Mailport: April 2012
Climbers Tether Fix
As you have written in your coverage of the 2011 sailing accidents, it can be difficult to release a tether when a PFD vest is inflated. Rock climbers have a similar problem; when rappelling with fall or winter clothing, they must extend the attachment of their rappel device to avoid sucking in clothes, which can be very dangerous. Clearing such jams has resulted in falls, as clearing the jam while hanging is quite difficult.
A simple retrofit for existing PFDs is to simply cow-hitch a short sling to the harness attachment point. Either the 6- or 12-inch should work well. You can cow-hitch a rappel ring or strong stainless ring to the other end for smoother clipping and release. You can find one on www.rei.com; search for Bluewater Titan/Spectra Runner; cost is $13.)
For a better-designed PFD/harness, I would suggest extending the clip-in point with webbing sewn in the style of a climber’s quick-draw. These have added stitching that stiffens the sling and makes it easier to handle and clip to fixed anchors while climbing. The quick-draw would have a ring sewn in and would be secured vertically to the harness when not in use. (For an example, search www.rei.com for Petzl Express Runner.)
For many reasons, PS does not condone modifications for essential safety gear, but if one were concerned about the ability to access a tether’s quick release when the PFD/harness is inflated, this seems like an option. Key point: A load-rated D-ring where the tether snap-shackle or snap hook attaches would be important, as the strop loop alone could lock down on the tether hook or hardware when it is under load. In either case, you will want to practice detaching with your PFD/harness inflated. The initial feeling of tight constriction when the PFD inflates, especially if you are wearing clothes under the PFD/harness, can be almost as startling as the recognition that you are no longer on the boat.
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