Letters & Emails

Death Straps

Dear Tom Rau,
I followed the link in today's Scuttlebutt to your article warning about over-long safety harness tethers. I worry a little that the piece's thrust and its sensational title could be interpreted to suggest that any safety harness is dangerous at any time. ("Death strap" is pretty extreme.) Thousands upon thousands of people (including yours truly) have been saved by harnesses.
The small one is the best for hooking the tether at the body because it opens when under load. The one on the right is extremely secure. The others can unhook themselves. Photo: John Rousmaniere

To your wise advisory on over-long tethers I'd add warnings against (1) hooking on to leeward, (2) running the jackline all the way to the stern, and (3) using a carabiner instead of a snap shackle at the body end. I always alert people to these and other problems at safety and seamanship seminars (including the one at Milwaukee last weekend).

For recent research on crewoverboard rescues and the difficulty of climbing back on board, take a look at the final report of the 2005 Crewoverboard Rescue Symposium on San Francisco Bay. It's at BoatUS.com/Foundation

Best wishes, John Rousmaniere
Author, The Annapolis Book of Seamanship

Dear John,
I appreciate your concern regarding the negative connotation of ‘Death Straps”. It’s a waterfront term I picked up from the sailing community around Lake Michigan. I appreciate its shock value in that it draws attention to the issue. While there are “sailors” there are those who simple sail. During my waterfront beat as a Coast Guard boating safety columnist, I’m concerned about the number of “day” sailors I interview that labor under the impression that they can retrieve themselves by simply pulling themselves back aboard if tethered to a safety harness. Even experienced sailors have expressed this misleading mindset.

During a series of lectures that I delivered at Strictly Sail in Chicago in February, I noticed folks taking notes regarding my concerns about “death straps.” That suggested that it’s a topic worthy of comment and if the term, “death straps” drew their attention, then better yet.

By the way, I’m familiar with SF Rescue Symposium and addressed it at Strictly Sail. I salute you for hands on safety drills that provide more useful information than supposition could ever. I speak from experience. In my book, “Boat Smart Chronicles, I describe being dragged through the water attached to a tether line and safety harness. The experience certainly gave meaning to the term—death straps.
Thanks for your thoughtful insights and there are several things we certainly can agree on as you stated in your critique in the Rescue Symposium and that is: keep it simple, Murphy is your shipmate, a throw bag is a must, and effective communications. Obviously sound advice from the voice of experience.

Hopefully some day we will meet,
Respectively, Tom Rau
Coast Guard retired Senior Chief and Boating Safety Columnist, author Boat Smart Chronicles, Lake Michigan Devours Its Wounded,” www.boatsmart.net

Publisher’s Note:
Thanks to John Rousmaniere and Tom Rau for their thoughtful comments on critical safety issues.

I’ve had a couple of good experiences with Jack Lines, tethers and harnesses as well as one bad one in which I was attached to a Jack Line which wasn’t tight enough. No damage but pretty wet!

As John pointed-out, even when I got wet (half off the boat) I got back on board! I use and believe in this equipment and always look for better, safer gear and the best ways to use it.

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