RETRIEVING LOST HALYARDS: A Cheap Trick That Works

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Lost halyard drawing

I wrote about this once in a print magazine, and some people were skeptical. But I’m telling you–it really does work. I’ve done it twice at sea successfully; no fuss, no muss. If you lose a halyard up your mast, this is how to get it back from deck level without having to climb the mast.

There is one prerequisite. You need a spare halyard with a shackle on it that is in reasonably close proximity to the one you were stupid enough to let fly up the mast. Given this, retrieving the lost halyard should be easy.

Step 1: Take a loose length of line that is long enough to reach the lost halyard from the deck and tie a noose in it with a slip knot, so that you can pull the noose shut.

Step 2: Clip the noose line with noose open into the shackle at the end of your spare halyard, as shown in the detail drawing above. It need not be a snapshackle. (Note the relative size of the shackle and noose line in that drawing is all askew. The shackle will, or should, be small enough that the slip knot can’t pull through it.)

Step 3: Use the spare halyard to hoist the noose line aloft up close to where the lost halyard is.

Step 4: Now twiddle about with the noose line and spare halyard from down on deck until you succeed in lassoing the lost halyard. This is not as hard, or as unlikely, as it sounds. It helps a lot if your noose line is a bit stiff with salt and/or UV damage, as this helps the noose stay open. It may take some patience and persistence, but you should succeed eventually.

Step 5: Having lassoed the lost halyard, pull gently on the noose line until the noose closes around the lost halyard.

Step 6: Now pull the noose line down to the deck, and it will bring both the spare halyard and the lost halyard along with it.

If you don’t believe me, just try it while tied up to a dock or mooring.

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12 Responses
  1. Adrian Lower

    Brilliant! I have lost the spinnaker halyard on my RBOD (82 year old wooden day boat) 3 times in as many races due to a faulty snap shackle which seems fine until it goes under load! First time I put a ladder up the mast to retrieve the halyard – dodgy, but effective. Next time I got the yard to retrieve it when they scrubbed her. This weekend I will put this trick into practice. Thank you.

  2. Charlie

    @Adrian: Yes, do try it! I might also recommend changing that shackle.

    @Don: I’ll let you make the video, since you had the idea. Then I’ll help pimp it.

    @Anonymous: I think you have lost a halyard; you just don’t know it yet.

  3. Charlie

    @Anon2: It assumes, I suppose, that there’s a shackle at the end of the halyard, with the shackle tied on or spliced on. I don’t think it makes any difference either way.

  4. Anon2

    There is definitely no shackle tied on, the end of the halyard is not knotted and has run up and back into the mast. The boat is seemingly too small to climb up with a harness and is equipped with a hinged step. I have found an owners manual that shows how to step the mast with only two people but I am hoping that won’t be necessary. Any recommendation is appreciated.

  5. Charlie

    @Anon2: The trick in this post here obviously will not work if your halyard has gone into the mast. The normal procedure then would be to pull out the halyard from the bottom and re-reeve it (or reeve a new one). To do that you normally go up the mast in a bosun’s chair, drop a light line with a weight on the end down inside the mast over the halyard’s sheave. An assistant at the bottom of the mast fishes the end of the line out the halyard exit with a bent piece of wire, then you use the light line as a messenger to pull the halyard through. But if you’re saying your mast is too small or light to climb, I guess the only way to reeve the halyard will be to drop the mast.

  6. Anonymous

    I have tried this method, and was very excited that within ten minutes I had retrieved the halyard. Wow, I was elated.

  7. Peter Bodner

    Thanks to this article I retrieved my jib halyard after the shackle failed. I did add another line to this setup, for a little more lateral control, as it was blowing 12-15 knts from the SE, while the boat was in a slip pointing north. I’m to old for climbing or bosun chairs.

  8. Anonymous

    Lost one of our halyards to a woven pull string off the clasp that got pinched in the spreader. Tried this method and it worked perfectly. Took a little patience and a small wire to hold the noose perpendicular to the halyard and we lassoed it.
    Brilliant.

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