Bungie Boarding

One of the greatest risks for a solo sailor is falling off the boat. When I’m sailing alone in all but the safest conditions, I’m wearing a lifejacket. I also clip on, especially when the autopilot or self-steering gear are engaged. What a nightmare it would be to fall in the water, away from shore, and see your boat sail away from you, suddenly freed of your weight!

Even if you’re clipped on it’s very difficult to get back aboard. When Tammy is at rest I’m able to haul myself up onto her side-decks, but not over the transom. And what hope is there that I could reach a side-deck if she’s sailing?

So I’ve taken an idea I’ve seen on mini-Transats: a permanently installed elastic step at the transom.


The trick is to use some webbing tube threaded with elastic cord, strung across the back of the boat. The elastic should be taught to keep the line out of the way, but the webbing should be long enough that it forms a step that you can reach to get back aboard.

Here’s the step strung between the drogue attachments at on Tammy’s quarters. It should be fairly easy to reach from the water, even if I’ve had to haul myself along the safety line to catch up with the boat. The elastic keeps it out of the way of things like the self-steering gear.


Here it is again with me standing on it.


I’ve adjusted the length so that my waist is at the height of the pushpit rail, allowing me to bend forward and flop into the cockpit even if my arms are exhausted.

It’s one of those things I hope I’ll never need to use. It was easy to put together and might save me. I might even be able to test it (with some help).



Filed under Equipment

6 responses to “Bungie Boarding

  1. Annie

    Hi Richard

    Far, far better to adjust your safety tether to such a length that you can’t fall over in the first place. If the boat is travelling at speed, the standard safety harness is likely to drown you. I can’t put a link in the comments, but I wonder if you’ve seen this PBO article: http://www.pbo.co.uk/seamanship/is-it-safe-to-use-a-tether-25125

    Nice to see you posting again and I hope you are getting some sailing in.

    • Hello Annie! It’s great to be able to put a post together — even a short one. I have quite a backlog of photos and stories to deal with.

      I hadn’t seen the article you linked. Thanks so much! I had only read a couple of individual’s accounts of going overboard while tethered and getting back on. One of the main things I took away from that was that you need to get back on *fast* because you’ll be exhausted very quickly.

      The article you linked talks a lot about being recovered by your crew. That’s not an option for me or the mini-Transats. I’m not sure to what extent that changes the conclusions.

      Of course it’s better not to go over in the first place, and my tether is pretty short, but Tammy is also very small and the sea is not far away.

      Even so, my normal cockpit tether won’t allow me over the transom.

      So it’s not that I *plan* to use this ladder, but that I saw it on a mini-Transat and realised I could make one easily, so why not?

      If nothing else it’ll help my niece get back on board when she’s swimming.

  2. Antoine Maartens

    The combing / side of the cockpit on our boats is so high – going over the side should really be avoided.

    Getting back on board …. Very very unlikely. But good idea and you have the attachment points for the drogue anyway. So why not use them?

  3. Hi, good to see your posts again. I have some doubts about your system being low enough. I think it important that the ‘step’ formed by the bungey be under the water so you can get a foot ,or at least a knee, onto it. Have you done a real wet test? (Moored and with assistance obviously!!!)

    • Not yet, but I will. I have some more materials and was thinking about axing a second, lower, step.

      I will also try lowering myself off the boat with various harnesses. I have a feeling that the normal lifejacket harness isn’t great for retrieving yourself, and so a separate full-body harness might be a good idea.

    • The step was tested by my girlfriend at the August bank holiday. She doesn’t have very good pull-up strength, and was unable to get on board using it. I’ll add a second longer strap.

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