Features December 2017 Issue

Sailing Safety Tethers Are No Guarantee, Say Pro Sailors

Recent fatal accidents in the Clipper Around the World Race inspired a closer look at sailing safety tethers this month. The most recent one involved Simon Speirs, a 60-year-old British sailor. According to early reports of the accident, Mr. Speirs safety tether might have failed. An investigation is ongoing.

Seeking a racer's view of gear that racing rules engendered, we spoke with Sailing Hall of Fame navigator Stan Honey (a past PS contributor) and Casey Smith, skipper of Comanche, the 100-foot racing yacht that crushed the trans-Atlantic record in 2016. We were not surprised to hear that these racers made their own tethers, although their low-stretch Dyneema tethers are very different from the climbing ropes we describe in the accompanying article on making your own safety tether.

Harness fit is key. A loose fitting recreational lifejacket/harness (left) will no better spread the impact of a fall than would a snugly fitted Metolius harness (right) that pros wear. Both tethers are meant to be worn high on the chest.

Casey Smith

"The lightweight [mountaineering] style of harness from Metolius (see photo) was most Volvo racers’ choice since most of the lifejackets on the market were not comfortable or practical to wear for four hours at time for weeks of a month on end. . . . This was not a certified harness and all risk was known and taken by the individual. In very extreme conditions we would wear a proper [inflatable lifejacket] lifejacket/harness combination like a Spinlock or Kru.

"We had a very high failure rate of lifejackets splitting open or inflating when we didn’t want them to due to the amount of water over the deck at times. Next thing you know they are lying in the bilge and are junk. So the lightweight style of harness was adopted with the idea is at least we have something on and attaching us to the boat that we are happy to wear. Tethers were self-made from Dynex with climbing carabineers for clipping on with."

“Nowadays with racing a boat like Comanche, we abide by the safety rules of the race we are competing in and wear proper life jacket/harnesses as per the sailing instructions. Life jackets continue to evolve and get better and more comfortable to wear. . . "

"For sure, the tethers are still an issue on a boat with grinding pedestals. The big metal clips do a number on your knuckles when you are opposite some one. For deliveries, I usually wear my [Metolius] harness. Spinlock also makes a good one [Deck Pro Harness]."

Stan Honey

"The professional sailor-made tethers avoid the shackle at the body end to minimize weight, to minimize metal that will tear the knuckles of the guy opposite you on a grinding pedestal, and finally because professional sailors can’t see the utility of a shackle on the body-end given that they will never hook up if they might be dragged or might fall over.

"Of course the logic for these decisions are different than for racers or especially for cruisers on slower boats.

"On our Cal40, e.g. a slow boat, [my wife] Sally and I do wear tethers with a snap shackle at both ends. Mostly we find that to be a convenience because we can move around by swapping tethers, and we sometimes leave tethers draping down the companionway or around the dodger.

"If I’m carrying an AIS MOB beacon I think I still might have better odds of Sally coming back to retrieve me as opposed to being dragged in the water at six knots, but it is a tougher call."

Comments (2)

I am interested in using the Metolius harnes Discussed and pictured above, but I can't find that style anywhere on there what webpage. Anyone know what model this might be? Thanks

Posted by: Dale Winson | April 19, 2018 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Although tethers are the subject the material used for the jackline is equally important
Jackline and deck attachment points should be able to take the load of at least 2 crew falling or floating across the deck
Many boats s seem to use jackline that are simply not up for o the job.
Industrial lifting sling holder low webbing with a dual line of 6 mm 12.braid spectra will work out about right
Webbing slung material is I've protected and takes all chafe away from spectra which will not stretch and will keep you on the boat
The object is to not fall off and expose yourself to being drowned by dragging alongside

Posted by: Tom on Sorcery | December 15, 2017 5:48 AM    Report this comment

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