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
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.
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.
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.