In honor of today's Hot New Item, the Harken Bosun's Chair, we're going to be delving into the advantages of a harness vs. a bosun's chair. For some, this may seem elementary -- but the best way to get up a rig is a popular question for the guys in Customer Service, so we put our heads together and made up a quick list for each.
Bosun's Chairs tend to get a bad rap; modern versions are incredibly safe now, whereas older versions (such as the one pictured to the right) were utter deathtraps. Anyone who goes up a rig on something like that should be arrested on attempted suicide charges, committed and banned from procreating.
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh... but with the safer options that are available in bosun's chairs, there's no reason to be using the ol' plank and webbing. Modern chairs such as the Harken Bosun's Chair incorporate a number of safety features such as dual attachment points for increased stability, an adjustable safety belt with a leg strap and a downhaul attachment to provide further stability. Unlike a harness, a properly used bosun's chair is almost impossible to flip upside down when you're aloft.
That being said, the bosun's chair is great for calmer conditions where you'll be spending an extended period of time aloft -- it's much more comfortable. We wouldn't recommend going up in one when there are rough seas; the ascent/decent could be very "bumpy". Also, they normally provide a great deal of storage for tools and gear, making it easier to perform some tasks.
One point that we kind of went back and forth on was whether or not the bosun's chair was easier for a beginner to use -- we settled on yes, but just barely. Basically, if you have a crew of novices and may need to send someone up the rig, they may find it easier and less intimidating to use a chair.
However, the disadvantages of a bosun's chair tend to be the advantages of a harness. Because of your upright body positioning in a harness, affording you greater use of your arms and legs, you gain the ability to use it in rougher conditions. This also allows you to assist the guys on deck who are busting a gut to get you up the rig, as you can actually climb and pull/push yourself up.
Also, due to the attachment point being at your waist instead of above your head, you can complete tasks above the sheave your being hoisted on with a harness. A harness is less cumbersome, as you don't have to worry about the arms of the bosun's chair being in your way or eyeline (see photo, right - Jon Downey, bow guy for the Donovan 27 Remedy, is able to get above the top of the mast to look down on the aerials).
Finally, for racing purposes, the harness is a faster method of getting up the rig if it's already being worn -- just grab a halyard, tie it on (never just rely on the shackle) and up you go. If you don't have someone on the boat that is wearing it during the race, it takes up less space on-board and is lighter than a bosun's chair.
Each product has a wheelhouse -- for versatility, quick trips up and down the mast ( especially on the course) and overall range of motion, we'd overwhelmingly choose a harness. For extended periods of time aloft, beginners and dockside work, we'd recommend a bosun's chair.
Tomorrow, we hope to complete a review of the Harken Bosun's Chair. We'll also take a look at the Crewsaver version as well, if we can. On Monday, we'll take a look at the only harness designed specifically for sailors, the Spinlock Mast Pro Harness.
Either way you go, try out both and make your decision based on what makes you feel safest. Walk around the docks and ask neighbors what they use, the pros and cons, whether you can see it, try it, etc. Every time I go up a mast, my first thought is that this would be a really stupid way to die -- but knowing that I have tried all sorts of options and settled on the harness that I have tends to quiet the fear. A little...