Features June 2018 Issue

Chest High Jacklines

Though it bucks convention, this system has proven its worth at sea.

Jacklines (also called jackstays) are rigged along the deck on either side or down the centerline. This is where you are supposed to clip your safety tether.

Material choice are of either of webbing, which degrades in the sun, or vinyl-covered stainless wire which when stepping on is like stepping roller bearings. A lot of clunking may also occur as the user travels the boat when the tether clip is dragged along.

In 1974, I was moored at the Hawaii Yacht Club in Honolulu, readying my Albin Vega 27 for the 2,300-mile windward passage to the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

Chest high lifelines have the advantage that the jackline (also called a jackstay) is out of the way, yet still easy to clip into.

The boat moored next to mine was owned by Ed Blaske, an officer aboard a US Navy oiler. Ed related when they were fueling naval ships on either side of a heavily loaded tanker, waves often broke over the middle of the tanker. Constant monitoring of the booms and fuel lines was required to prevent the sailors being washed overboard, lifelines were rigged chest height, to which each sailor attached a tether, worn with a harness similar to ones cruising sailors wear.

Ed had adapted this technique to his Coronado 41. He started by seizing a D-ring, at chest height to the inside of both upper shrouds. For the line he used pre-stretched Dacron line, the same as he used for halyards, and spliced an eye at one end. At the bow, the eye was passed around the bow pulpit and the line threaded through the eye. The line then ran aft through the D-ring and on aft to the stern pulpit where it was secured with a truckerís hitch. He explained that if a yacht didnít have substantial pulpits, an easy alternative would be to use the bow and stern mooring cleats.

Since the shroud issue didnít effect me, it didnít take me long to dig out a D-ring from my sail repair kit and lash it to the shroud. I then purchased two boat lengths of double-braided Dacron just longer than the boat, allowing a few feet of extra for the splice and knot. The only issue I had was that I was no expert at seizing and the D-ring kept slipping down. I soon solved this problem by fastening a wire rope U-clamp (taken from my emergency rigging repair kit) directly under the D-ring, and then wrapping it substantially with chafe tape to prevent it from chafing the genoa. Another option would have been a hose clamp.

This worked great for the four years and 15,000 miles I sailed the Vega. For my next boat, a Hallberg-Rassy Monsun 31, I came up with a more elegant solution than seizing D-rings to the shroud: Moonlight Marineís Aladdin shroud cleat, intended as a place to secure halyards. It has a hole the perfect size for a high lifeline. Iíve now used this set up for 40 years on three boats sailing 324,000 miles with 1,100 students. We have never once had a close call.

If an Aladdin cleat should slide down the shroud because of a sudden loading, that action would actually cushion the shock loading on the chest of the overboard person.

One of our students convinced rigging company CS Johnson, to manufacture a stronger version of the Aladdin cleat, which they call Stainless Jack Line Fairlead (part #49-100).

This system allows you to clip on before leaving the cockpit, go forward to reef, and return to the cockpit without ever unclipping. When going forward of the mast, youíre required to unclip and then reclip just forward of the upper shroud but since there are generally 2-3 shrouds at this location, thereís plenty to hang on to. We have tried a tandem tether to make this transition without unclipping but it only gets in the way.

If you were to fall overboard, while on the bow, you would be swept back to the mast. as your tether is attached at chest height above the deck, unless your boat had very little freeboard, your head would be clear of the water. When clipped aft of the upper shroud, if you were to fall overboard you would be swept aft until your tether stopped at the stern pulpit (pushpit), and you would be trailing just astern.

It is essential to have a quick-release snap shackle at the chest end of your tether, allowing you the option of releasing yourself, in the event you are being dragged underwater and are having difficulty breathing.

When in the cockpit, we always use hard attachment points, which in our case are Wichard fold-down pad eyes.

Even if you prefer using a standardjackline, a well engineered chest-high lifeline to can be abackup, and offer an added measure of safety.

Amanda and John Neal spend seven months at sea sailing 10,000 miles a year while leading sailing training expeditions. The have more than 750,000 sea miles combined experience.

Comments (5)


We are going to switch from flat webbing jackline on deck level to this chest hight rope arrangement. Before I need some advice :

It seems that the jackline of John Neal's Mahina Tiare III is attached directly to the stern and bow pulpits. (photo 1) on the welded ring that is the attachement point of the upper lifeline.

We have the same boat as Mahina Tiare a HR 46 so is this OK for safety. Max load estimated at 1500 kg.

Has someone used stainless steel 0,032 ' wire and a Clamptite (TM) tool to attach to the inner shroud the D ring ?

Thank's for your answers.


Posted by: Hibernian | June 10, 2018 5:18 AM    Report this comment

In my experience, high lifelines helped tacking by lifting the now-lazy sheet. Much depends on boat-specific geometry.

Based on prior jackline testing, the inwards force on attachments is not very high, less than 500 pounds in a severe fall. Note that the jackline is free to slide in the fitting (this is an offshore rule requirement for both lifelines and jacklines). However, the strain on the jackline ends can be very high; these should be continued down to the deck and must be rated at 5000 pounds, like any jackline.

Posted by: Drew Frye | May 27, 2018 4:46 PM    Report this comment

For offshore racing why not attach to the inner/lower shrouds? Nothing goes into the triangle between inners and outers, so even one of those cleats could be used without being in the way of Spinnaker sheets/guys.

Posted by: DaveChicago | May 27, 2018 11:19 AM    Report this comment

An interesting approach. What load ratings would you expect these fittings to experience in a fall? And does the line running from the shrouds to the bow interfere with tacking the headsail?

Posted by: Michael DeCamp | May 27, 2018 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Some picture would help this article.

Posted by: GrandpaSteve | May 27, 2018 9:15 AM    Report this comment

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