Latest News: Forums Cruising Harnesses and lifelines

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  • #4236

    I have found a few mentions of the importance of wearing lifelines when sailing offshore in a wayfarer. (See Frank Dye’s book Ocean Crossing Wayfarer, and The Wayfarer Book), but their use seems to be very seldom discussed.

    While the concept of being attached to the boat is very appealing, I’d be concerned about getting trapped if the boat were to capsize. The lifeline would need to be quite long to allow for capsizing. I’m guessing at least 5 or 6 meters. Having this much line (or webbing) in the cockpit as well as the usual jibsheet and mainsheet etc seems like a near guarantee that you’d get tangled up in a horrible mess in a capsize.

    The only people I’ve come across who have actually used lifelines are Frank and Margaret Dye. While both of them mention the importance of lifelines in their books, there is very little detail given about how the lifelines were arranged. A picture in Ocean Crossing Wayfarer shows a rope tied around Frank’s waist. While I have a huge respect for Frank Dye and don’t mean to criticise, the possibility of being dragged behind the boat by a rope tied round one’s waist is a little frightening. In the conditions one might go overboard, the boat could be travelling very quickly. I suspect being pulled very hard by a bowline around your waist could cause some fairly serious injury. I would be far happier with a proper harness if I was to be dragged through the water by an escaping wayfarer.

    Also, considering the significant risk of getting tangled in a capsize, I think some for of quick release would be a sensible addition to any lifeline used.

    Does anyone here have experience of using lifelines while cruising? If so, how do you get around the capsizing issue, and what type of lifeline and harness do you use?


    You going sailing or abseiling?


    I was just curious after reading the strong recommendation to use lifelines in the wayfarer book to know if anyone actually used them. I mostly sail my wayfarer on the West Coast of Scotland, and given that we never have a rescue boat or any such luxury close at hand, any reasonable way of making the boat safer is always appealing. I guessed since the idea has survived into the 5th edition of the Wayfarer Book that there must be at least some people who use them.

    Given that nearly 70 people have read my post, there is clearly some interest in the topic. As I said before, if anyone has actually used lifelines, I would like to hear any comments on how they were set up and used.


    Well, there is offshore and being way offshore in the middle of nowhere.

    Frank did voyages across the North Sea to Norway and Denmark with no expectations of quick help if things went wrong.
    As such, he would have to cater for all eventualities as best he could.
    In a storm force 9, it would be essential to be tied to the dinghy.
    Being permanently lost overboard is the alternative.

    Let’s face it, he was sailing at the edge of survival conditions.
    Great seamanship, not sure I would want to even try.

    Bob Harland

    The use of lifelines for wayfarer cruising usually has opinion divided. On the one hand the lifeline restricts your movement while sailing the boat, making a mistake more likely. On the other hand if one of the crew were to go overboard the chances of recovery when sailing on the open sea in testing conditions would be poor. At night even worse.

    We tend to sail with lifelines if we on the open sea, and as soon as conditions get a bit lively then we will clip on. On the rare night passages then lifelines are on irrespective of conditions.
    We use normal yacht harnesses. In the past I have used a harness built into a jacket.
    The “line” is lifeline webbing, a Gibb clip to attach to the harness end. The boat end is a soft eye taken through a strong part of the boat – eg tabernacle, toe straps. I guess they are about 3m long. I don’t think you want it too long, it will just get tangled.
    The Gibb clips are easy to un-clip when you want to.

    We have sailed off the West coast of Scotland many times and harnesses are always taken.

    hope that helps


    You have available three personal survival aids: a harness which is not used by many, buoyancy aid which is used by the great majority and life jacket (self inflating) which is used by a small minority. Each have their place. I know one Wayfarer who has sailed offshore wearing a buoyancy aid over which he has a life jacket and he is clipped on to a lefeline. Personally when at sea I use a buoyancy aid with safety harness under or life jacket and a 6 metre lifeline. The end of the lifeline which is attached to me is secured by a double clip hook which can be obtained from Jimmy Green; the inboard end has a large bowline and the lifeline passes round the thwart and back through the bowline. I do not find it gets in the way. Commercial lifelines have a clip on each end but tend not to be 6 metres of suitable rope. I once watched the video of Frank’s voyage to Norway with a group of non wayfarers who noticed that Frank wore a lifeline but no lifejacket.
    It does not matter if you fall overboard 200 yards off the shore with an offshore wind in a deserted area or 2 miles out at sea you chances of survival will be approx. equal. If at sea it would be prudent to make sure somebody with sailing knowledge knows where you are going and when you will return. You should also carry a handheld VHF radio secured to yourself or the boat. Flares should also be carried. A personal locator beacon might be considered for serious sea passages.
    A celebrity was sailing in the Solent some years ago with a number of friends when the boom knocked him overboard. Nobody on the yacht knew how to sail, neither could they start the engine or operate the VHF radio. By the time help arrived he had drowned.
    It will never happen to me? I notice the use of the word “we”, is the other person more competent than youself? Would they be able to take command and sail back to pick you up?
    Sorry if this appears a bit negative. This should be taken as only a personal opinion.


    Thank you John and Bob.

