9 Tips for Going Up The Mast

Personally, I’m not sure why people dread going up the mast so much.   I love going up the mast.  Then again, I’m not so good at some other things, so I guess one has to be good at something!   🙂   There are many options for going up the mast.

We have folding steps that go to our first set of spreaders.  They work GREAT and I love them.  We also have a set of folding steps just beneath the masthead so I can stand over the TOP of the masthead to reach whatever needs attention up at the tippy top.  Folding steps are great, but I wouldn’t recommend going all the way up without a safety harness.  We use our folding mast steps more for a higher vantage point negotiating our way into tricky reef strewn anchorages.

Some cruisers fabricate climbing harnesses using carbiners from rock/mountain climbing suppliers.  This might be a good option for those with some knowledge of climbing, but that would not include me!  So we opted to skip the self-constructed option.  It seems that safety when hoisting myself 55′ in the air is paramount and a homemade climbing harness, while it might have better constructed, easier to use carbiners, just didn’t seem like a good idea in the hands of amateurs!

Some use regular bosun’s chairs and have someone hoist them up using a winch on deck.  We have a bosun’s chair left over from a prior owner and we have used it.  The disadvantage is that the poor person doing the cranking might have heart failure by the time the other person reaches the first spreader, let alone the masthead.  Personally, I never felt safe in our bosun’s chair.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the control is quite literally out of my hands!

ATN Topclimber Footstraps & Carbiner

ATN Topclimber Footstraps & Carbiner

Our solution is to use an ATN Topclimber, not the least expensive option, but it’s worked for us.   I’ve heard all the criticism of the “low quality” carbiners used in the ATN’s construction, but not knowing any better, I’ve had good luck with them.  If you’re not familiar with it, using the Topclimber, you hoist yourself up the mast one push of the legs at a time.  Your feet are in straps, you sit in the chair, holding onto the carbiner, sliding it up a line that you attach, we use an extra mainsail halyard.   Here are some ATN Topclimber Tips:

1.  They’re not kidding about making the line that you’re climbing taunt!  If it’s not taunt to the breaking point, you’re going to be bouncing all over the place while going up!

2.  David always wants me to use an extra safety line which seems like a great safety measure, but the extra clip and halyard line just gets in the way of trying to move the carbiners up & down the line.  I use it to humor him about half the time until I get frustrated and fling it into oblivion at which point it’s probably good I shut off my headphones!

3.  I like the line I’m climbing to be away from the mast … i.e. not strung directly against the mast until I get to the top.  This way, I’m not banging into the mast the entire way up.  It also makes it MUCH easier getting around the spreaders.

4.  Practice just for fun before actually having to use the Topclimber.  It’s not hard, but it did take me a bit to get the hang of it.

5.  Be VERY careful not to pinch your fingers or hands in the carbiners!  It’s very easy to get a bad pinch, particularly coming down.   Sometimes I wear my fingerless sailing gloves, sometimes I forget.

6.  Plan out everything in advance.  I usually carry a bag attached to a different halyard with all the tools (and my camera) that I think I might need up top.  Then, when I get up there, I can lower it down to get something different if need be.  We’ve also lowered parts … such as the wind indicator … for repair at deck level before hoisting back to the top.

7.  Often, we wear headphones if we think we may need to talk through something … I am not the world’s best mechanic/fix it person, so I describe what I’m looking at and David can give me instructions.  I guess I could even take a quick digital photo, send the bag down so he could look it over & then tell me what to do, but we haven’t needed to go to this extreme yet.

8.  Oh, and be sure to take your camera!  The views from up top are great!  If you’re trying to take the photo down and get your entire boat, you’ll need a wider angle lens than is standard on most point & shoot digitals, FYI.  Don’t get frustrated if you can’t get the entire boat in the shot, just take the bow or the view or whatever.

Winterlude From Aloft

Winterlude From Aloft

9.  Here’s the ATN Topclimber tutorial photos & video … scroll down for the step by step video!



BTW, David doesn’t mind going up the mast, but since I enjoy the climb and the exercise, he usually acquiesces and lets me have the fun!

If you have more mast climbing tips, please leave a comment!  THANKS!  Jan




  1. SuacySailoress says:

    LOL – If you were to have a problem at the top of the mast and take a photo, why not send it via the phone?? No need to put camera in bag and send bag down!

    • 🙂 Good Idea to use the phone. Unfortunately David doesn’t believe in technology so the only photos his phone gets are slightly smaller than a postage stamp. So it wouldn’t help much. We use the headphones for conversation so I don’t have to use one hand to hold the phone. Thx! Jan

  2. Wonderful blog!

Speak Your Mind