Whether fixing sails or doing repairs on the mast, scaling such heights is not for the faint-hearted.
While it may be an adrenaline rush for some, others (like myself) are terrified of height.
But for those who willingly volunteer for this task, how do you do it?
With one of the best bosun’s chairs or harnesses available.
Sometimes known as a boatswain’s chair, the bosun’s chair is a practical way to climb a mast in the safest possible manner. However, there are differences between harnesses and bosun’s chairs, so I wanted to share everything that makes them unique so you can make an informed decision about which one suits you best.
Okay, so it’s time to go aloft. But first, there are some things you need to consider. Always think about the safety aspects, even if they make the task slower. Efficiency does not always equal fastest. You have to plan this carefully, especially given the heights involved, so think slow and steady to win the race.
Wear Proper Clothing
The importance of wearing the right clothing can not be stressed enough and is the smartest choice you’ll make.
With the potential for the skin to become nipped or chafed, choose long sleeve shirts and try not to wear shorts. I get that often you will be out on the hottest days, taking full advantage of the warmer weather. But think of it like this: professional workers wear protective overalls no matter what the weather. And they do it because it protects them against harm.
Choose Protective Footwear
How many times do you see sailors on the deck of their boats in summer footwear?
And while the sunshine lifestyle fits the image of shorts, shades and sandals, you should avoid climbing a mast with improper shoes that could endanger your life.
Think sneakers or running shoes, even a good pair of deck shoes. Basically, you should be wearing anything with a good grip on the sole.
Be Secure in Your Seat
Secure yourself in good and tight. Even if you think it’s so tight, you might lose circulation in your legs. The last thing you want is to fall out while you’re up the mast.
Also, make sure you have an additional safety line other than the halyard.
Make It a Two-person Job
I get that sometimes, like me, you’re happy to set off on a solo trip. And if that’s the case, ignore this bit of advice.
But if there are crew on board, get them involved. One person could hold the safety rope or help hoist you. The point is if anything were to go wrong, they would be a helping hand.
Secure Your Tools
When you fail to secure tools, you not only pose a safety risk to anyone below on the boat’s deck, you also run the risk of not completing the job because you lost a vital piece of equipment.
Also, falling tools are likely to end up at the bottom of the ocean.
Keep the Area Below Clear
To be double-safe, make sure anyone holding the line does not stand directly beneath your chair or harness. As mentioned, falling tools are deadly from a great height.
Bosun’s Chair Vs. Climbing Harness
On the surface, you might be think there’s little difference between the two, but look a little closer and you’ll see their variances.
Bosun is short for Boatswain and is a term with history stretching back to the earliest days of the navy. The Bosun was the ship’s officer in charge of equipment and crew, and responsible for overseeing repairs to the rigging, masts and sails. Hence the term “Bosun’s Chair.”
Modern bosun’s chairs are nothing like the old ones, where often the chair was a plank of wood attached to a halyard. There were no safety features or buckles and padding. Comfort and safety are seemingly modern concepts far removed from our ancestor’s thoughts.
Advantages of a Bosun’s chair: In essence, bosun’s chairs are designed for use on a boat for all those repairs that require you going aloft. Built for the purpose, they offer stability at height, with comfortable seats and additional padding. They are designed with safety in mind, and they come equipped with tool pouches and pockets so that once you are up there, you can get on with the job.
Harnesses, on the other hand, are designed for many uses. From rock climbing to commercial window cleaning and building repairs, it makes them useful in many different situations. It can be especially on a monohull sailboat or catamaran with a tall mast. They are light, easy to store, offer better maneuverability and are generally cheaper than their bosun-chair counterparts.
Ultimately, it’s a multi-use tool to keep you safe, with the bonus that once at the desired height, your harness allows unrestricted movement to adjust positions or explore other areas of the sails or mast. Plus, with harnesses, you often get a higher load capacity.
Advantages of a climbing harness: Harnesses are light, nimble and easy to work with. They give you greater maneuverability in tight spots, while never compromising safety. Developed over many years, they are tried and tested in the world of rock climbing. So, if they are good enough for those guys, who am I to argue.
Harnesses may lack the tradition of the bosun’s chair, but some of today’s boaters prefer the harness when climbing masts.
The Features of a Bosun’s Chair
- Wooden Seat — Having an actual seat to park your rear-end on is the main difference between a harness and a bosun’s chair. And what a difference it makes too! You feel more secure as you sit, rather than being suspended in a harness. It also means you can work at heights longer because it’s more comfortable.
- Extra Padding — Bosun’s chairs are designed with comfort in mind. They’re practical, but you get lots of extra padding and supports that you just don’t get from a climbing harness.
- Waistbelt — This provides comfort and security and should keep you in your seat. Waistbelts are adjustable, to accommodate people of all shapes and sizes.