    I’m very please to find some who doesn’t laugh when I suggest lifelines on a dinghy. I am very interested in buying/making/acquiring lifelines for this summer’s sailing, and wanted to hear from people with experience.

    I have been looking at lifelines available, and found that the only ones commercially available are far too short for use in a wayfarer. Given the almost complete lack of details available about using lifelines in Wayfarers, I was beginning to think there was a good reason not to use lifelines. Thank you for confirming that lifelines are indeed a worthwhile safety feature. I will definitely look into getting a pair of harnesses and lifelines.

    I had come across these Gibb hooks which seem to be pretty standard for using on yacht lifelines. I would definitely want to be sure I could easily unhook myself from the lifeline in an emergency. I would also want to ensure both crew members have a sharp knife (which we do anyway) to cut the lifeline free if it were to become tangled in a capsize for example.

    Bob: I understand the difficulties of having long lifelines to get tangled in, however I would not be comfortable with 3m lifeline. I understand that with a decent hook you can easily unclip if the boat capsized, however that is exactly the sort of time I would want my lifeline to be attached. I would want a lifeline long enough to allow me (or my crew) to go out one side of the boat in a capsize, right it and get in the other side (ie The boat does a full 360degree roll) without releasing it.

    Thinking about the issue of the lines getting tangled up…
    If the lifeline is 6m+ long, for normal sailing, there will be at least a few meters of slack. Would it be reasonable to fold up the last few meters of webbing and ‘secure’ it with light elastic bands? Any tension on the lifeline would very easily release the extra length. With the extra length of webbing neatly folded up instead of lying around the cockpit, it would be far less prone to getting tangled. Any thoughts anyone?

    I do indeed always ensure someone knows where I’m going. As you recommend, the boat is equipped with a waterproof hand-held VHF and a box full of flares. I would definitely consider buying a ‘personal locator beacons’ such as an EPIRB for any ‘serious’ off-shore sailing.

    When I said ‘we’, I was referring to myself and my crew. I am very confident in my usual crew’s ability, and I’m sure he’d be able to rescue me if I fell overboard in any reasonable conditions. However I realise that at night or in very heavy weather, finding and getting back to a man overboard could be a very difficult task for anyone, which could be avoided by wearing lifelines, hence my interest in the subject.


    Hi Michael.
    Jimmy Green no longer sells stand alone Gibb Hooks.
    For £21 you could buy Gibb type hooks with webbing. Take off the webbing and tie on suitable length rope to make two safety lines.
    Your enquiry was entirely reasonable. Safety lines have not been discussed much on the Forum.

    Bob Harland

    Our lifelines came from Jimmy Green – a few years ago, so I would guess that they or a local rigger should be able to make up lifelines to your requirements.
    If you wanted to go for 6m then keeping the excess tucked away near the bitter end should be fine.


    Thanks again

    I have emailed Jimmy Green Marine to see if they would be able to make up safety lines. I will report back if I get a reply.


    FWIW – I always use a harness and lifeline when I’m too far from shore to swim or be seen. At least when I’m singlehanded.

    I never had a problem with tangles, never capsized and dont plan to! I have never actually fallen out out of my Wayfarer (but nearly have several times – calls of nature a particular risky business!).

    I have been separated from a capsized boat and it is scary.



    After several months, we have now tried out our lifelines. Since, as I found out a few months ago, there is virtually no information on using lifelines anywhere, the setup I have used may be of some interest to anyone considering using lifelines.

    Please note that our lifelines have so far been used for 18 days of sailing on the west coast of scotland. Thankfully, they were not tested for real in a man overboard or capsize situation.

    They were made up by Jimmy Green Marine from 5.5m of 25mm webbing, with a loop at one end and a Gibb hook at the other. The hook was passed around the thwart, through the loop at the end, and pulled tight, securing the lifeline to the thwart. We each wore a yachting deck harness to which the Gibb hook was attached. In case of getting tangled and being unable to release the hook, we each carried a safety knife. The length of 5.5m was chosen to allow the boat to capsize one way, and be righted the other (ie the mast does a 360 through the water), and still allow one to climb aboard.

    Obviously, 11 meters of webbing in the cockpit is prone to getting in a mess and the following techniques were found to keep tangles to a minimum:

    -Each line is attached to one end of the thwart- Helm to port and crew to starboard. With a bit of practice, we quickly learned to always passing the right way around each other to save the lines getting tangled round each other.

    -Each lifeline is a different color. We have one red and one yellow, which also contrasts with the main and jib sheets, helping to identify which line is which.

    -While a long lifeline is needed in case of a capsize, for normal use, a couple of meters if long enough. We neatly folded up about half of each lifeline and held it together with elastic bands so the extra length can be easily released when needed. Unintentionally, we tested this idea out when my crew jumped out onto a pontoon without remembering to unclip. As planned, tugging on the lifeline released the folded up half of the lifeline.

    Hoping this may be of some use to someone,



    Must get Ralph Roberts to recount his scary tale of falling overboard during his recent cruise right around the South Coast of Ireland to join us for the Championships at Dun Laoghaire. Think I might be persuaded to use a safety harness !!!

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