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Mast Steps vs. Bosun’s Chair

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Bosun’s Chair
Bosun's Chair

Bosun's Chair - Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

A long-used traditional method to ascend the mast is the bosun’s chair. This is a seat with webbing around the waist and upper thighs that is fastened to a halyard, and then the person is hoisted aloft as another crew cranks the halyard winch.

A safety harness can be used for backup security but in reality seldom is.

Advantages

  • Safe when used properly
  • Climber has freer use of hands when ascending and at work height
  • Least expensive mast-climbing system

Disadvantages

  • Requires second person to winch up the climber
  • More difficult to use when boat is heeling (climber may sway considerably or even be bashed against mast)
  • Dangerous if hoisting crew allows winch to slip

Cost: $90-190

For more information, see Landfall Navigation.

Warning: Do not attempt to spontaneously construct your own bosun’s chair from materials at hand. Manufactured bosun’s chairs are safe because their materials are designed to support the climber’s weight, and they are designed so that it is virtually impossible to fall out of them.

Self-climbing with a bosun’s chair? Reportedly, some sailors have devised a way to climb alone using a bosun’s chair and a weight slightly less than their own weight attached at the other end of the halyard. The weight (such as a large bucket of sand or water) is hoisted to the masthead, and the person in the bosun’s chair climbs the mast as the weight comes down, doing most of the lifting effort. Because several problems could occur during this process, self-climbing with a bosun’s chair is not recommended.

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