Climbing aloft - safety harnesses are a hinderance?

I have worked on a number of tall ships - all of which require you to wear a safety harness whenever you leave the deck.

What do you think if this?


In 2006 an 18-year old crew member falls to his death on a schooner full of passengers. He was not wearing a harness. Two years later the Coast Guard report says that “No regulatory requirements were violated.”


Benjamin Sutherland of Concord, a summer crewmember on board the 90-foot passenger schooner, fell to the deck while attempting to cross from one mast to another, suspended by his hands and feet along the spring stay, a wire that connects the two masts. In sailing jargon the technique is known as “laying across the spring stay.”

According to the report issued Jan. 16, 2008 and obtained by The Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, Mr. Sutherland was aloft for no apparent reason, as the vessel left Vineyard Haven Harbor.

The vessel’s captain, Morgan Douglas, and the first mate told Coast Guard investigators that all crewmembers were required to obtain permission from the captain prior to going aloft. However, three crewmen interviewed in the report said they were unaware of such a policy.

The report’s conclusion addresses an issue that provokes some debate within the sailing community. “Controlling the [Alabama’s] sails while underway can be done from the main deck, although occasionally personnel may be required to go aloft to address problematic situations with rigging and sails. The use of mandated harnesses and other fall arresting equipment aloft is a subject of contention amongst sailing vessels, and is regarded by some as a hindrance and safety hazard.”

Included among the report’s notations by Coast Guard officials who reviewed the accident is the view that no new regulations are needed.

“While we acknowledge the risks taken by deckhands going aloft on small sailing passenger vessels, especially if done without use of a safety harness or other fall protection gear, we do not believe the addition of new regulatory requirements is justified by this incident. First, a review of accident data from 1991 - 2007 found that this is the only documented incident of a crewmember falling from the rigging on a small sailing passenger vessel during that time period. Second, regulations are intended to prescribe requirements to be followed during normal vessel operations or during emergency situations. In this incident, the crewmember who went aloft did so for reasons outside of those associated with normal/emergency vessel operations. While we do not believe that new regulations are justified, we do believe that it would be beneficial to crew safety on small sailing passenger vessels to highlight the dangers of going aloft on these vessels without fall protection gear. For this reason we will publish a safety advisory relating to the use of fall protection gear aboard sailing vessels.”

question…what is the probability that the 18yo man would be alive today if the standing order aboard the vessel was to wear a safety harness when going aloft??

Now this is an interesting topic. If that had happened on land, OSHA would rightfully be all over the employer for violating the OSH Act of 1970.
But, sailors on inspected vessels aren’t protected by that legislation, and here is why:
In 1983, The USCG and OSHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning the authority and jurisdiction that each agency would adhere to, but only concerning inspected vessels (which the tragic example above would have to have been, since it carried passengers).
Salient points from that MOU:
“OSHA has concluded that it may not enforce the OSH Act with respect to the working conditions of seamen aboard inspected vessels…
…the Coast Guard, consistent with the statement of its authority above, has the sole discretion to determine, under its applicable standards and regulations, whether the events complained of constitute hazardous conditions and the extent of any remedy that may be required.”

But, you might remember, the USCG issued NVIC 3-92 to address Occupational Health Problems onboard vessels. But, nowhere in that NVIC does it mention fall hazards.

But the most interesting thing is that Paragraph of the ISM Code states, “Safety management objectives of the company should …. establish safeguards against all identified risks”.
The IMO defines risk as "“The combination of the frequency and the severity of the consequence.” (MSC Circ 1023/MEPC Circ 392)

Now, I will grant you the the frequency of persons falling from the rigging on sailing vessels is fortunately small, I would argue that the severity of the consequence is such that this risk should be safeguarded against.

I have sailed on at least 6 tall sailing ships, including the Tall Ship Gazella, Bounty, U.S. Brig niagara, Virginia, Pickton Castle, U.S Constitution, and more.

