For most of us, going to the top of the mast is best done at a dock. Hopefully there will be no waves or wakes and rescue equipment will be nearby.
If you’re at sea, particularly if you’re racing, you may have to go to the top in some pretty bad conditions — like it or not. Reasons for going to the top at sea may range from sightseeing to winning the race to saving the boat. And when you’re at the top of the mast at sea, you are at the extreme end of a very long pendulum that’s swaying back and forth as if it’s intent on slinging you off.
Click play for a point-of-view video shot by a sailor going aloft during the Clipper Round the World Race.
If you have to do it, whether at a dock or at sea, here are some very basic but helpful rules. Always wear two harnesses and keep them properly tethered. In addition to a harness that you tether yourself as you move along, it’s important to have an extra halyard tied to another harness and tailed by a crew on deck. Slack in this line should always be appropriately adjusted.
Always have at least one helper on deck dedicated to you. It’s better to have two helpers. Sometimes it’s necessary to tail the line as you are hiked up and sometimes it’s necessary to untangle lines or handle other emergencies.
If you carry tools or other items, be sure they are snugly stored on your body. Also, be sure the crew below stands well out of the way should you drop something. Your clothing should be suited for the circumstances but should not encumber your movements.
Remember that although it might be a thrill, it’s always better to have a qualified professional go to the top.