View Full Version : Mast Climbing Steps
11-27-2001, 01:00 PM
I know this is a religious topic, but I want your guys' opinion on mast climbing steps. The mast is of course wood....what are the implications of drilling a bunch of holes for these steps? Safe? How about rot?
Thanks as always, listees.
11-27-2001, 02:13 PM
I'm about to do the same on both masts. Which steps are you going to use? I plan to use "boarding steps" that are on my hull, and completely fold flat. About $15 each. Other suggestions?
11-27-2001, 02:43 PM
How about making a rope ladder to secure against your mast ?
You hoist it aloft when needed via. a halyard. The bottom is secured to the deck to any handy cleat etc. On one I had, I secured wooden steps near the top so I could work aloft easier. It worked out nicely and no holes in the mast.
11-27-2001, 03:02 PM
It's surprisingly easy IMHO to climb a mast by grabbing onto a halyard or two with your hands and wrapping your legs around the mast. You just pull yourself up with your arms and then hold with your legs while you get a new grip with your hands. I simply put a pair of steps near the top of the mast so that once I was there I had something to stand on while I worked. If you haven't tried this method you might want to try it before you put a bunch of time and money into steps all the way up. Of course I should admit that I am in my mid-thirties, in good shape, and have some rock-climbing experience. I may not think so highly of this method when I am older. In any case, if this method does not sound like something you would be comfortable with then I would certainly encourage you to continue to pursue the step idea rather than doing something that feels unsafe...
11-27-2001, 03:03 PM
I always like the Jumar rope climbers (found at your local rock climbing store,LOL). They're safe, easy to use, can be set up with foot stirups, a chair, or combination. Best part is they're cheap, no holes in the mast, and no weight or windage aloft. Easy to store and a one mam operation.
11-27-2001, 03:05 PM
I used to think I wanted them - so many cruisers are into them - until struggling in terror aloft in a jumping sea. Ratlines are cool, easy to climb, and safe most any time so if you don't mind the windage, that's a nice way up at least to the spreaders which is high enough for look-out duty, coral reef hopping, and other sports.
The trouble with steps is that you've not a wide stance. Climbing up with the boat heeled over is hard. If she's bumping it's really bad just hanging on the the steps is very hard.
If you have crew, being hoisted in a good harness does it. With no crew, get good with jummars. I go up and down solo all the time so if an indolent middle-aged faht can, anyone can learn. It's safer and faster even at anchor in a quiet place. It's about all that's possible at sea.
If you might want to get up while the sail is up, have at least one extra line rigged like a spinnaker hallyard handy for the use. The fixed line or my own variation on fixed line but half the work methods that use jummars keep you near enough to the mast for safety and easy contact, even in violent conditions.
Mast steps lead, in my immodest opinion, to complacancy about getting aloft that will let you dangerously down when you most need 'em.
Ways back aboard are a very good thing. Since Grana has both a bobstay out in front and whatever you'd call the equivalent stay to the boomkin - maybe "janestay" - I don't need the foldy steps, but for many boats they may be all between you and your maker.
11-27-2001, 08:18 PM
Yea, what they said... Every time I see mast steps on a mast, I think "training wheels!" LOL You want to talk about windage? Mast steps have maybe three or four times the windage of ratlines. You want to talk getting up there? The windward ratlines will let you climb "falling" into the "net," toward the mast when under sail. The steps? You are trying to climb a falling telephone pole. Then, if you want to talk wooden masts... well, it's like making a bunch of tiny little spots with "Welcome" signs out for rot, not to mention perforating your spar so it "tears on the dotted line!" Really, they are another stupid gimmick that marketing types have convinced the newbies they absolutely must have. Nothing more than a tackle and a decent bosun's chair is all that is needed. Besides, you can't use your fancy mast steps for spinnaker riding, can you?
At any angle of heel your body will be falling away from the mast so much that your feet and legs won't be contributing much to ascent leaving most of your weight hanging from your hands. Then during the climb, half the time nearly all your weight will be supported by one step. That's when you'll begin thinking what size screws were used and is there any rot?
A good halyard on a trusted sheave using a tautline hitch to your saddle with a tagline on the mast or a shroud will get you there and back safely every time.
Maybe find a boat with maststeps and try the climb?, but wear that saddle and use a good halyard just in case.
11-28-2001, 12:39 AM
Brian Toss is a "world-famous" rigger, and has some very informative things to say about climbing masts. I think his opinions are worth considering; try:
it's a very interesting site under any circumstances.
