Ascending the mast without risking your life

Recently I went up the mast to check the rig after we found an unidentified nut and washer on the deck, and Robin posted a photo on the Outremer owner’s forum. In the photo, I had attached my climbing harness to the 2:1 halyard block that is normally connected to the head of the mainsail. Outremer saw the photo and posted back saying – Never use the main halyard to ascend the mast!

At first I was a bit surprised, but after a conversation with them, I realized that not only were they correct, I was damned lucky that nothing happened, as I was unknowingly attaching to the most dangerous line on the boat for mast ascending! Here’s why…

On a boat that has a 2:1 mainsail halyard, there is a fixed point where the halyard attaches to the top of the mast. This point can not be inspected from the deck. If it lets go, you will fall. Take a look at the drawing below:

2-1 halyard ascendingIn the past few weeks, two boats that we know have broken their mainsail halyards while under sail, and they both broke at the fixed halyard attachment point at the mast head.

The safe way to go up the mast, is to tie in to any 1:1 running line. The only fixed point should be the end that attaches to your harness. The other end will be on the winch. On our boat, this could be the topping lift or the running line on the mainsail halyard.

To tie into the running leg of the main halyard, use a Bowline on a bight knot.


Before tying in, you should pull the entire line through and inspect it completely, to make sure there is no wear, damage or chafe. It’s also a good idea to tie onto a second line as a backup. I usually use the spinnaker halyard as my backup safety line.


Topping lift snapshackle

I fitted a snapshackle to the end of the topping lift so we can disconnect when needed to go up the mast. In the case when the mainsail is raised and I need to go up, the only line that will get me to the very top of the mast is the topping lift.

9 thoughts on “Ascending the mast without risking your life

  1. Hi Doug, great snippet; I must admit I have always used my main halyard, but after reading your article will change to the topping lift fo all future ascents. Thanks!!!
    Have you had a chance to go via the factory and see the progress of Excalibur? deck is due to go on next week.

    safe sailing,

    Bill and Liz

    • Hi Bill, I couldn’t work out schedules with the factory to visit due to the Christmas break, but they are back now, so I’m planning on going next week. I’ll keep you posted and send photos and video!


    • Mate, I still don’t know! I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find anything missing. I’ll no doubt find out when something falls apart, most likely at 2am when it’s blowing 30 knots…

  2. Thanks Doug for this great post. Now finally even I do understand what it is about the 2:1 discussion in the Outremer owners group. Really like your BLOG, helped me in quite a few decisions to be made.

    Stefan from INVIA

  3. Thanks for sharing this information, Doug. I did it like you did it the past two years, but shall change it now to the safer way you described.

  4. Hi Doug, thanks for all that useful information, very cool boat ! Disconnecting the TL while the main sail is reefed is dangerous. If the reefing line breaks (it does happen and it happened to me) the TL prevents the boom from falling down on the roof, or on your head… Unless you are securing the reef someway. Cheers.

Leave a Reply