Never Saddle a Dead Horse

This is still a regular safety observation made onboard various vessels and offshore structures. “Never Saddle a Dead Horse” is a phrase used to help people remember the correct orientation of attaching a Bulldog Grip onto wire.

Bulldog grips often used for the securing of project cargo, both under and below deck, mast stays and crane wires. The single most predominant factor associated with the failure of wire cargo lashings is the incorrect application of Bulldog Grips. Failed lashings can result in considerable damage to cargoes and can also pose significant risk to the crew and the safety of the ship. They must not be used on lifting and mooring wires, or lifeboat falls.

When installing personnel should consider the following:

  • The saddle part of the bulldog grip should be applied to the “live” load bearing wire, whereas the U bolt goes around the “dead” tail. A mentioned, a useful way to remember this is by using the mnemonic “Never Saddle a Dead Horse”
  • The distance between the grips is important and should be about six times the rope diameter; not significantly more or less.
  • The length of the tail is also important and should be greater than five times the rope diameter.
  • The tail should seized or whipped to prevent it unravelling.
  • Do not use where the rope is likely to be subjected to very strong vibrations.
  • Do not use with plastic-coated wire rope.
  • The number of grips used depends on the diameter of the wire but at least 3 should be used for wires up to 19mm, 4 over 19 to 32mm, 5 over 32mm to 38mm and 6 over 38mm to 44mm.
  • It is important that the tightness of the nuts are checked periodically; the grips have a flattening effect on the wire, resulting in a reduced grip.

Once you have read this, the correct method of fitting Bulldog Grips seems obvious however, the majority of those seen on board are still installed incorrectly. This short you tube video (Never Saddle a Dead Horse - YouTube)) provided by Tway lifting products in America, is a good comparison of the correct and incorrect rigging of Bulldog Grip installation

The information in this post was collated using the COSWP, P&I information, CSS and best practices.

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I find that for things like this it’s much easier for me to remember how to do it when I know why the correct way is correct instead of trying to memorize some weird saying.

The U stresses the wire and creates a pinch point whereas the saddle evenly distributes the pressure.
Therefore you don’t want to U on the side under tension, you want it on the dead side.


I thought this was going to be advice to cowboys. I learned this from the guy who taught me rigging and though I never heard that saying, I like it. The why is important but mnemonics and phrases are a useful tool when having to memorize a lot of new stuff quickly.

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Sure, but instructors should teach both because different people remember things different ways.

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The way I was taught it was,
“U get the short end”


Even easier to remember