- Thigh Straps — Rather than employing leg loops, the bosun’s chair typically has a strap that secures thighs in place. It’s designed so you don’t slide out from the chair.
The Features of a Climbing Harness
- Waistbelt — This should provide comfort and security. It should be adjustable and fit tight around your waist.
- Leg Loops — These are usually adjustable for different sizes and padded to give the most comfortable experience.
- Gear Loops — This is where you attach tools and equipment. They are typically constructed from durable plastic or webbing, and should not be used for attaching safety lines. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s vital that when you are aloft, your tools remain secured.
- Belay Loop — This is the strongest point on the harness and the only part of the equipment that has been load-tested. It’s where you would connect safety lines or halyards.
- Tie-in Points — These are two loops that attach to your belay loop. Used to secure the rope, they’re strong, with many handling loads up to 3,100 lbs.
The 6 Best Bosun’s Chairs & Climbing Harnesses
The 6 Best Bosun’s Chairs
This Harkens bosun’s chair has one and a half-inch padding on the wooden seat to ensure that you have the most comfortable experience.
It has extra-wide pockets for your tools and equipment, as well as an adjustable safety belt. It also has a high backrest for prolonged use and an additional D-ring attachment on each side of the chair for more substantial tools.
It isn’t the most affordable bosun’s chair on the market, but when it comes to your safety, it’s the best at its job.
- Material: Polyester Canvas
- Load Capacity: 220 lbs
- Black Diamond Equipment: Designing and constructing the world's best climbing, skiing & mountain gear since 1957
This Black Diamond chair lies on the more affordable end of the spectrum.
While it doesn’t have thigh straps or an adjustable safety belt, it’s geared more towards universal usage. Still, it does do the job, especially if you’re a confident sailor and comfortable with climbing masts.
However, Black Diamond states that it’s not a safety device, hence the lack of load capacity. Therefore, it should absolutely be used in conjunction with a safety climbing harness. It’s a basic bosun’s chair, but many out there swear by it.
- Material: Not Stated
- Load Capacity: Not Stated
- Features an adjustable strap between the legs for your safety, and a comfortable wrap around back, gives you comfort for any amount of time spent aloft. Fits a wooden seat if Required
- Awarded by practical boat owner (pbo) as the best budget buy among 12 bosun's chairs on may 2017
- Floats in the water when empty and stows in its own bag. The storage pouch clips on and forms a useful velcro-sealed tool bag when the chair is in Use
- Comes an attached tool case to the side and retroreflective tape to aid your visibility
- Made of reinforced xylon with PVC backing and webbing
For me, this Lalizas chair is the pick of the bunch. It’s affordable, without being cheap, it has all the tool storage you could want. It even has an attachable velcro tool bag and reflective tape to aid your visibility.
This model doesn’t come with a rigid chair, but Lalizas states it can be retrofitted for added comfort. The backrest and adjustable waistbelt hug the contours of your torso to give added security and safety. When you’re done, it folds away into a storage bag.
- Material: Reinforced Nylon and PVC
- Load Capacity: 300 lbs
- A safe and comfortable bosun's chair is a prerequisite for when a crewman goes up the mast to check the rigging or to make essential repairs.
- The Crewlift 40 is a simple solution with advanced safety features built-in.
- Complete with an adjustable waist belt and thigh straps for a secure fit
- Detachable tool pouch and webbing tool rack to carry essentials safely and keep your hands free
- Manufactured from strong PVC coated nylon with welded stainless steel attachment triangles and a removable wooden seat, it gives you confidence while you work overhead.
This Crewsaver bosun’s chair has an adjustable waist and thigh straps to aid security, and like the Lalizas, it comes with an additional tool bag for extra storage.
The wooden seat is removable, allowing the chair to be used with or without.
As for the cost, this one is very affordable, priced at considerably less than the Harkens chair.
- Material: PVC Coated Nylon
- Load Capacity: 220 lbs
Like the Black Diamond chair, this Gemtor product lacks a load capacity because the company states it should be used in conjunction with a safety harness. That said, this is more like the traditional bosun’s chairs of old, and is a straightforward design.
It has a one and three-quarter-inch body belt to strap you in place, but what it lacks is any type of thigh straps. Again, if you are an experienced sailor, this bosun’s chair will not present any problems.
Something to consider is where you plan to store it, as it’s by far the bulkiest chair on the list.
- Material: Polyester Webbing and Laminated Wood
- Load Capacity: Not Stated
- No-tangle design
- 18" Back D-ring extension
- Front D-Ring
- Body Belt/hip pad with side D-Rings
- Seat sling with rigid board and positioning d-rings
This bosun’s chair combines all the advantages of a traditional chair with the safety features of a full-body harness.
This product is intended for use in the oil and gas industry, where heavy-duty wear and tear are typical. So it will be the perfect model for you to get aloft on your boat.
