Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sails Kinda Look Like Mountains, Right?

Pointy at the top, wider at the base, right?  I mean if they can use mountains as the explanation for making an airport in Denver look like a giant, white, big top circus tent, I can surely use this explanation here.

D.I.A image found on the internet.

I own a sailboat.  It has a mast. When installed on the boat the mast sits just over 59 feet above the waterline of the boat.  At some point there will come a time that I will need to fix something at the top of the mast (I actually have an anchor light and a deck light that may need to be changed...but I haven't looked into it yet). There is a device known as a Bosun's Chair that is commonly used for "going up the mast".  In it's most simple form, it is a flat board with lines that give it the appearance of an old schoolyard swing.

A fancy Bosun's chair with safety strap and tool pockets

I didn't really like the idea of using that classic swing type of chair and when my surveyor used a harness to go up the mast on our survey, I decided that I preferred that option.  So, a little while back I started looking for a Bosun's harness.  Going to the trusty Defender web site, which usually has the best prices, I was able to find a harness for about $130.  A bit expensive, but what in boating isn't?  So I decided to do a little research on the harness and see if people liked it.

While I was researching I came across a thread in a forum where someone had asked the same question about the same harness.  One of the replies suggested that the poster should consider a rock climbing harness instead.  He had actually mentioned that he thought the harness was made by a rock climbing harness supplier. A quick Google search on prices of rock climbing harnesses, at around half the price, had me pretty well convinced that this was a good way to go. Hanging on a line attached to a rock just doesn't seem to be significantly different than hanging from a line attached to a mast.

Of course, there were no rock climbing outfitters in Palm Coast Florida that I could find.  I guess there just aren't that many rocks to climb in Florida. Since I would be making a trip to Colorado where rock climbing is a big sport, it seemed like that would be the chance to pick up a harness.

So, once back in Colorado, I went to a couple REI stores looking for harnesses.  Unable to find any help at either store, I was starting to wonder if I would be able to get this mission accomplished.  I was talking with a friend I met through this blog that still lives in Colorado and found out he was a rock climber and we agreed to meet at the big REI store in downtown Denver.  We met and he gave me some pointers on what to look for and we were able to get some help this time.  I tried on a few harnesses and I ended up finding a harness by Petzl that seems to fit the bill.

The Petzl Corax harness.

While most of the harnesses come in small, medium, large, extra large, and extra extra large, the Petzl Corax harness is more adjustable and only comes in two sizes.  This means that the same harness can be adjusted to fit both my wife and I and having one piece of equipment that both of us can use is a bonus. It was also the more comfortable of the harnesses that I tried at the store (REI had a line you could hook on to and try hanging from the harness).  Add in the fact that it was only $65, and it seems like the more sensible safe alternative to the standard Bosun's chair.


  1. Hi Mike,

    Rock climbing style harnesses are good for going up but when you get up there and have to work they can be really uncomfortable. That's why most prefer the bosun's chair. When you are just handing in the harness it starts to pinch in some uncomfortable areas.

    Another alternative to consider is a mast climber like the Mast Mate ( If it's just you and your wife it might be hard for her to crank you up the mast but with the climber you can climb up yourself and she just takes up slack on the halyard and keeps it cleated off.

    On the cost side, have you started shopping the marine consignment shops yet? We have 4 good ones up here in New England that I frequent often. A common thing that seems to happen up here is that people will buy stuff thinking they are going to do some great sailing adventure that never happens or they think they need a lot of this gear for day sailing. In the end after it sits in a settee for years they bring the stuff to the consignment shop and its brand new. You get it for less than half of what Defender or WM sells it for. We got our harnesses brand new in the WM packaging for $20 each and our tethers for $15 each. There were 8 bosun's chairs to choose from and I think the most expensive was around $35. Always help to save some bucks by buying at the consignment shops. I also here that down your way there are some good flea markets and swap meets.

    Fair winds,


    1. Hey Jesse,

      Yeah, I could see how some harnesses are quite uncomfortable...I did "hang around" for a while in this one and it didn't pinch in any sensitive areas. I do think it depends on how you adjust them too. The harness seemed like a safe way to go and where safety is concerned, I don't mind buying new.

      Wasn't aware of the Mastmate, but I have given some thought to going up the mast without being winched up and the previous owner left behind an ascender that I assume was used for that purpose. Haven't really figured it all out yet.

      Yes, I have found some used/consignment shops around. Sailors Exchange in St. Augustine and Jacksonville were handy for finding some things, but I never did see any Bosun's gear there. Haven't heard of any flea markets or swap meets, will have to keep my eyes out for them.