Sailing harnesses - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 24 Old 08-15-2011 Thread Starter
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Sailing harnesses

Am I missing something, or are the sailing harnesses intended to keep you on board your boat idiotic?

All the harnesses I've seen are missing either leg straps or shoulder straps. I wonder how many people who wear them have ever actually been suspended in the air in one - and overcome the pain-induced instinct to immediately try to escape from it?

It appears to me that the ones without leg straps would either cause you to fall out of the harness, or worse, to ride up to your diaphragm and smother you, boa constrictor style. At best, a really violent shaking would leave you with a ruptured spleen. I had one sales guy explain to me that: "there are metal loops that you are supposed to connect to your belt." Wow, imagine hanging from a line with that arrangement -- I wonder if anyone's ever gotten a fatal wedgie!

The ones without shoulder straps will certainly dump you out if you're flipped inverted (a likely occurrence if you trip backward over those useless knee-high life lines on most boats).

I read the report on the Fastnet 1979 race, and I wasn't surprised to read that they found empty "safety" harnesses slapping against the sides of boats.

Finally, there's the issue of releasing yourself. None of the designs make that look very easy. And there are times when I can imagine needing to do that quickly - particularly if I have gotten myself entangled in a line under tension.

So here's what I've done: I took my skydiving harness that has brought me to a near stop 500 times from a 120 MPH vertical descent (I probably won't fall any faster than that from my boat), I attached my tether to the "three ring release system" on the harness so all I have to do is pull one handle and I'm freed from the tether, and the webbing crossing my back is covered to prevent it from hanging up on the shrouds as I pass by them. The harness is padded and I can hang comfortably from it for several minutes at a time (which I've done 500 times already). The FAA inspected and approved the design to withstand many Gs of a 200 pound subject's deceleration (I don't see any inspection labels on the sailing harnesses...). The whole thing cost less than the dumb stuff they sell at the marine stores.

But again, am I missing something? Please don't tell me: "we've always done it that way," because people have been falling overboard and drowning for a long time, and I don't see anything good about that.
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Last edited by patrickbryant; 08-15-2011 at 11:19 PM.
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post #2 of 24 Old 08-15-2011
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A couple of the reasons I like my dumb rig are the inflatable pfd that's built in, and it's ease in adjusting it to fit over whatever I'm wearing at the time.

If yours does both of those, I'd be interested in learning more about what you've got going there. I assume it's all built to handle saltwater as well as it handles air?

Also, I'm not sure there are many who'd say they have the best possible safety system. I think most folks will readily admit that once you go overboard, you are fighting from behind.

... or I'm wrong.

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post #3 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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The normal harness is really designed to keep you from falling off a mostly upright boat. For example, loosing your balance, getting washed off by a wave, knocked off by the boom, etc. While you certainly could end up suspended by it, that's a lot less likely than the other scenarios. Or at least, suspended by it for any length of time while not unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Hitting the end of your tether over empty space is a common use case for a skydiving harness, and maybe a climbing harness, but less so for a sailing harness.

You could certainly design one that was safer for such situations--but could you do it and still be comfortable for normal moving around the boat? If not, then most people simply aren't going to wear it, making it the least safe option of all.

So the question is, how much does your skydiving rig get in the way when you're _not_ falling off the boat?

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Last edited by bacampbe; 08-16-2011 at 12:24 AM. Reason: fix word choice
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post #4 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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These are made to keep you on board. The harness should keep you on board if you loose your balance. If you leave the boat, you should get rid of it because being suspended will not help you. You will not be able to climb back.
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post #5 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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Offshore racing rules require crotch straps.

Read the report of the sinking of the Ouzo. Marine Accident Investigation: Ouzo

It recommends crotch straps.

BTW - the whole report should be required reading.
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post #6 of 24 Old 08-16-2011 Thread Starter
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I realize that the purpose of a harness is to keep a person on the boat. But if it's design will cause severe injury or death when it does that job, then its worse than useless. With some of the harnesses I've seen, I might as well tie a noose, put it around my neck, attach the other end to the boat, and say: "there, that will keep me on board."

