Monday, September 5, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Work at Heights

The bosun’s chair, which on the face of it sounds rather fancy, is nothing of the sort. In fact it is another example of necessity being the mother of invention. Working at heights while either at sea or in port is par for the course aboard ship. Since work can be done better with both hands free, clinging to rope or cable while addressing regular maintenance or unexpect repair in the air would be inconvenient at best. To say is would also be dangerous hundreds of feet up is probably overstating cases. Enter the bosun’s chair.


This is no more and in fact no less than a plank of wood suspended from a series of ropes or cables usually passed over and through a block and tackle to facilitate raising and lowering. The plank is usually fitted out with hooks or other appendages for hanging materials needed for any task such as buckets, brushes, rigging, etc. The sailor simply clambors onto the chair and is then raised up to the appropriate height and tied off.

Historically a man’s mess mates would be responsible for raising and lowering him safely in the device. Modern bosun’s chairs differ from their ancient counterparts very little other than to sometimes be fitted with controlling apparatus that can be used by the person in the chair themselves. This alleviates the need for others to hoist a person up and down. This modern form of bosun’s chair is quite popular with window washers, particularly on mammoth sky scrapers.

The bosun’s chair was also used to move people unfamiliar with seamanship on and off ships. In this instance it was sometimes referred to derogatorily as a “lady’s chair”. Much like using the lubber’s hole when climbing up onto a top, being hauled over the side on a bosun’s chair was only tolerable for a true sailor if he were sick or injured. O’Brian repeatedly has his doctor insensed to the point of fuming for being forced into a bosun’s chair in his Aubrey/Maturin novels. “Am I not a sailor,” he barks red-faced as he is being safely ferried off the ship. “Am I not an old salt?” The response is of course, “Old salt you may be Stephen, but you are clumsier than a drunk monkey on a ladder.” If anyone knew how to shut the beloved doctor up, it was Captain Aubrey.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I offer this video from the Tar Rigger episode of Dirty Jobs. Mike’s struggles with the bosun’s chair are amusing but not at all uncommon. Those things are squirrely, let me tell you.

Happy Labor Day to all the U.S. Brethren! Take a load off and have a pint of grog on orders (just don’t do it in a bosun’s chair, mate).

Header: Using a bonsun’s chair aboard training ship Prince William via Wikipedia

3 comments:

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And a happy Labor Day to all.

Dirty Jobs has featured the bosuns chair a few times at least, but that was one of the best examples, Pauline.

Pauline said...

I thought this was the best example of old time bosun's chairs (Mike on the Star of India, I mean). Of course ex the straps and other safety "stuff". None of that aboard us back in the day.

safetysolution2 said...

Thus is such a informative blog. Working at heights training should be done in order to provide safety to the worker and other issues which can be easily covered in this training.