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How many trips up the mast does it take to change a light bulb? In our last go around, it took three.

At some point, a couple of months ago, our masthead anchor light stopped working. As we had a portable LED light that we could rig at deck level as a replacement, we were not in too big of a hurry to fix it. Because we found ourselves in such a calm bay though, and we had a bit of “spare” time, we decided to tackle the project of getting it to work again. The challenge is, unless you’ve been to the top of the mast, you never really know what you’re going to find up there.

On Rebecca’s first trip up the mast she carried with her a bulb that we found on board that we thought might be the proper replacement. When she got to the top she found that in order to access the bulb, she’d need a wrench, a tool that she did not bring with her.

Disassembly required removing the two bolts that you can see.

On the second trip up the mast, with the proper tools to disassemble the unit, a combination tricolor-anchor light, she found that the bulb she had with her was not the correct one. In fact, it wasn’t even close!

Bringing the old bulb down with her, we were then able to sort through the other spares that were on board, looking for a proper replacement. Lucky us, we found one. Actually, we found two! The question is, did they work?

In my opinion, if you’re going to go to the trouble of going up the mast to change a light bulb, you should first give it a quick continuity test with a multimeter, just in case. When we did so, guess what we found? One of the spare bulbs didn’t work! If we had taken that bulb to the top and installed it, the light would of course still fail to illuminate, leading us to believe that there was something else wrong, when in fact, it was just the bulb!

Use your meter’s continuity setting to check the bulb before bringing it up the mast.

With the working bulb in her pouch, and the proper tools, Rebecca went back up the mast for the third time. Successfully juggling all of the little bits, and not dropping a single one, she was able to install the new bulb, and get the light working again. Happy days! At least we were able to tick one project off our never-ending to-do list.

Nice view! One of the only times a selfie stick is acceptable. 🙂

Note: Depending on the circumstances, and how many people we have around to help, we have a couple of different way of dealing with mast climbing. In this case, because there was just the two of us, I winched Rebecca up the mast on our primary halyard, and we rigged our Petzl ASAP on another halyard as a backup. It worked perfectly, sliding up and down the backup halyard without requiring any action by Rebecca.

The Petzl ASAP worked brilliantly.


  1. She’s got more b***s then most of us! Good job. Chip truck is now open for the season now if you happen to be sailing by Prince Edward County. lol

  2. Tools, pouches and still room for selfi-stick pix!
    How high was she?

  3. Mike/Rebecca –
    When I climb the mast(s) I use a pair of Petzl ascenders on a halyard (must go OVER the mast head, not just hung on a block). This has the advantage that when I get up there, the halyard tail is hanging down to the deck between my legs. If I forget something or need something, Jane can attach it to the end of the halyard and I just lift it up. For small stuff or for when I am painting, I put the stuff or paint can in a bucket before I climb and then lift it up once I am in place. (BTW, having the paint in a bucket keeps drips almost non-existent, since most drips happen right when the brush comes out of the can.)

    s/v Eolian

  4. Another similar suggestion: whenever I go up, I always have a light-weight line hanging from the chair/harness. That way, if I’ve forgotten something, crew below can tie it to the line and I can haul it up without having to make another round-trip.

  5. Mike – next time you send Rebecca up the mast, ask her to take a bunch of photos of the masthead while she is up there. I’ve done this several times and before a trip up the mast, take a few minutes to review previous “masthead photos” so that we have a better idea of what we’re in for. We can go through the disassembly and consider what tools are necessary. I find it so helpful, that every trip requires “new photos of the masthead”……

  6. Mike, would a solo mast climber (i.e. me using a Topclimber) and also using the Petzl as a backup be able to slide down the halyard in the highly unlikely event of a Topclimber/halyard/block failure? Or would I be doomed to be left hanging there for the rest of my short life unable to coach the Petzl into gently releasing its bite on the halyard?

    I do a lot of solo mast climbing (long dumb story), and I use a short line coiled around a second halyard as a backup…it seems to create enough friction to prevent a freefall, but I’m not too keen on testing it in a real-life situation!!

    • The ASAP is not a descender so in the situation you describe, if your primary was to fail and the ASAP loaded, you could not release it until you figured out a way to unload the ASAP.

      As for what you are currently doing, it can work just fine, assuming the “short line tied around the second halyard” was tied in a Prussic knot, or some variant of it. That is actually one of the ways we climb the mast, and rock climbers have been doing it for ages. Check out this old video that I made:

      The main difference between the mechanical ASAP and the Prussic knot is that the ASAP will slide on its own whereas you would need to stop every few feet to slide the Prussic knot up (or down) by hand.

      Congrats on using a backup at all. Many people don’t!

  7. I don’t know – she looks pretty happy up there.

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