Skip to main content

Gear for Climbing the Rig Solo

Few sailors look forward to climbing the mast, but inevitably there comes a time when it’s necessary to make repairs aloft. Bosun’s chairs are the method of choice, but you need...

Few sailors look forward to climbing the mast, but inevitably there comes a time when it’s necessary to make repairs aloft. Bosun’s chairs are the method of choice, but you need someone grinding away at a winch to hoist you up the rig. Luckily, there’s also plenty of gear on the market to help you get up the mast easily and efficiently by yourself.


The ATN Mastclimber consists of a bosun’s chair with a backrest and an ascender, and a set of leg straps with another ascender; the very similar Topclimber uses more of a harness than a chair. In either case, the two ascenders are attached to a taut halyard before you being climbing. Once harnessed in, you stand up using the foot straps and slide the ascender of the bosun’s chair up on the line. After that you sit on the chair and slide the leg straps up using the other jammer. Repeat until you reach your destination. Reverse the process when it comes time to go back down. Mastclimber$450; Topclimber$285

SWI-TEC Mastlift

To use the SWI-TEC Mastlift—which functions similarly to a chain hoist—first haul it to the masthead with a halyard. Next, attach a bosun’s chair to the lifting line, sit down and, using a looped endless line that runs from the Mastlift down to the deck, pull yourself up the mast. Once you’re done, lower yourself by slowly feeding the line through the in the other direction Mastlift. The Mastlift has a reduction ratio of 10:1 and is made out of stainless steel, aluminum and high-impact plastic, making it durable. One down side to the Mastlift is that its various lines can become easily tangled in your rigging if you use the system at sea, not to mention that it could start banging against the mast. To help prevent this, Erik Harrweg of SWI-TEC recommends mounting the guide roller around the forestay or a furled jib to keep it from swinging as it is hoisted up. $1,470.

Mast Mate

Designed by former boat carpenter Gary Wheeler, the Mast Mate is ideal for DIY aficionados or singlehanded sailors. The climbing ladder is made of two, 2in nylon military webbing straps that form a set of alternating steps from the deck to the masthead. “You get used to the material steps quickly,” Wheeler says. “To climb up, all you have to do is keep your body straight and lift your legs.”

To use, first remove the mainsail’s luff slides from the track (which means the Mast Mate is better suited for those climbing the mast for maintenance checks than for emergency situations), clip the Mast Mate to the halyard, slide it into the mainsail track, and then hoist and secure. Wheeler also offers a work belt for added safety, which can be purchased separately. When stowed, the Mast Mate—which has a rated strength of 3,000lb—tucks neatly into a bag to keep it organized and protected from the sun. It comes in a variety of sizes and can be customized for your boat. From $255.

Fixed Mast Steps

Another option is to install a set of stainless steel steps on your mast. West Marine offers polished stainless mast steps that are screwed into the spar and include a 5/8-inch teak grooved instep that prevents slipping. West Marine also sells Karver mast steps, which weigh 5.7oz and are made of nylon and fiberglass. The Karver steps fold down to create a foothold, but can also be folded back up after use to prevent anything from catching on them. You have a choice of gray, black or white steps, and the installation is simple: attach the steps 15in apart on opposite sides of the spar, and 48in from the masthead. Of course, the downside to either of these setups is added weight and windage. But for those in search of a bombproof way of going aloft, you can’t do much better than good, solid steps. Note that two or three Karver-style folding steps are also commonly installed just below the gooseneck to provide access to the head of the mainsail aboard larger boats with higher booms. From $19.49 per step.


ATN Mastclimber,

Mast Mate,



West Marine,

Climbing Safety

Climbing the mast is inherently dangerous—whether you’re at the dock or at sea—so be sure to think ahead before leaving the safety of your deck. As a first step, always secure the halyard directly to your bosun’s chair or climbing harness with a bowline, never a shackle, as these can open accidentally. It’s also a good idea to wear a helmet when climbing the mast, especially at sea. And no matter how or when you go aloft, always wear shoes, says ATN’s Etienne Giroire.

When using steps or a Mast Mate, wrap your hands around the mast as you work your way up, as opposed to hanging onto the steps themselves. Ideally, if you’re using steps or a Mast Mate you would use a halyard as a safety line, tended by a crew on deck. If you are climbing steps or a Mast Mate by yourself, you should wear a safety harness and secure its line to a taut halyard with a Prussik knot or an ascender. Alternatively, tie yourself to the mast as you work your way up with a short line or piece of webbing attached to a harness, although if you use this approach you’ll have to untie and retie your line as you pass the spreaders.



Crowdsourcing Age-of-Sail Weather Data

Although big, multi-million-dollar projects like the Large Hadron Collider and the human genome project with their legions of PHD’s tend to grab headlines, there’s still a part of play for the “citizen scientists” of the world. Amateur birders have long contributed to an more


Ultims to Race Solo Around the World

For years now, maxi-trimarans, both solo-sailed and fully crewed, have been racing the clock on their own around the world in an effort to set ever faster records for the world’s fastest circumnavigation under sail. Back in 2000-01 there was also a no-holds-barred more


Juneteenth on the Water

Discovering Amistad and Mystic Seaport Museum have partnered to organize their third annual Juneteenth festival, featuring concerts, speakers and a reflection on the lasting legacy of racial injustice in America. Declared a National Holiday in 2021, Juneteenth celebrates the end more


New Multihulls for 2022

Lagoon 51 In keeping with many of the more recently launched models created by French multihull builder Lagoon, the Lagoon 51 is all about comfort, “en plein air,” in particular, as the French might say. Topside, a whopping 80 percent of the boat’s flybridge is given over to more


How to Spectate on the Newport Bermuda

The biannual Newport Bermuda Race starts on Friday with the first warning signal at 1 pm. Whether you’re tracking a loved one’s progress or just spectating an event that draws pros and weekend warriors alike, there are plenty of ways to stay up to watch. The starting line will more


US Sailing Strikes Gold in Hyères

After being skunked or nearly skunked at multiple Olympiads, could the US Sailing Team (USST) now under the direction of Olympic veteran Paul Cayard, be finally turning it around? If its performance at the 53rd French Olympic Week regatta in Hyères, France, where the team posted more


New York City’s Newest Fleet

120 children enrolled in Brooklyn Boatworks’ STEM and life skills-focused program launched their hand-built optimist prams on June 14 from Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The launch is the culmination of years of student work, with boats in process before the pandemic caused the more


Charter: Off the Beaten Path

So, you like to charter in the Caribbean with its warm waters, swaying palm trees, steady trade winds and strong rum drinks. What’s not to love? It can be easy, though, to get stuck in a rut when chartering year after year in the same place. Sure, the British Virgin Islands are more