Should I Tether To My Boat?

A tether will secure you to the vessel during rough weather, preventing falls overboard. But the question remains: Should I tether to my boat?

The simple answer is yes – using a tether can be a crucial safety measure for those on board, especially when sailing in rough conditions or performing tasks that require moving around the deck. 

Staying tethered to the boat can prevent accidents and potentially save lives by keeping individuals from being separated from the vessel if they accidentally lose their balance or get swept overboard. 

In fact, many experts recommend using tethers as a standard practice to maintain safety at all times while on the water.

However, it’s important to note that this safety measure should be combined with other precautions, such as wearing a life jacket, being aware of the conditions, and having a solid understanding of sailing and boating principles. 

The Importance of Tethering to Your Boat

To get the most benefit from using a tether, secure it to a sturdy point on the boat and adjust it to an appropriate length to maintain balance and mobility.

First and foremost, when tethered to a boat, the risk of falling overboard is significantly reduced. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this is in preventing life-threatening situations.

By attaching your safety harness to solid anchorage points on the boat like jacklines, you can move about easily while maintaining a safe connection.

In addition to using a safety harness, wearing a life jacket while sailing is important. Life jackets have saved countless lives and should be worn at all times, whether tethered or not. 

For safety reasons, I also recommend using ISO 12401-compliant harnesses and inflatable life jackets.

To ensure that your sailing gear meets the highest safety standards, this guide takes you through choosing a sailing harness so that all your equipment is fit for purpose.

Essential Tethering Equipment

There are different types of tethers, but the most common ones are short tethers and elasticized tethers. A short tether, as the name suggests, is shorter and usually made of nylon webbing. 

Elasticized tethers have the advantage of reducing the risk of tripping and providing some flexibility in movement while still keeping me attached to the boat.

Jacklines are essential and often made of webbing or wire. They run along the deck of the boat, allowing me to attach my tether and move about safely. Using non-magnetic u-bolts, I connect the jacklines to the boat to ensure a secure connection.

The quality of the snap hook or snap shackle plays an important role in the safety of tethering equipment. A reliable snap hook offers a quick and easy connection, while a snap shackle provides more strength and durability. Kong makes excellent snap hooks and shackles that I can trust for my safety while sailing.

Petzl D-Shape Safety Hook with Wire Lock
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When tethering to the boat, I’ve found using a Kong body end useful. It allows for a secure attachment of the lanyard to my safety harness. If you’d like to look at some other options and brands, check out this best tethers for offshore sailing article.

Having a personal knife or a webbing cutter close to me is handy. It allows me to quickly cut or release the tether if needed.

A proper understanding of tethering equipment and the use of safety harnesses in sailing provides an essential foundation for a safe and enjoyable sailing experience.

How to Tether Effectively

Only fasten your tether to strong points such as hard points or dedicated jacklines. Never connect to stanchions or handrails, as they may not withstand the necessary loads.

I recommend using a tether with positive locking devices to ensure secure attachment. Additionally, low-stretch rope or webbing will minimize the risk of accidents caused by elongation. 

When working in the cockpit or on deck, using a short tether is beneficial as it provides limited room for movement and minimizes the risk of falling overboard.

Make sure to adjust your tether length based on your position, whether you are near the bow, in the cockpit, or on deck. 

For instance, a shorter length may be helpful when working on the bow, while a longer tether is more practical for moving around on deck. A cow hitch or a bowline can be used to adjust the length of your tether, ensuring that it remains adequately secure.

When sailing short-handed, ensure that your tether allows for efficient and safe movement between the cockpit and deck. A double-ended tether with two different lengths can be advantageous in this situation. 

When transitioning from one attachment point to another, ensure you are always connected to the boat before unclipping, minimizing the risk of falling overboard.

Appropriate Usage of Tethers

My rule of thumb is to do this during rough weather, cold water conditions, reduced visibility, or between sundown and sunup since the risk of falling overboard increases significantly in these circumstances.

When choosing a tether, I recommend a model with a breaking strength suitable for the size of the boat and crew on board. 

Some tethers feature a mid-point hook, which allows crew members to move from one side of the boat to the other without unclipping, ensuring continuous safety connection with the vessel. 

In the tragic incident of the crewmember drowning near Selsey Bill, it was found that the standard 1.8m-long tether became a hazard when being dragged through the water. Hence, selecting the appropriate tether length based on the size and layout of the boat is crucial.

US Sailing suggests using self-closing hooks with an activation mechanism that requires deliberate action to open it, ensuring an accidental release doesn’t occur. 

I also emphasize tether etiquette, encouraging crew members to clip the tether to their harness at the sternum rather than the waist to decrease the chances of coming undone from the body by accident.

Especially on a catamaran, the tether should be securely attached to a designated strong point or jackline on the boat. I recommend using a shorter tether or an extension to minimize excessive slack during reefed situations or when working at the bow.

Advanced Tethering Techniques

Proper leg straps are another essential aspect of advanced tethering techniques. I prefer adjustable leg straps that comfortably secure around my thighs. These straps prevent the harness from riding up in the event of a fall, helping to distribute weight and avoid injury.

In case of an emergency, I always ensure that my tether is equipped with an overload stitch. This simple feature is designed to break under extreme stress, offering an additional safety measure should I fall or become submerged in water.

Also, I believe it’s wise to attach a strobe light to your life jacket or harness to increase visibility in low-light situations.

Furthermore, having an Overboard Location Alert System (OLAS) of some kind could prove the difference between life and death. These small devices can quickly alert the crew and SAR teams to precise locations of persons overboard.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.