Chest High Jacklines

Though it bucks convention, this system has proven its worth at sea.

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Jacklines (also called jackstays) are rigged along the deck on either side or down the centerline. This is where you are supposed to clip your safety tether.

Material choice are of either of webbing, which degrades in the sun, or vinyl-covered stainless wire which when stepping on is like stepping roller bearings. A lot of clunking may also occur as the user travels the boat when the tether clip is dragged along.

In 1974, I was moored at the Hawaii Yacht Club in Honolulu, readying my Albin Vega 27 for the 2,300-mile windward passage to the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

The boat moored next to mine was owned by Ed Blaske, an officer aboard a US Navy oiler. Ed related when they were fueling naval ships on either side of a heavily loaded tanker, waves often broke over the middle of the tanker. Constant monitoring of the booms and fuel lines was required to prevent the sailors being washed overboard, lifelines were rigged chest height, to which each sailor attached a tether, worn with a harness similar to ones cruising sailors wear.

Ed had adapted this technique to his Coronado 41. He started by seizing a D-ring, at chest height to the inside of both upper shrouds. For the line he used pre-stretched Dacron line, the same as he used for halyards, and spliced an eye at one end. At the bow, the eye was passed around the bow pulpit and the line threaded through the eye. The line then ran aft through the D-ring and on aft to the stern pulpit where it was secured with a truckers hitch. He explained that if a yacht didn’t have substantial pulpits, an easy alternative would be to use the bow and stern mooring cleats.

Since the shroud issue didn’t effect me, it didn’t take me long to dig out a D-ring from my sail repair kit and lash it to the shroud. I then purchased two boat lengths of double-braided Dacron just longer than the boat, allowing a few feet of extra for the splice and knot. The only issue I had was that I was no expert at seizing and the D-ring kept slipping down. I soon solved this problem by fastening a wire rope U-clamp (taken from my emergency rigging repair kit) directly under the D-ring, and then wrapping it substantially with chafe tape to prevent it from chafing the genoa. Another option would have been a hose clamp.

This worked great for the four years and 15,000 miles I sailed the Vega. For my next boat, a Hallberg-Rassy Monsun 31, I came up with a more elegant solution than seizing D-rings to the shroud: Moonlight Marines Aladdin shroud cleat, intended as a place to secure halyards. It has a hole the perfect size for a high lifeline. I’ve now used this set up for 40 years on three boats sailing 324,000 miles with 1,100 students. We have never once had a close call.

If an Aladdin cleat should slide down the shroud because of a sudden loading, that action would actually cushion the shock loading on the chest of the overboard person.

One of our students convinced rigging company CS Johnson, to manufacture a stronger version of the Aladdin cleat, which they call Stainless Jack Line Fairlead (part #49-100).

This system allows you to clip on before leaving the cockpit, go forward to reef, and return to the cockpit without ever unclipping. When going forward of the mast, you’re required to unclip and then reclip just forward of the upper shroud but since there are generally 2-3 shrouds at this location, there’s plenty to hang on to. We have tried a tandem tether to make this transition without unclipping but it only gets in the way.

If you were to fall overboard, while on the bow, you would be swept back to the mast. as your tether is attached at chest height above the deck, unless your boat had very little freeboard, your head would be clear of the water. When clipped aft of the upper shroud, if you were to fall overboard you would be swept aft until your tether stopped at the stern pulpit (pushpit), and you would be trailing just astern.

It is essential to have a quick-release snap shackle at the chest end of your tether, allowing you the option of releasing yourself, in the event you are being dragged underwater and are having difficulty breathing.

When in the cockpit, we always use hard attachment points, which in our case are Wichard fold-down pad eyes.

Even if you prefer using a standard jackline, a well engineered chest-high lifeline to can be a backup, and offer an added measure of safety.


Amanda and John Neal spend seven months at sea sailing 10,000 miles a year while leading sailing training expeditions. The have more than 750,000 sea miles combined experience.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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