My point is that the harness should support more than your entire weight - from any angle of suspension/deceleration - without dumping you out or seriously injuring you. You only have to fall a tiny distance to impart a 2G force on the harness and you. If you slide down the deck head first, you will slide right out of a harness that lacks shoulder straps. If you slide feet first, the absence of leg straps will either cause you to slide out, or smother you when the harness slides up your torso (my chest has a larger circumference than my gut - this may not apply to everyone). And if you do find yourself in the water while still attached to the boat, you need to have the option to quickly sever the connection between you and the boat - without fumbling around for connectors or a knife. And some of the connectors I've seen don't look like they will release at all under tension. How long can you survive body skiing along side your boat with your head under water? Do you really think you will find the connectors to release yourself in that amount of time? And if you believe your short tether won't allow you to be submerged - what about in a knock down or a capsize?

If you can't tolerate suspending your entire weight by the harness with your body in any possible attitude to gravity, then a real fall involving multiple Gs is going to leave you injured, disabled, or maybe even dead.

My parachute harness is 30 years old, has been in sea water conditions many times, and as yet shows no signs of corrosion. And I've yet to see a sailing harness that's padded and that won't chafe bare skin so it can be comfortably worn for many hours.

I wear a water ski vest type III PFD under the harness. When it's cold, I add a type III jacket on top of the harness. While an inflatable PFD that's integral to the harness is a really good idea, I won't wear an auto-inflatable type PFD because I have found myself under a capsized boat before, and had a PFD inflated then, I may have never gotten out from under it to right the boat (catamarans are only stable when capsized - a separate topic). An inflatable PFD that's integral to the harness would also prevent me from wearing anything over it. Never, ever, wear anything over an inflatable PFD!!! If it inflates - it will compress your chest and suffocate you. That scenario occurred to one sailor in the Fastnet race, who was able to struggle loose from the garment.

Finally, there's the issue of a person's center of gravity. A typical male's center of gravity is near his navel, and a typical female's is an inch or so lower near the points of the pelvis. If the tether is attached at the center of gravity, there is no "bias;" a person is as likely to hang head-down as feet-down. While that may be great for rock climbing, it's a really bad idea for a device that's meant to hang onto a possibly-unconscious person with water below them. A sharp snap of deceleration will also hyper-extend your neck and back, giving you a whiplash and lower back injury (if skydiving harnesses were designed that way, then skydiving would have never become a sport). I assume that if I'm being held to the boat by the tether for an extended time it's because I'm unconscious. Having my head in the water is a lot worse than having my feet in the water. So, the attachment point for the tether is at my shoulders. Granted, if I slip, that arrangement will plant my face on the deck - but I prefer some facial contusions to breathing water.

Last edited by patrickbryant; 08-17-2011 at 11:12 AM.
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post #7 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackdale View Post
Offshore racing rules require crotch straps.

Read the report of the sinking of the Ouzo. Marine Accident Investigation: Ouzo

It recommends crotch straps.

BTW - the whole report should be required reading.
Wow, although reading like this can be a bit dry, I have to say I was riveted and could not stop reading until I was finished with the report. Thanks for posting this!
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post #8 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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I think the designers of most of these rigs are actually thinking more about keeping you "attached to the boat". The biggest fear when getting washed overboard isn't necessarily drowning, it's being "lost at sea". If you've ever been caught in a storm, inside even average storm swells, you know what I'm talking about. It takes only a split second for you to "disappear" assuming there's someone else on the boat to start with. There's a "Man Overboard" device on board to help in keeping you afloat, along with PFD's, throw rings, etc. The tether is just that...a tether. If you want to protect yourself from going overboard, safety netting is a better investment, along with an upgrade to your safety lines, etc. etc.
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post #9 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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Can a standard inflatable PFD with harness be retrofitted with a crotch strap? If so, has anyone here done it?

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post #10 of 24 Old 08-16-2011
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Couple of personal observations. A lot of people wear their PFDs a little too loose, allowing for the possibility of them slipping out. The danger of slipping out is most acute when you are hauling the MOB back on board by grabbing the PFD or winching him in via his D rings. A cautionary note: if you have the PFD really tight, it is hard to breathe when it deploys. Try out your safety gear before you have to use it in an emergency situation!

You can make a crotch strap by sewing a loop into one end of a length of webbing. Cow hitch it through the middle where the neck straps are sewn into the waist strap of the PFD. On the other end tie a carabineer or spring loaded snap hook. I use a water knot. Clip it into both D rings. Adjust the knot for comfort. I have also used a set up that has leg loops/straps. Or, you can go in the other direction and buy a Spinlok vest that already has that feature. Im not sure you have to go the full parachute harness as the loads (especially shock) are a lot less when you transfer from crewmember to flotsam. The important thing is to be comfortable with your safety gear and use it.
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