear no-tread shoes. Very important. You need the feet to slide right in. Old deck shoes are good.
  • Rock climbing harness with WIDE leg padding. You can add this.
  • Fresh rubber-faced gardening gloves for good grip.
  • Rig a tight safety line, tensioned to the mast base.
With this set-up you should be able to climb any stick in about a minute. Feet go in the holes, swaying from side to side in a rhythm. The hands go around the mast, or to spreads or stays when more convenient. Pay any attention and you will not slip. Focus on the climbing.



For safety, use a Petzel ASAP or Camp Goblin. They slide both up and down the safety line without climber attention. Like a crew member tailing a winch that won't screw up. They can be locked, like an ascender, but when descending they will only lock if you fall, which you won't. Unlike ascenders, they are fall-rated. Very important. I also use these for solo top rope climbing, and I have taken many falls.


When you reach the top, switch the Goblin or ASAP to lock and connect your self to the mast with a sling for better leverage and positioning (this should be done, IMO, with ANY climbing method). You should always have a trail rope to haul a tool bag and potentially for descent if something jams (more likely with crank-up systems), and a few slings and carabiners for utility use.



I can climb up and down faster than most of these responses were written.



https://www.treestuff.com/camp-gobli...r-10-11mm-cap/
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Old 13-02-2024, 09:57   #13
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

A word of caution for those coming from a rock climbing background or using climbing/mountaineering gear. Much of that gear is designed to be used on dynamic (stretchy) ropes. Using an open grigri or ascender as a backup that you release in the event your primary fails will result in a severe shock load. Any system where you are standing up at the top with an unloaded primary, counting on it catching you if you fall, is at risk of severe shock loads on your attach system. There have been many documented fatalities in climbing where someone has the rope unloaded while working at an anchor, counting on their (static) tether to catch them if they fall, and when they do the shock load causes a failure at some point in their system (not to the rope). Keep your primary line loaded at all times and have your backup almost as taut.
Also, if you think you can use an ascender as an emergency fall arrest device by manually engaging the cam once you have started falling, please don’t, or at least go try it in a climbing gym or somewhere safe first! It is NOT designed to do that..
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Old 13-02-2024, 10:57   #14
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

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Originally Posted by thinwater View Post
Unlike ascenders, they are fall-rated. Very important. I also use these for solo top rope climbing, and I have taken many falls.

While it is true that most ascenders are not fall rated, some are. I have one that is. Of course, unlike friction hybrids, it has to be engaged at the beginning of the fall, not during it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Captn Caveman View Post
A word of caution for those coming from a rock climbing background or using climbing/mountaineering gear. Much of that gear is designed to be used on dynamic (stretchy) ropes.

I think it is important to use climbing ropes for climbing, not only because of their energy absorption/stretchy properties, but also because they are what is customarily used with the ascenders, belays, hybrids, etc. that are on the market and because they are stored out of the sun.
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Old 13-02-2024, 11:13   #15
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Re: Mast Climbing -- Best Practice

I just employ crevasse rescue rope climbing techniques with dyneema prussiks on long loops. It's a lot faster and easier and can be done alone using about as much energy as climbing a ladder.

I've done it at least 3 times in the last 9 months trying to release stuck halyards after the shackle opened on its own🙄

If you're interested you can look up this technique in any copy of Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills. It's a technique tha probably hasn't changed in 40+ years.

Just make sure your halyards are all cleated off to at least three anchor points and your safety (fall arrest) line is different from your climbing line. You always want redundancy.
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