How to Properly Rig Your Jacklines

Here’s another helpful sailing tip from our friend Capt. John at

Learn to sail like a pro when you rig your boat for sailing safety. Not many things fill a sailor’s mind with terror like the fear of falling overboard. Sail outside of the jetties and you will want to equip your sailing crew with “stay aboard” safety techniques. Follow these easy-to-use sailing tips for safety’s sake!

Stay aboard at all costs. No emergency has a greater chance of ending in tragedy than falling overboard. Follow these seven sailing tips for safety at sea! (photo of a Passport 50 offshore near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina).

1. String Jacklines from Bow to Stern

Make jacklines from flat nylon webbing for the best mix of strength, light weight and easy adjustment.

Webbing stays flat under foot when you walk fore and aft. Some jacklines have a clip on one end (see photo), both ends, or no clips at all. Attach the jackline clip end (if equipped) to stout pad eyes or cleats on the bow. Run each jackline down the side of the boat.

Keep the lead of the line as straight as possible. Try to avoid points along the deck that could cause chafe and wear. Make up the bitter end (without the clip) of each jackline to a robust quarter cleat near the stern. That way, you can adjust the tension in the jackline from the safety of the cockpit.

2. Remove the Slack for Safety

Expect jacklines to become slack after being stretched. Remove the slack at least once a day out at sea. This keeps the jackline taut and less of a tripping hazard to the sailing crew as they move fore and aft.

3. Bring Your Own Sailing Gear

If you are anything like me, you carry your own personal flotation device (pfd) aboard any boat you sail board. But you should also carry your own sailing harness. You want a harness that gives you comfort, allows lots of movement, and fits you like a well made glove.

Just any old harness might not accomplish all three vital features. For the best of both worlds, purchase a pfd with integrated harness. That way, you need just one device instead of two.

4. Test Jackline and Tether Bales

On one of the boats I crewed aboard offshore, we found defective tether bales that failed to close all the way.

We opened the bales and they stayed open. The bales were corroded and would not spring back into a closed position and stay closed. Change out faulty bales before you clip on to a jackline.

Give each clip bale this fast, one-second “sea trial” before you trust it to save your life: Grasp each clip and push the bale with your thumb. It should open with ease. Release the bale. It should snap closed without hesitation.

Note the black webbing jackline (top photo) that runs from the bow to the stern. Test jackline and tether bales (bottom photo) to make sure that they snap closed–and stay closed!

5. Clip on to the High Side

Don your sailing harness in the cabin before you ascend the companionway ladder and enter the cockpit. In rough weather, lean out, clip on, and then step into the cockpit.

Some boats rig loops of nylon webbing belayed to a cleat in the cockpit. You can lean out from the companionway, reach over and clip in. One boat I sailed aboard had robust pad eyes through-bolted on the sides of the cockpit sole.

Clip on to the windward (high) side jackline if you need to move fore and aft. If you slip or slide, the tether will keep you aboard.

Consider dual tethers for increased safety. These allow you to stay clipped on to the jackline, even when going around obstructions (i.e. sheets, tracks, or mast). Clip in with one tether; clip the second tether onto the jackline on the other side of the obstruction; then release the first tether.

6. Grab, Bend and Shuffle

In previous articles, you may have read my recommended “grip building” exercises for sailors. Nothing will keep you aboard or prevent injuries like a good, solid grip. Grab onto a rail, lifeline, or fitting beforeyou move your feet. Keep one hand attached to the boat at all times, whether on deck or below in the cabin or head.

Move like a football running back. Remember Barry Sanders? Little guy. Big guys had a tough time bringing Barry down. He crouched when he ran. This lowered his center of gravity and lessened the likelihood that a bump would get him down right away.

Use this same idea aboard any boat on any body of water anywhere in the world. Bend your knees and crouch a bit when you move. Crouch even more–or crawl–in extreme weather. This will keep you aboard when you bump into something or the boat takes an unexpected roll.

Keep your feet almost flat as you move fore and aft. Shuffle along the deck. Pretend that you must make contact with the deck in order to stay aboard.

There may be a time when you forget to don a harness. It happens to most sailors at one time or the other. You rush forward to fix or change something. All of a sudden you find yourself on a heaving, rolling foredeck without your gear.

Remember this–thousands have sailed successfully without the gear we consider essential today. You can too. But you must practice until these three actions become second nature. Use them in calm, placid weather. Use them in rough, tough weather. When all else fails–grab, bend, and shuffle–in that order–could save your life one day!

7. Brief Your Crew on Your Requirements

Pass along what conditions and times pfds and sailing harness need to be worn. Different skippers have different requirements. Just make sure your sailing crew understands that at all times, they must do whatever necessary to stay aboard the boat.


Follow these seven sailing tips for safety aboard any boat in any ocean anywhere in the world. Keep your sailing crew or partner safe and sound in all sailing weather–wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

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