A sailing safety tether is used in conjunction with a life jacket to effectively attach oneself to a strong part of the boat. Using a safety tether can be a lifesaver.
Some arguments have been made that the tether is one of the most important bits of safety equipment – if you don’t fall off the boat, there’s no need for a life jacket. Unfortunately, however, there are also stories where people have fallen overboard still attached to the boat with an inability to get up, off, or even out of the water.
Sailing safety tether’s come in a variety of sizes, colors, and connection points.
When we moved aboard Britican all the tethers that came with the sale of the boat had two connection points. One end clipped to my life jacket and the other end clipped to a point on the boat, a safety line, or a strong boat fitting.
Just before we crossed the Atlantic Ocean, with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), we were, however, ‘forced’ to purchase three-point tethers. Without the three-point safety tether, we would have failed our safety checks and wouldn’t be permitted to sail with ARC.
At first, I thought it was just another added expense but after using the three-point tether I’m now very happy we have them. In addition to one clip on me, another on the boat, there’s a third for when you’re moving from one point to another. With three contact points, there’s never a situation when you’re not attached to the boat.
Using a Sailing Safety Tether – General instructions
You’d think that using a tether would be a no-brainer but it’s not always as easy as one might think. In some cases, boats do not have tether-ready connection points. If that’s the case, you can have them installed or find anything in the area to connect yourself to. Sometimes it works best to put the tether through something and attach the clip to the tether itself.
Generally, however, most boats do have clipping areas in the cockpit. When exiting the cockpit to the aft, side, or foredeck, it’s important to clip your tether to a lifeline. Lifelines are usually temporary ropes or webbing that run the length of the boat along the deck.
Once you get to where you’re going, you then connect yourself to the next logical stronghold point.
For example, when I go forward to the mast, I clip onto the lifeline (and unclip the other from the cockpit). I then carefully walk to the mast, making sure that my harness clip comes with me. It takes a bit of care to ensure the clip slides along the lifeline. Once I’m level with the mast, I clip my spare to the strongest thing I can find – in some cases, I wrap the line right around the mast and clip the tether itself. I then unclip from the lifeline.
The key with the tether is to make sure you’re clipped to something that will hold your bodyweight if you’re thrown away from the boat.
When do you need to use a tether?
That will come down to the life jacket and tether policy you decide upon. For us, we don’t wear life jackets or tethers in calm sailing conditions. In calm seas, we don’t use tethers to go aft or forward when another crewmember is watching. In the event that I’m alone in the cockpit and need to do something at the mast or near the bow of the boat, I’ll grab Simon to come up and keep an eye on me.
We, however, always use tethers in stormy conditions and at night. We also always install our lifelines for long sailing passages.
Using a Safety Sailing Tether – 7 Cruiser Tips
- Avoid paint chips and dings.
Whenever you’re wearing a life jacket but don’t need to tether yourself in, make sure to attach all clip points to a central location on your life jacket. The clip points are large and heavy. They’ll bang into things, perhaps chipping the gel coat, if you leave them dangling.
- Save money.
In most cases, you’ll only ever have a couple of people at one time that needs to leave the cockpit. To save money, invest in a couple of three-point tethers and then buy the rest as two-point. Consider the most amount of people that would require a three-point tether at one time and buy that amount.
- Use lifelines only when on passages.
Only put your lifelines out when you’re going to use them – especially if they’re made of a material that degrades in the sun. UV rays cause even the strongest webbing to deteriorate quickly. Similar to having sail covers, you want to ensure you’re lifelines are out of the sun when not in use.
- Have a sailing knife.
Consider having a sailing knife on your belt or somewhere on your body. If a situation occurs where you need to cut the sailing safety tether, the knife will be invaluable.
- Be organized.
Keep your tether connection points attached to your life jackets when storing. If you’re not going to need the tether, remove it and place it in storage. When you return your life jacket to storage refit the tether to ensure that it’s ready for use if needed in a hurry.
- Keep a safety checklist.
Make sure you have a boat safety checklist outlining all of your safety equipment, where it’s located on the boat, and when it next needs to be serviced. Every time we use our tethers, just like all our safety equipment, we look for wear and tear.
- Harnesses for the vertically challenged.
Many inflatable PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) with built-in harnesses are designed for people taller than 5’6″ in height and are potentially dangerous if you are below that height. The attachment point of a harness must be above the lowest point of the rib cage. If it’s not, find a system that is.
Make Sure Your SAFE Before Heading Out To Sea!
Watch our Boat Safety Blueprint Video and get a copy of our Boat Safety Audit checklist. Request access here: Boat Safety Blueprint & Audit
Other Safety Related Articles & Videos
- Rescue At Sea: Watch a video where we showcase a real-life Man Overboard.
- The Best Life Jacket for Sailing Cruisers: Discover what you need to know about life jackets.
- Boat Safety – How To Keep Safe On The Water: Allow me to demystify boat safety for you.
- Three Things That All Liveaboards Must Know: Here are the top three safety things you must know.