On EVERY vessel the rule was if you climb you HAVE to wear a harness. NO EXCEPTIONS, I myself have been 120 feet above the deck, underway doing 10 knots. 220 feet about the deck on the Moshulu ( restaurant in Philly )

If you are going to climb wear a harness, never had to use it but new that it was there if i needed it

sorry the crew-member lost his life but putting new regulation into effect would not have helped him, Common since would have, 50 feet about the deck while underway without a safety harness, Darwin Award winner

In over 12 years of sailing tall ships, each of them had a policy in effect, NO harness NO climbing,

mr 100

Mr. 100 ton, I totally agree with you: no exception, a fall protection harness should have been worn. But your vessels had that rule in place because clearly your vessel operators had identified the risk inherent to the activity and decided the best way to mitigate it was to require harnesses.
But clearly the vessel that the unfortunate sailor was on did not have that rule in place, for whatever reason (idiot captain is the first one that comes to my mind).
I think that too often young sailors that don’t have enough experience to make the judgement call themselves overly rely on the vessel operators to let them know when things are safe and when they aren’t.
Perhaps an enforced USCG regulation would have prevented this tragedy?

Since a number of the crew didn’t even seem aware of the requirement to notify the Captain prior to going aloft, it sounds like safety training was not a priority anyway, which is very unfortunate for the poor sailor who lost his life.

Capt Fran,I agree with you on the IDIOT CAPTAIN PART, that was my first thought also, along with the MATE,but even if there were USCG regulations in place do you think a captain who already allows people to ‘GET HIGH’ [U][I][B]tall ship jargon for going aloft[/B][/I][/U], without a safety harness would follow them, most likely not,

more training on safety, and more drills, along with a captain who had common since would have prevented this from happening, On the ships that I sailed, many crewmembers were volunteers (myself included), we always followed the example setforth by the crew

mr 100

[QUOTE=Mr 100-ton;17749]but even if there were USCG regulations in place do you think a captain who already allows people to ‘GET HIGH’ [U][I][B]tall ship jargon for going aloft[/B][/I][/U], without a safety harness would follow them, most likely not,[/QUOTE]

Excellent point. You can’t legislate out idiocy.

captain Fran, have you ever sailed on a tall ship???

if not try it some time, you will love it, I work on the stinkpots but there is nothing like being 120 feet above the water underway with no engine or diesel smell

[QUOTE=Mr 100-ton;17751]captain Fran, have you ever sailed on a tall ship???

if not try it some time, you will love it, I work on the stinkpots but there is nothing like being 120 feet above the water underway with no engine or diesel smell

Nope, and I feel it is important to just get this out there right now:
I am freakin’ scared to death of heights.
So, while I think it would be an amazing experience to hear the water rush past the hull without sounds and smells of diesel, there is absolutely no way in hell you would get me to the top of a 120’ mast.
Plus, I wouldn’t know what to do without little stick things that magically make the boat go when I move them forward…

getting used to the heights is easy, just use 2 tethers and take it one step at a time, and do not look down, i was a little nervous the first couple of times but got over it quickly, it is easier than it looks,

as for the stick things that make the boat go forward, you will be right at home on a tall ship, they have LOTS of them,more than you can imagine,

you just have to use the right ones to make the little boat go the right way, most of then even had one of those round wheel things, made of wood, it went round and round and turned that big wooden thing in the water

i’m so bad:eek::eek::eek:

I love going up - but I wouldn’t even think about it without a harness on. That’s just dumb.

I have always wondered if the regulations created by companies where there to protect the company from litigation or the worker from injury. We have in the GOM a document called a JSA (Job Safety Analysis) that should be completed PRIOR to the job being performed. It would list the tasks to be performed and possible safety issues that might be encountered along the way along with a plan to execute the process safely. Applied to the instance mentioned above, one of the lines would have mentioned the task the young man was to perform aloft. Possible ways one could be injured i.e. falling and then finally you would establish a way to prevent the fall i.e. wearing a safety harness for all work over 6’ above the deck. If the captain was not “into” safety, most likely this step would not be performed prior to the task, if at all, even if it was part of the company policy. If the company policy was to require safety harnesses who would be responsible for mandating their use? I would think in the event of a lawsuit the companies stance would be the worker who fell is responsible, however, if there was not a lawsuit and simply an injury claim that was minimal, then possibly the mate/captain would be repremanded.

