The Mast Mate slides in the mainsail track.

Up top, you can stand comfortably with both feet at the same level and you can easily work above the top of the mast. You can see the lineman’s belt secured around the mast.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Southwinds magazine.



The Mast Mate: An Easy-to-Use Mast-Climbing System

By Steve Morrell

For many years, I’ve seen the ad with the picture of the guy climbing the mast stepping in these triangular steps. It’s a picture worth a thousand words. One day I went to the Web site and decided to get one. At the time, I was postponing going up my mast because I didn’t always have someone nearby to hoist me up in a chair. The Mast Mate was a do-it-on-your-own system—just what I needed.

The product comes all rolled up compactly in a flat spiral less than two feet across. The Mast Mate is essentially one long piece of very strong nylon webbing, like super strong seat belt webbing, with even stronger alternating nylon triangular steps sewn into the sides. It comes in different lengths depending on your mast length. Along the main webbing is a series of grommets into which are plastic shackles to which you secure slides—just like the slides you secure to your mainsail. The buyer supplies the slides depending on his track size. The main webbing has a D-ring at the top to which you secure your main halyard. You simply raise the Mast Mate up the mast track. You have to remove the mainsail from the track and then feed the Mast Mate slides into it.

The first time I used the Mast Mate, I was able to remove my mainsail and raise the system up to the top in 10 to 15 minutes. It was very simple and very fast.

The Mast Mate also comes with a lineman’s belt, with tool pouch, that allows you to strap yourself around the mast and securely lean back and work hands-free when you are aloft.

The first time I went aloft it was very comfortable and very easy, although I had to search a little bit with my feet to find the steps, but once you get used to it, your feet find them quickly. On the first few trips up, I was also a bit cautious, because I knew that I had to be careful to not let go with my hands unless I had the lineman’s belt strapped around the mast. Consequently, I secured myself after each set of spreaders. Later, I just climbed up and secured myself when I reached my destination.

At the top of the Mast Mate, there are two triangular steps that do not alternate but are directly across from each other. This is so you can more comfortably stand up aloft and work with your feet at the same level. One advantage of the system is that you are standing above the top of the mast, making work up there easier.

I find the system has many advantages over others. Of course, one of the main advantages is that you can use it on your own. Although a boatswain’s chair is hooked up very quickly, it takes a bit to hoist somebody up to the top. And if you don’t have somebody strong enough, they tire quickly. The chair is probably a little bit faster but not by much. Once the Mast Mate is installed, other methods can’t beat it, and it is impressive how quickly you can go up and down—almost as easily as a ladder.

The Mast Mate Web site has a good discussion of using the system in various situations. If you have a stuck halyard or need to replace a halyard, they suggest using your jib halyard to raise the Mast Mate up. The company acknowledges that there is no going up the mast with in-mast furling. And if your mainsail is stuck in the raised position, of course, you could raise the Mast Mate up without securing it in the track, but that is not recommended. So there are some limitations to its use—like most systems.

I found the Mast Mate was also well-liked by a professional rigger who worked on my boat recently. I had used the Mast Mate to inspect the rigging and left it in the raised position. I told the rigger he was in no way obligated to use the system, but he was very interested in testing it. By the time the job was done, he was pleased enough that he was interested in purchasing one.

Mast Mate will also be enjoying a bit of fame this year because Rich Wilson will be using a custom-made Mast Mate on his 60-foot boat that he will be sailing in the 2008 Vendee Globe.

For more information on the Mast Mate, go to