It has a seat sling with a rigid board, tongue buckle leg straps, built-in lanyard keepers and a unique no-tangle design.
The only downside is the eye-watering price. At almost two and a half times the cost of the next dearest chair, this is the chair for hardened ocean sailors.
- Material: Webbing and zinc-plated steel
- Load Capacity: 420 lbs
The 6 Best Climbing Harnesses
This Kissloves full-body harness has a single movement adjustable waistbelt, as well as multiple anchor points. It has leg, shoulder and back padding for comfort. Plus, it even comes with equipment rings to attach tools.
The fabric is a breathable, quick-dry mesh and the design evenly distributes your weight for optimal maneuverability and safety.
The price is pretty awesome too, retailing at less than comparable equivalents.
- Material: Nylon webbing
- Load Capacity: 330 lbs
- Versatile & easy to use climbing harness
- Adjustable Waist & Leg Loops
- Designed for comfort wit closed cell foam padding
- Numerous loops for carrying & organization of equipment
- Certification(s): CE EN 12277 type C, UIAA
This is a lightweight harness that comes with large tool loops to attach the equipment you need when up the mast.
As with most harnesses, it’s actually designed for rock climbing or commercial uses. But all that technology and innovation makes them ideal candidates for mast climbing.
This harness has adjustable leg loops and double-back buckles to quickly adjust and center the harness. And it’s suitable for both extreme heat and cold weather.
Price-wise, this harness is a steal.
- Material: Polyester webbing
- Load Capacity: NA
- [Climbing Harness Material]: Half body climbing harness made of high strength polyester material. With strong stitching, wear resistance, stronger load bearing and high tensile strength. Thickness harnesses make comfortable while climbing
- [Climbing Harness Parameter]: Waist ring size: 70-130cm/27.5''-51.2''(approx). Leg ring size: 46-70cm/18.1''-27.5''(approx). One size fit all. CE Certified. Weight limited: 300KG. Tension 25 KN
- [Adjustanle buckle]: There are 3 adjustable buckles on the waist and leg ring, make the waist and leg ring can be adjusted according to your actually size.Allow the harness to be donned while wearing mountaineering or ski boots, can easily adjust the size for different clothing
- [Benefit]: Half body harness, traditional buckle, harness construction distributes pressure to keep you comfortable while climbing, which is perfect for mountaineering and rock climbing, outward band, fire rescue, working on the higher level, caving
- [100% Guarantee Satisfaction]: We offer 100% Guarantee Satisfaction. If you have any problem, please feel free to contact us before you return or leave something
This Sushiyi harness is excellent value for money, retailing at less than you’d expect.
It has a massive load capacity and comes with three adjustable buckles to set the right tension for the legs and waistbelt. The back supports are extra-thick, meaning that you can hang in position for longer. For even more added comfort, the leg and waistbands are padded.
Available are tool rings, and because it’s a half-body harness, your upper torso is free to maneuver without restriction.
- Material: Polyester
- Load Capacity: 661 lbs
- Meets ANSI Z359.1-2007, ANSI A10.32-12
- OSHA 1926 Subpart M, OSHA 1910
- Worker Capacity Range: 130-310 lbs.
- Break Away Lanyard Keepers
- Fall Indicator
This Warthog harness is also great value for money.
It has pass-through leg loops and dispenses with a waistbelt, opting for a chest band instead.
The anchor point is on the rear, and the design is lightweight and comfortable to wear. It means that while you’re climbing, there are no restrictions on your movement.
Overall, this full-body harness is a standout candidate for mast repairs.
- Material: Polyester Webbing
- Load Capacity: 310 lbs
Like the PETZL harness, this Luhker has double-back buckles on the waist and leg loops for one-movement adjustability.
It’s lightweight and by far the most affordable harness on the list, and an excellent option for those with a budget.
There is a one-size-fits-all tool ring, and the waist and leg loops have been lined with breathable mesh for working in hot conditions.
- Material: Webbing
- Load Capacity: 507 lbs
- Premium Quality: Alloy large D-rings are stronge and safe. Made from high-strength polyester, our safety harness is wearable, breathable and the friction is small.It will make you feel comfortable when using.
- High Security: Safety comes first. The maximum tension 25KN of automatic master lock. The weight limited is 300KG. Our climbing harness is designed for professional mountaineering. CE Certified Standard: EN353~1:2014, EN358:2000, EN361:2002+AC:2017, EN362:2004.
- Reasonable Design: 2 front connecting rings, 1 back connecting rings and 2 side connecting rings provide full protection.
- Adjustable Size: Waist size is 80-130cm(31.49inch-51.18inch) and leg size is 55-85cm(21.65inch-33.46inch)with the buckles design on waist and legs. It is not suitable for particularly thin individuals or small children.
