By Michael Tain
Work positioning lanyards, often called fliplines or safeties, are an integral and important component of every climbing arborists’ working and climbing system. A lanyard may be as simple as a piece of three-strand line with snaps secured by appropriate attachment knots or splices at both ends, or as complex as an industrially stitched piece of cordage adjusted by a device with an internal cam. Yet the intended purpose is the same — provide users with another means of securing themselves in a stable work position, or to provide an alternate means of attachment to the tree when required. Obviously, the various work positioning lanyards available provide different degrees of flexibility and ease of use, but whichever type or system is chosen, no climber should consider leaving the ground without some form of lanyard. In fact, under the standards climbing arborists are required to be secured by two means of attachment — such as a climbing line and a lanyard — when operating a chain saw aloft.
* Fixed-length lanyard: This particular form of lanyard is the simplest, consisting of a fixed length of cordage with either splices or appropriate attachment knots securing snaps at either end. Although simple and economical, it is also the least flexible due to its fixed length, often being too short around large-diameter trunks and too long higher in the canopy. The common solution for these problems is to attach two together when a longer one is required, and to wrap the lanyard around the branch or trunk multiple times when a shorter one is required. A better solution might be to invest in an adjustable lanyard.
* Adjustable Prusik lanyard or buckstrap: The buckstrap, referred to in some circles as the “poodle leash,” consists of spliced cordage with a large eye at one end, a small eye with a snap at the other, and a snap sliding on the cordage between the two eyes. The large eye then forms a Prusik around the standing part of the lanyard, providing some measure of adjustability. Although the adjustable Prusik lanyard is a step up from a fixed-length lanyard, and is still quite economical, the amount of adjustability is actually quite limited. In addition, the Prusik seems to most often be on the far side of the tree when adjustment is needed, making this lanyard a less than “user friendly” experience.
* External cams: Lanyards using an external cam device such as a Gibbs or MicroCender have the advantage of the adjustment being easily reached near the user’s hip, and no limit on lanyard length. The climber can simply purchase or construct the length lanyard most appropriate to their work needs. Climbers are attached by a connecting link directly from their “D” ring into the cam of the device itself, thus it is necessary to remove their weight from the cam for easy adjustment. However, this system can be shortened fairly easily with one hand with minimum practice. These devices operate “one way,” so only one end of the lanyard may be used, and the other end should be attached back to the harness out of the way and for additional security. A variation of this is the Gibbs KlimAir which actually operates both ways and has a swiveling attachment eye — allowing use of both ends of the lanyard, and effectively providing two lanyards in one. This dual-way action does prevent easy one-hand adjustment for shortening without the addition of a small pulley beneath the ascender (a pulley that should be removed prior to using the second end of the lanyard for attachment).
* Internal cams: Lanyards using an internal cam device such as the Petzl Grillion and ART Positioner also provide easily reached adjustment near the user’s hip, and have no limit on lanyard length. Although only one end of these lanyards may be used for attachment, the internal nature of their cam means the climber is actually attached more to the frame of the device. This distinction allows them to be adjusted both in and out while still under load; thus climbers do not need to remove their weight for adjustment.
* 2-in-1 lanyard: This cordage lanyard consists of a length of spliced line with connecting links at either end. A shorter length of spliced cordage, forming a Prusik, with a connecting link provides adjustability at the user’s hip. Adjustability is easily accessible, and, once again, the length of the lanyard is determined by the climber’s needs and work practices. As the Prusik is essentially a climbing hitch in this system, it can be adjusted while still under load to lengthen the lanyard. The addition of a small pulley beneath the Prusik also allows easy one-hand adjustment in shortening the lanyard. Since the Prusik works in both directions, this lanyard also gives the user the advantage of using both ends, or having two lanyards in one. Once again, the small pulley for ease of one-hand adjustment should be removed prior to using the second end of the lanyard for attachment. The interaction of different types of rope can have a serious effect on the ease of use of this lanyard, so care must be taken to choose fibers that work well together.
A work positioning lanyard is a necessity for any professional climbing arborist, and the choices available provide a wide variety of options. As with any tool or piece of gear, users should find something that meets the safety standards first and foremost, but then best suits their style, method of climbing and work practices. Lanyards that are flexible in a variety of situations and easy to use/adjust will be much more likely to be employed regularly, leading to safer climbing operations and more stable work positions — an outcome that can only be of benefit to all climbers.
Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer currently located in Lancaster, Ky. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com