Return to Home page

Return to Tips page

Lifeline Tautness: From U.S. Sailing's Safety at Sea Committee

by John Bonds, chairman


Date: Summer 1997

We have been concerned for some time about the practice of loosening lower lifelines in order to move crew weight farther out and thereby increase stability. We have several cases on file in which the single lower lifeline gave way and put virtually the whole crew in the water simultaneously. We are currently investigating the strength of lifeline systems with a scientific study being conducted at the U.S. Naval Academy, as we don't know exactly what the parameters of the problem might be from the perspective of safety.

However, we also probed the motivation by competitors for loosening and documented the practical, competitive results of thus moving crew weight outboard. An article was published in Sailing World recently with these data, which suggest that in some cases as much as five boat lengths advantage is gained in a two mile beat. Clearly there IS an issue of fairness involved when lifelines are not tightened in accordance with the requirements of ORC regulations. Taut lifelines are also required by the new Racing Rules of Sailing (Rule 49.2) for boats which require lifelines (all ORC categories).

If the tautness of the lifelines needs to be tested we recommend the following procedure :
Obtain a 10#(4.5kg) weight for a barbell (or other 10# weight), attach a short lanyard with a hook to it. Make a deflection bar of aluminum angle, 7 1/2' long, with a 2" go/no-go vertical gauge attached in the middle. The bar is to be taped on either side of the adjacent stanchions, so that the top of the vertical gauge is even with the lifeline centered between the stanchions. Alternatively, a kevlar line may be tied tightly across the gap between stanchions. The weight is then hung from the lifeline at that point and the deflection measured. 2" passes, a greater deflection fails. Obviously, a completely accurate rule test would require a weight of 11.2#, so this field test is somewhat permissive of the rule, but generally satisfactory.

Some lifeline systems may suffer from loose stanchions which bend under the pressure. These represent a safety issue which should be addressed by the owner. The jury should decide whether a competitive advantage is also involved, and assess penalties appropriate to the advantage if found.

The Safety at Sea Committee stands ready to provide assistance in the enforcement of this rule upon request.