11-28-2001, 03:25 PM
I've used a few different methods of climbing a mast, including those webbing mast steps that slide up the sail track (Worthless !). The method I now use, as previously suggested, is a set of ascenders from a mountain climbing shop. These can be assembled in such a fashion that I can easily climb up the mast unassisted and remain up there a long time comfortably. There is a version of this system available which I think is called the Topclimber (or something like that). It was reviewed some time ago by Practical Sailor and won their approval. I simply copied it from the picture in Practical Sailor using ascenders, nylon webbing, etc. I improved on the commercially available version by making the footrest more comfortable.
11-28-2001, 04:00 PM
Yep, the Topclimber is slick.
Here's the wrinkle I put on the fixed line approach - one chest harness, one sit-harness and two jummars. A hallyard and the ability to mount a block on deck near partners. A descending ring is nice.
One jummar with loop to harness and another loop for foot. One jummar just to foot.
Just to be sure of terminology, the hoist of the hallyard is the part pulling something up - the fall is the part you pull on to make that happen.
Secure the hoist to the sit harness and inside the chest harness. A short (1/2 arm length) tether from the chest harness to a prussick or a third ascender on your safety line (if any) shows that you value your life over your life insurance.
Bring the fall through that deck block I mentioned and up to secure to the harness. Snug it up good. You may want to bounce a bit to let your weight get the stretch out. Or you can cheat to win and put the deck block on a stout rubber snubber.
The jummars go on the fall in the normal way.
As you start climbing, you really need only half the strength as each step is not only working as a step but is also pulling you up on the hoist. The bit with the fall going on down and around the deck block and up to your harness keeps it from developing slack. This system would not work without that feature since you wouldn't be able to easily slide the jummar up a slack fall.
Tres easy. I like having the chest harness so's I can lean back. The sit harness gets a bit uncomfortable by itself and it's easy to feel a bit topheavey in it. With the chest harness, you can devote both hands to the work.
Obviously, the jummar to the sit harness will hold you in place while working whether you have weight in the stirrups or not.
But here's the best part - for going down, caste off the part of the fall coming up to your sit harness. Stick the live part of the fall coming down from your masthead block through your descending ring. Now eas your stress off the jummars and take it all on the descender. Holding the fall locked in the descending ring with one hand, take the jummars right off and stick them in your tool bag. Lean back, set up standard free rapell position, and think of England . . .
No more laborious down climbs.
Try it and you'll never condescend to put your life in the hands of some fool down there at the winch who's possibly the beneficiary of that paid up life insurance policy . . .
11-29-2001, 12:54 AM
There is also the structural consideration. The mast experiences a considerable amount of bending stress. Ordinarily that stress is spread out over the cross-section of the mast but when you start putting holes in the mast (rot or no rot) you are putting dozens of "stress risers" into the mast. These stress concentration points can magnify the stress at that point by a factor of 2 or 3 times. The thing that saves you most of the time is that you are not putting the holes very close together and the mast usually has a substantial factor-of-safety. Of course, rot will only make things worse.
Then you might want to consider what will happen if you are climbing up the mast and the step you have just put all your weight on lets go.
Of course there was one guy who, working alone, thought he had a really slick way to get up the mast. He got a bunch of 5 gallon plastic jerry cans and filled them with enough water to equal his weight and, using the winch he hauled them up the mast. He then climbed into the bosun chair and released the line . . . . Unfortunately, he was the victim of some bad advice. He had asked someone how much water weighs and apparently they missed the water part and told him what gasoline weighs. So he had figured his weight in water based upon water weighing 6 pounds per gallon (water is 8 pounds per gallon). Well, he shot up the mast at breakneck speed until the plastic cans hit the deck below and a couple of them ruptured. Now, being heavier than the remaining water, he dropped to the deck and tumbled out of the chair only to be clobbered by the rest of the water jugs on their way back down..... http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif
[This message has been edited by PugetSound (edited 11-29-2001).]
As Ian suggests a chest harness is a very good addition to anyone using a bosun chair or saddle. Unless you have ballast in your boots you sit topheavy in a swinging seat. Leaning, hoisting tools, and swinging around is much more secure and comfortable when suspended above your center of gravity. Plus during a lengthy job aloft it can be nice to take some of the pressure off your butt.
Ian your setup is slick, but it's lots of gear to buy, learn to use, maintain and keep track of. You've got the hoist, the fall, the fall return, two maybe three jummars, the static safety line and the rapelling rig. You're obviously well versed in their rigging and use, but it wouldn't take long for some to get tangled. I've assisted two climbers that were hopeless 'stuck' (in trees), both were tied in at least four different ways, tangled, twisted and scared to release anything. I hear this sometimes happens on rocks as well.
