Lowering a Mast

This article covers a means by which to lower a cruiser mast in a relatively controlled manner. Unless you are dealing with a very light mast, this approach is generally only suitable for masts up to 30' in length (typically boats up to around 24' LOA).

The data contained in this article is for guidance only. Bray Sailing Club accepts no liability for any consequential losses, injury or damage resulting from the use of this article or the information contained within it.

The key to successfully completing the task is good preparation and enough people. Five people are required to carry out the task; with the person who is responsible for the guiding rope, attached to the forestay, also acting as the observer.

The example shown is for a rig with an aft pivoting mast step.

The first part of the preparation is to securely fasten a ladder to the transom of the boat. The purpose of the ladder is to allow the mast to rest on top of it during the decent and minimise the amount by which the mast needs to initially be lowered.


Note how the ladder is securely fastened to the transom of the boat and back of the trailer.


The second part of the preparation is to tie ropes round the spreaders to avoid any lateral movement of the mast. The rope tied round the port spreader is hauled out on the starboard side and the rope tied round the starboard spreader is hauled out to the port side. During the descent, one person will hold each of these ropes to ensure the mast remains perfectly central.

Attaching these ropes is best achieved by placing a ladder on the deck so you can climb up to the spreaders. Notice how the ladder is wedged under the shrouds to hold it to the mast.

The next step is to remove the fore lower shroud so that the mast can pivot aft when the time is ready. (The aft lower shroud does not need to be adjusted at all).

Following this, the cap shrouds need to be loosened by around an inch. Any less than this and they are likely to resist the descent of the mast.

One person should now take hold of each of the lateral restraining ropes and one should take their position on the coach roof behind the mast. The remaining two people will now detach the forestay and tie a rope to it in order to help control the initial part of the decent. The photo below shows the forestay with the rope already attached. The furling reel from the forestay can clearly be seen with the guiding rope attached just above it.

At this stage, one of the remaining two people will take the guiding rope attached to the forestay and the other will assist the other person already behind the mast. The two people behind the mast will largely be responsible for taking the weight of the mast as it is lowered.

The two people behind the mast should now start to lower it. It may take a small bit of force to get it moving, but if it doesn't move relatively easily, it may be an indicator that the cap shrouds need to be loosened further. Initially the two people behind the mast will feed the mast down with their hands above their heads (overarm). Once the mast starts to lower, the person on the guiding rope attached to the forestay should maintain as much tension as is possible to minimise the weight of the mast for the people on deck. They should also ensure the mast is descending centrally. In addition, the two people looking after the lateral restraining ropes should make sure they retain tension in these to avoid the mast moving off-centre as it is lowered. 

As the mast gets lower, it may be easier for the two people on deck to change position (one at a time) so that they are holding the mast underarm. At this stage, the weight of the mast is likely to be significant and it will be almost impossible to stop the descent, only slow it. Because of this it is important that the mast doesn't miss the ladder and so if changing from the overarm to underarm hold, it is also worth turning round to face the ladder so the mast position in relation to the ladder can be seen. (Needless to say, we don't have any photos of this since we were all to busy concentrating on what we were supposed to be doing)!

Once the mast is resting on the ladder, it should look something like the below.

A wooden plank is then lashed to the pulpit for the mast to rest on.

Someone then climbs the ladder at the rear and lifts the mast down whilst someone else removes the bolt from the mast step. Care should be taken when removing the bolt since, depending on the balance of the mast, it may want to lift once the bolt is removed. The mast is then lifted forward until the bottom of the mast rests on the pulpit.

Finally, an "X" frame can be assembled in the cockpit for the top of the mast to rest on.