This post is about how we added the lifeline netting on board Mahi. Lifeline netting is an important safety feature on a sailboat when you have young children and/or pets on board. Full disclosure- this was the first time we had put up netting on our boat. If we can do it, so can you.
To begin, let’s talk about purchasing the netting and calculating how much to buy.
Lifeline Netting– I talked to several helpful cruisers about which netting stands up best to the harsh UV tropical sun. After careful research, I went with the netting sold by SeaMar Sports Netting. We purchased the 30-36” netting, (NESLIFELINE2 at .80 per foot). Keep in mind that the netting will become shorter when you tension it.
I did have questions before my purchase, so I called SeaMar up and they were able to answer my questions. I purchased some accessories from them as well, but in the end, chose not to use their poly line (too stretchy) or their stringing needle (not useful). Save your money.
Measuring Your Boat– To determine how much netting to buy, we measured from the bow pulpit, back to the middle of the stern pulpit on one side, doubled this figure, then added 20% to get the amount of lifeline required. This also provided extra netting to fabricate the gates, plus we are making an extra “safety gate” up by the bow pulpit to prevent Ethan from gaining access to openings there or the windlass.
Other Supplies: Long Zip Ties– These are used temporarily to organize and space the netting out, also to add tension where needed.
New England Dacron Cord or Gray Technical Line– We used the 1/8″ gray technical line for the bottom tension, and the white 1/8″ Dacron for all other uses. West Marine sells the 1/8th white dacron line in bundles of 40 or 50 feet. We purchased the gray technical line from our rigger.
Hardware: Lifeline Hooks– Sailrite sells a nice quality hook for applying between the stanchions. We prefer these hooks because they are easy to hook the bottom of the lifeline to. You will apply with screws and 5200. We purchased the screws and Hooks from Sailrite.
Snap Hooks– Sailrite sells plastic snap hooks, however, we purchased stainless steel ones. These will be used for the lifeline netting gates. We also used shackles and cotter pins for the gates as well.
Hot Knife- We used the Hot Knife from Sailrite, however, a wood burning tool or soldering iron could work in a pinch. All ends of lines and netting were cut using the hot knife.
Let’s Begin– We began on one side of the boat, draping the netting over the lifelines. I pulled it taut, and zip-tied the top of the netting to the top lifeline to get our spacing from stanchion to stanchion. Once we were happy with our spacing, we cut off all the zip ties in between each stanchion. I even counted the top netting “holes” to get the spacing even.
Netting Top: Method 1- We undid our top lifelines, backed them out (a two person job), and starting at the beginning, we wove the lifelines in and out through the top of the netting. You want to count as you go to double-check the spacing between the stanchions. I thought it was easier to undo the lifelines and pull them through than it is to weave a Dacron line candy cane style through the lifelines. Once you reconnect the lifelines, you are done with the top part of the netting
Method 2- I suggest you view the Sailrite video on installing netting. You leave the zip ties in place for this method. Like shown in the Sailrite video, you candy cane the netting around the top lifeline.
Netting Bottom- Joe came up with his way of tensioning the bottom of the netting. He worked on three stanchions at a time with a long piece of technical line. Starting at the middle stanchion, he tied about 1-2 clove hitches using approximately the middle of the line. Taking one end of the line, he wove it in and out through the bottom of the netting towards the first stanchion base. He used the Trucker’s Hitch to apply tension to the netting and bring it as low as possible. He repeated this with the third stanchion. If you have another stanchion on your boat, start with several clove hitches, weave the line in and out through the bottom of the netting, then end in a Trucker’s Hitch to apply tension. You may also decide to follow the Sailrite video.
Example of Clove Hitch on center stanchion:
Hooks- We added the hooks where needed along the bottom, usually one inbetween each stanchion. Sometimes we added an extra hook if we wanted the netting out of the way of a cleat. 5200 was used in each screw hole to avoid any leaks.
Pulpits and Netting Sides– Next, we turned our attention to the netting sides at the pulpits and the stanchion right before the lifeline gates. On board Mahi, we have three gates.
The bow pulpit was at an angle, which was a bit more challenging to tension and look right. Eventually, we got the hang of it. Straight stanchions are much easier to do. Watch the Sailrite video before attempting.
Turning Corners on the Stern Pulpit- When it comes time to do the stern pulpit, you will have a rounded turn at the back of the boat to deal with. If you elect to do nothing, the netting will bow inwards.
On our boat, this inward bow would prevent our lazerette from opening, so we simply candy cane striped it to the corner stern pulpit rail. You can see the finished striping in the image shown and how it effectively controls the netting. Now we can easily gain access to our lazerette.
Gates- I’ll be honest, we saved the most challenging task for last. By this time, you will have the confidence to do the gates. This is where you will need the snap hooks and some shackles and cotter pins sized for your lifeline gate hardware.
Watch the Sailrite video chapter on gates, however, we found that we didn’t need to do the sewing step where you sew with riggers waxed twine for added stability. It worked just fine without.
Handling the Bow Pulpit Gaps- We didn’t want the netting to interfere with the anchoring system, so we stopped the netting at the bow pulpit. This left large gaps where Ethan could easily fall overboard.
To solve this issue, we are fabricating a netting gate to block access from this area to keep Ethan from falling through the gaps in the pulpit, also keep him away from the windlass. This gate will have 6 snap hooks and be set up when at anchor or dock for added safety.
Last thoughts about applying lifeline netting for the first time. It was more laborious than we thought. Prepare to spend a couple of days to do it. In the end, the safety benefits are worth it, though. Please write if you have any questions about how our technique differed from the Sailrite video. Regards, Carla and Joe