My choice still remains a tautline hitch on a single halyard on a trusted masthead block, keeping the fall tucked in a bag hanging from the saddle so it cannot snag. Absolute self control both up and down. If the halyard block is questionable a doubled prussik loop around the mast then to your saddle can be slid up and down as you go for a backup safety.
Either way the point is to safely get to where you need to be to do the work at hand. Hanging on to maststeps with any kind of boat motion seems to me like hanging on the wrong side of tall ladder leaning against a building during an earthquake.
11-29-2001, 02:36 AM
We have them up to the 2nd set of spreaders. The triangular fixed type. not the folding ones.
Good points. Very easy to use. No having to rig gear etc. If something catchs up you go. No having to go diving into a locker and have you ever tried getting into a bosins Chair in wet weather gear. And you can do it yourself on the spot. Getting people to stand on the lower spreaders has great entertainment value for every one while anchored. They also make a great photograph purch.
Down side. If all you halyards are exturnal you will have to rig a light line to stop them catching around the steps. Windage (relative to the rest of the boat & rig)
Sometings the steps can cause more rope jams than they solve if.
If you are planning to do any work up the mast you still need a chair and or a safty line around the mast. In a rough windy weather while sailing I only feel comfortable going 1/2 way up the mast on the steps alone.
We have them on our current heavy crusing boat and they are lots of fun.
If your mast and running rigging are properly done you have no need to go up the mast. In most boats today the only time you have to go up is to do someting at the mast head, halyard or electrics etc and for this you need a chair and tools anyway.
Spotting Coral is another story!
11-29-2001, 09:24 AM
Actually, my system sounds more complex than it is though I did start it the way Eb describes and frankly, if I'm in a big hurry and feeling strong I'll still just sit in the harness and handoverhand on the fall to get up.
The jummars just don't work well on a line that's slack beneath them - can't slide the buggers up, which is how I hit on just bringing the fall down to the deck and back up to my harness - only a way to keep things tight. Incidentally gets rid of the problem of piles of slack.
And yes, with the let the fall go free and puddle up on deck approach, I did once have the wind foul the fall when I was 65' up. Had to get out the chair, and ease my way down the mast with thigh power, trailing a bit of light line so's I could recover everything if the chair prooved not heavey enough to let the rig come down by gravity or if the wind wanted to put it on the wrong side of the spreaders on the way down . . .
But anyway, it's still pretty simple. The safety line is a fixed line - a near by hallyard, stay, or anything. If there's no sail up, I've even used a teather looped loosely around the mast kept a little slack around the mast by laying outside my knees. Should something break, it'll sieze up around the mast sometime in the first three or four feet of free fall - a painful but acceptable outcome.
The only time anything ever actually broke on me, I had no safety line. I discovered that I could grab a stay and stop on that - motivation helps.
It's also true that I've been climbing and sailing all my life and that I am downright anal about line management. I think people should go up and down their masts for fun and exercise, just to get used to it and to stay in practice.
Grana's old ratlines have reached the end of their life and this spring I plan to blossom out with nice new ones - every third an ash batten. Maybe I should put a real crow's nest up in the foremast.
01-17-2005, 09:53 PM
I use basically the same system as Ian, with a couple of variations. I use a little mushroom dinghy anchor at the end of the line I'm climbing to provide enough tension so that the jumars (I recommend the Petzl ascenders-gives you an opportunity to buy a French product) will slide up. You can still pull up slack to put the line through a rapelling device for the ride down. I climb with one jumar to the bosun's chair (much more comfortable than a sit harness). I wear a sit harness inside the bosun's chair, clipped to a prussik loop that goes to another halyard. This way every single component is backed up. This enables me to relax and enjoy the view. It's my favorite place to work! This system did seem confusing at first, but after a few times aloft it's a snap. I keep everything in one bag.
I am no longer young and athletic enough to free climb a mast, besides I never considered it fun to have someone shaking the tree I was trying to climb. These days I hoist a four part tackle on a lazy halyard and haul myself in a bosuns chair up by hand with the tail of the tackle lead through a rolling hitch on my chest harness.
01-18-2005, 02:45 PM
Thanks so much Ian! I'm embarrased that i didn't think of that.....brain stuck in caving / climbing mode, i never considered adding the block on deck...
you've just saved me so much hassle, i think i'll go slush the mast as soon as the weather breaks a bit!
the petzl ascenders mentioned are very good....you can get one which is hand held (goes to foot loop) while the other (the '"chest croll") attaches directly to the chest harness and holds you upright nicely
for on your safety line, petzl makes a tiny little 'rescuecender' which locks very securely to the line
i think it's also worth having an etrier (short ladder of webbing) to clip on at the mast head...it allows you to stand up over your ascenders a bit, it can be difficult to work at things right on the masthead otherwise
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