Has anyone seen the little stickers that companies sometimes place on mirrors? It simply states “This is the person responsible for your safety”, or something to that effect; you read it while looking at your reflection in the mirror. I think ultimately one would need to be protective of their own safety. I can imagine that this would be a difficult situation with a young person in an atmosphere of “only wusses wear harnesses”. I think you would have to muster the courage to say you need a harness and if one is not available then you won’t be able to perform the task. It might cost you a job but that’s a bargin considering the alternative.

So my question is: Should the young man have been required to wear a harness? or, Should the young man have refused the task without a harness? The orginal question was something to the effect of “are harnesses a hinderance?” They may or may not be a hinderance, but that is beside the fact in my opinion. To wear a harness is a choice, but who’s choice is it?

Has the Coast Guard issued a safety advisory on the matter of safety harnesses? It has been more than four years since they announced that they were going to consider a safety advisory.

The fact is that the Coast Guard got it wrong when they issued there initial finding. And then they were going to “study” the matter. It has been four years. I have not read anything about it.

Common sense would have dictated an immediate response like: “holy crap! There isn’t a requirement that these people wear harnesses when going aloft?. Get this matter fixed by the end of the week!”

Maybe I missed it. Maybe the issue has been resolved. But I would not be surprised if it has not been fixed.

Folks, these are the same people who are going to investigate the Bounty fiasco. If they can’t see a problem with a sailing ship that doesn’t have safety harnesses, don’t expect them recognize the obvious issues regarding the Bounty.

how do you climb up whilst doing a continuous safety line on a vessel never designed that way, do you need 4 arms?

This has been a controversial issue for a long time. There are well run sail training vessels around the world that have made a conscious choice to either require, or not to require, harnesses. I can think of one famous vessel that requires harnesses on deck offshore, but not aloft.

A lot of climbing is done just for fun and to show off, but it also provides valuable climbing experience, including vessel specific experience. Good climbers that know their way around the vessels rig are a good thing to have in the crew.

Ever seen Irving Johnson’s old film featuring his climbing aloft while sailing around the Horn on the PEKING?

I recall one incident maybe 15 or 20 years ago where the crewman came back from the pub at midnight with shipmates, and then proceeded to go aloft and go hand over hand across the spring stay. He was badly injured when he fell 80 feet to the deck below.

About a year ago there was an incident where a mate fell to his death while wearing harness and working aloft at the dock. He was being tended by his untrained girlfriend (who was not a member of the vessels crew) when she lost control of the belaying line while trying to arrest his fall.

Personally, I’m in favor of harnesses.

That MOU doesn’t absolve operators of a duty to behave prudently. I don’t know much about sailing vessels, but when towing vessels become inspected I doubt that operators will discard their current OSHA driven safety policies regarding working from heights. The reasons for this are twofold and simple; the burden on most vessels to have policies in place when working at heights is very low compared to the potential harm of falling from heights, and O & G companies mandate that their chartered vessels meet their minimum safety standards, which require OSHA driven safety policies.

With respect to vessels outside of the O & G sphere of influence, the plaintiffs bar and insurers will keep them in line.

The reason the Coast Guard was not able to find other incidents of people falling out of rigs when they wrote their report for the schooner Alabama was that anyone with common sense - and most “tall ship” skippers have common sense would never let crew go aloft without a harness.

Hard to fall to your death when you are properly hooked in.

About ten years ago I had the opportunity to climb aloft of a dockside attraction that, in my opinion, did not have adequate clip-in points aloft. When I got down I told the volunteer co-ordinator that I did not think it was safe. I told him that the question they had to ask themselves was: "If someone fell from their rig and was killed could they honestly say that they had done everything reasonable to insure that persons safety?

I doubt they changed anything. And yes, someone fell from their rig a couple of years ago and was killed. An irony was that the guy fell off of the rig during a training exercise on climbing aloft. And what was the response of the organization? Answer: “We never had anything like this happen before!”