The bosun’s chair.

A rigging bag post.

Recently i had occasion to want to go aloft, get up the mast in other words, and wasn’t able to do it because the boat wasn’t set up for it.  Nor could i guarantee that any of the halyards, blocks or shackles were safe enough without checking them first and i could only do that by going aloft or taking the rig out….catch 22 eh !

A long time back when i worked for Dickies boatyard in Bangor one of my first jobs was to go up a rig and sort out some problem at the masthead. I knew nothing about masts and rigging at that stage and my only relevant experience was that of being an active rock-climber at the time .  The height and exposure didn’t worry me at all but what did concern me was hanging in a very old bosun’s chair on potentially dodgy halyards…not that i knew what they were called at the time.  That old bosun’s chair had been hanging in the riggers shed for god only knows how long, the rope on it smelt suspiciously like 50 year old and partially rotten hemp !.  Soon after that first time aloft i learnt how to make up a new rig for it with some new rope and used it like that for the next few years.

I suspect now that the HSE would have conniptions over someone ‘working at height’ and not wearing a full body harness, a safety helmet and having a certificate to say that they were of sound mind and body….these were different times !    I think we did once have a ‘safety’ inspection at the yard and the only thing they were remotely bothered about was a lack of guards on the big bandsaw !    The things we did (and got away with) make even me shudder a bit !

Just after that i started my own sailing life by crewing aboard a whole series of local racing boats in the offshore fleet and it was fully expected that if there was a problem aloft i would go up and deal with it.  I only refused once when i was offered a very rusty galvanised halyard to go up on ! by then i tended to carry my climbing harness and a couple of slings and carabiners so that i could belay myself while working.  Years later when i worked at sea and on much bigger boats i rejected the ‘official’ boat’s bosun’s chair for a higher spec ‘big-wall’ climbing harness.  The common commercial yachting bosun’s chairs i think are horribly uncomfortable and don’t allow me to climb the rig but only allow passive sitting in the chair while the crew do the grunting. I much prefer to climb the rig with a series of pull-ups and a crewmember tailing a halyard quickly. I used to be able to get up a hundred food rig like that in a couple of minutes but lets remember that i was pretty fit back then and i’m a fat bastard now !.

Just recently i realised that i needed to go up Inanda’s rig again and didn’t intend to have anyone assisting on deck because she doesn’t have a winch to tail me up on or for a controlled lower.  Instead i planned to use the spar crane at low water so that my assistant wouldn’t have much work to do to wind me up there.  I still needed a chair though so i quickly made a new one in the same style as my first one except with better string.  Its the simplest of designs, just an 18mm plywood offcut and drilled just inside the distance across my hips so that the pennant grips me slightly . The pennant is a Dyneema offcut too that was hanging in the workshop so once again a zero cost project.  The additional tail has a twofold purpose though, at this stage the extra length means that i can adjust the lengh and also serves as a belay line….i can tie-in directly into any fitting on the mast. A peculiarity of doing some rigging jobs is that of having to release and replace the line (halyard) that i have gone up on so sometimes i need to tie-off and work completely independent of the deck crew. A traditional plank style bosun’s chair is vastly more comfortable than either the commercial versions that i have tried or than most climbing harnesses which cut off circulation to the legs all too quickly.  I can work aloft for hours in an old style chair if need be.


Because i am slightly more safety aware nowadays i combine the old style bosun’s chair with a light climbing harness worn as normal and also tied-in to whatever line i am hanging on. Its slightly feasible although unlikely to come out of a traditional bosun’s chair and much harder to fall out of a climbers harness.  Add a maillon and a couple of carabiners and that’s my new riggers ‘aloft’ kit.


Next….working aloft.


  1. Nice chair, is it going to get provision for tool bags on the sides and of course several coats of varnish and non slip on the top 🙂

    It seems every job I had to do aloft involving a battery drill ends just before the last hole is drilled with a flat battery !


    1. No, i try and keep things really simple, just hang tools off the gear loops or send the big stuff up in the riggers bag. I still have the one you and Mal made and it’s still going strong.


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