HIGH LIFELINES AND SAFETY HALYARDS - HOW TO STAY ON BOARD OFFSHORE
SURVIVING THE DANGER ZONES ON BOARD EXIT ONLY
Exit Only has an extremely safe cockpit for offshore sailing. As long
as the crew remains in the confines of the cockpit, there's little risk of
The danger zone on board Exit Only is the area forward of the steering
wheels until you reach the safety of the amidships cap shrouds. If you
are moving or standing in that area and the catamaran is hit by a wave and
suddenly moves sideways, there's a significant risk you could fall
overboard. That's not just a theoretical risk. When we were in a
storm north of New Zealand, the boat was knocked eight feet sideways by a
wave, and one second I was standing in the middle of the salon, and the next
second I had fallen down into the galley. Boats sometimes get knocked
sideways, and if you are standing on deck when it happens, you can instantly be thrown
That experience taught me a lesson. I decided to install high
lifelines that would protect the crew when we sailed offshore. I put
those lifelines in the danger zone, because that was the location of highest
When we started our circumnavigation, we had port and starboard jacklines
running the full length of the boat. I didn't like the wire jacklines
because stepping on them was like stepping on ball bearings. They
would roll under my foot and they could cause me to fall. I also
didn't like the fact that they had a white cover on them that made it
impossible to inspect the integrity of the wire. Hidden corrosion
could damage the jackline, and it could break just when you needed it most.
I have heard that in some countries it is illegal to use a white cover on
lifelines because you can't tell the status of the wire.
After several years, I replaced the wire jacklines with ones constructed of
webbing. Although the webbing worked fine, I worried about reports of
people falling overboard and being dragged through the water and
drowning because they were not strong enough to get back on board in a water-logged state. Sometimes injuries prevented the overboard victim from
getting back on board, and in one case an elderly crew member wasn't strong
enough to pull her husband on board, and he drowned.
The jackline concept is good in theory, but in practice, it doesn't always
prevent you from going overboard. It doesn't prevent the safety
harness from breaking your ribs, it doesn't prevent fractures if you get
slammed into the side of the hull, and it doesn't get you back on board.
Our solution to the jackline problem was to install high lifelines that ran
at waist and shoulder height from the stern to the amidships cap shrouds.
These lifelines gave us protection in the danger zone.
We made our high lifelines using nylon webbing. We ran webbing back
and forth from the stern to the amidships shrouds to create a "spider web"
barrier that made it impossible to fall overboard. These high
lifelines were so secure that we would brace ourselves against them to
stabilize our cameras when shooting pictures offshore.
Once forward of the cap shrouds, we were out of the danger zone standing at
the mast with ten feet of deck between us and the deep blue sea. The
risk of falling overboard while standing at the mast was extremely remote.
Whenever we sailed offshore, we installed the high lifelines to keep us safe
when going forward. At the end of the offshore passage, we took the
high lifelines down so that the webbing wouldn't be continually exposed to
the harmful effects of the sun's radiation.
Trampolines are the other danger zone on board Exit Only.
In rough seas north of New Zealand, we broke ten stainless steel eyebolts
that held sections of the trampolines in place. We discovered the
broken fasteners before anyone fell through the trampolines. Falling
through trampolines isn't a theoretical risk. Racer Rob James was lost
at sea after falling through the trampolines on his yacht.
Because of these and other foredeck risks, whenever crew goes forward to
work on deck or stand on the trampolines, we attach him to an extra long
spinnaker halyard that clips on to his safety harness. There's plenty
of slack in the halyard for the person to move around on the foredeck, but
if the crew member would go through the trampoline or fall overboard,
recovering them back on board simply involves winching them on deck using
the spinnaker halyard attached to their safety harness.
If someone falls through the trampoline on Exit Only, there's a good chance
that they will be able to save themselves with the spinnaker halyard, and if
that doesn't work, then a crew member will be able to winch them on board.
Every yacht is a different design and has different danger zones. On
board Exit Only, high lifelines and an extra long spinnaker halyard protect
our crew when they are in the danger zones.