- Widely Use: Great for use in construction, demolition, climbing, welding, roofing, camping, emergency, fire rescue and other working on the higher level.
Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice about this harness is the weight capacity. If you’re on the larger side, like me, it’s comforting to know this harness will lift a rhino.
Whatever configuration you want, this harness has it. As a full-body harness, it comes with a back, two sides and a front connecting ring. But with a detachable harness, it can create three separate configurations from one: a waist harness, chest harness and full-body option.
- Material: Polyester
- Load Capacity: 4,850 lbs
Mast Climbing Accessories
- [Safty Guarantee]: CE 1019-435 EN 567:2013 ensures its security.Hand ascender you can trust.Weight limited:140kg/ 308Ib,Breaking strength8.5KN.Tension:4KN,for 8~12MM Rope.
- [Light Weight Ascender]:The aluminum alloy frame is light yet durable,Weighs only 0.52 lbs (237g)
- [Great Grip]: Comfortable rubber handle adds the friction and protects climber's hand.
- [Solid Stainless Steel Cam]: Made of stainless steel, rustproof and anticorrosion, can handle most situation and service for long.
- [Multiple Holes]: For connecting carabiners and webbings. 2 hole attachments in both upper and lower side of ascender to let operator put to great use.
To climb, you’ll not only need the best bosun’s chair or harness. You will also need a mast climbing system, complete with ascenders and rope.
This hand ascender is designed for use primarily in the rock climbing world, but it has multiple applications, like rigging, mast climbing and commercial purposes.
It works by gripping the rope via sharp teeth that release as you climb, but lock in place when you want to stop. It has a maximum load capacity of 688 lbs and is constructed from aluminum alloy.
The rubber grip helps to keep you in control, and the thumb release lets you operate the ascender efficiently.
- Excellent protection for work at height: shock absorption achieved through deformation of the outer shell. strong chinstrap (greater than 50 daN) limits the risk of losing the helmet during a fall
- Very comfortable to wear six-point textile suspension conforms perfectly to the shape of the head. CenterFit adjustment system adjusts the headband and keeps the helmet centered on the head Vent holes with sliding shutters allow the ventilation to be adjusted as needed, while wearing the helmet
- Comes with two sizes of headband foam. Many accessories are available in order to adapt the helmet to its use: PIXA or ULTRA VARIO headlamp (front and back slots). Headlamp with elastic headband (positioning clips. VIZIR, VIZIR SHADOW or VIZEN protective shield (side inserts). Hearing protection (side slots)
- Head circumference: 53-63 cm. Weight: 455 g. Material(s): ABS, nylon, polycarbonate, high-strength polyester, polyethylene
- Certification(s): CE EN 12492 *, UIAA, ANSI Z89.1-2009 type I classe C. Manufacturer's Guarantee: 3 years. Meets the requirements of the EN 397 and EN 12492 standards for protection against impact.
When going aloft, it is always a sensible option to wear protective headgear.
This PETZL ventilated helmet is perfect for that job. It’s durable with shock-absorbing safety features, as well as a safety chin strap to secure in place and is lightweight and comfortable to wear.
- CE certified.Keylock nose prevents snagging;Locking gate reduces chance of open-gate failure
- Pear shaped facilitates belaying single ropes with a Munter hitch. Easily opened with one hand
- Carabiner Strength: Closed - 6744 lbf / 30 kN; Open - 1574 lbf / 7 kN; Minor Axis - 1574 lbf / 7 kN
- Our Figures of 8 work on ropes up to 16mm in diameter.Breaking strength 7,700 lbf.(35 kN).The 8 belay device has a versatile dual-hole design that allows use with double or single ropes
- Just right for Working-At-Height,Technical Rope Rescue,climbers,cavers,and sport rappelers,Soft-anodized coating wears smoothly; less chance of developing rope-damaging edges
When you consider the D-ring stops you from plummeting to the boat’s deck, it puts everything into perspective.
This set of carabiners has a load capacity of 6,744 lbs and is constructed from high-strength aluminum-magnesium alloy. This set also comes with a figure-eight descender with a load capacity of over 7,000 lbs.
Climbing a mast is not for the faint-hearted, especially if it’s your first time. So, wouldn’t you want to mitigate any risks to injury or worse?
Think safety and think about whether a safety harness or a bosun’s chair is the right choice for you. I prefer the freedom and maneuverability of a harness, but that’s down to personal experience. Some might like to know they have a rigid seat to park on as it gives them the feeling of greater stability.
Whichever system you choose, make sure to take care while on the mast. Always wear sensible clothing and protective gloves.
And above all, remember: slow and steady wins the race.
Mark Weir lives on a canal boat in the heart of England, with his wife, Julie, and his grumpy dog, Eric. Mark likes to travel the waterways in his wide-beam barge, filming his exploits as he travels. Julie paints the wildlife, and Eric likes to bark, mostly.