Ascending the mast with minimal effort

Ascending the mast with a crew of two can be tricky. Winching the other person up is tough and time consuming. At our family it is usually I who climbs the mast, leaving Noora to do the winching. To address this problem I tried to think of a solution, which could help Noora’s part and which was inexpensive (excluding for instance custom made ladders).

I ended up purhasing an ascender handle and a working harness. You can buy these in a store specialized in climbing or working in high places. Being without the added “sailing equipment” price, these were quite affordable, less than 100€ in total. You also need a Bosun’s chair, but normally this can be found in every boat already.

photo 5 Ascender

 photo 3Working harness. Definitely more comfortable than a bosun’s chair. I recommend buying a working harness(and not a climbing harness), as it is designed for sitting stationary for longer periods, which is what you normally do when working up in the mast. 


First you make a stationary rope for the ascender. You can do this with a halyard, (for instance the spinnaker halyard), just tie it down to the root of the mast and winch it tight. The tighter the better, as it helps if this rope doesn’t swing. Then you attach the ascender to this stationary tightened halyard and the bosun’s chair to the ascender with a rope of less than 1 meter (3 feet) long, thus:

photo 4 I used a three ended lifeline for this, leaving one end to be attached to the harness as a safety line.

Then you put on your harness and attach to a moving halyard, for instance the main halyard.

How to ascend.

1. put your both legs on the bosun’s chair and grab the ascender handle with your hands.

2. standing upright, your helper takes off the slack from the halyard attached to your harness.

3. you sit on the harness, letting the weight off your feet.

4. you push up the ascender with your hands, and then stand on the bosun’s chair again.


 photo 1photo 2

This way you can use both of your legs to push yourself up and it doesn’t require any winching.

to descend just ease the moving halyard, and move the ascender down in increments as you descend. Ease the moving halyard only when the ascender is locked on the stationary halyard, this way your safetyline ( a line from the ascender to the harness) is working the whole time.




One thought on “Ascending the mast with minimal effort

  1. I’ve used this system now for about ten times, at times even at sea with some waves rolling the boat, and it works very well indeed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.