Installing guardrail netting on a sailboat makes a lot of sense for keeping crew, gear, and pets safely aboard — and it's an easy DIY project.
Look around almost any anchorage and you can spot the serious long-distance voyager. You know, the boat with the extra fuel cans tied to the deck, wind generator, solar panels, and a couple of bicycles strapped to the pushpit. Look closer and you might also spot some netting strung between the lifelines and toe rails.
When correctly done, netting makes a wonderful addition to almost any sailboat. I started to use it myself 25 years ago to prevent my young son, Sam, from going over the side by sliding under the lifelines. But I quickly realized that there were other benefits: Large headsails no longer fell into the water as I wrestled them to the deck in less-than-perfect conditions, and there was a psychological benefit when we took out novice sailors who felt more comfortable because they were "in the boat," rather than sitting on top of it. It also offers peace of mind if you have pets aboard.
Installing netting is a straightforward job that you can do by yourself, though a helper will speed up the installation. Netting comes either in a roll or purchased by the foot, Measure carefully because netting stretches and it's easy to buy too much. Measure along the top guard rail wire between the pushpit and the pulpit and have this number handy when you go to buy.
It may seem obvious, but spending time rigging netting is pointless unless your guard rails and stanchions are in tip-top condition. Check them, tighten any loose wires, and consider replacing any swaged fittings that are bent, cracked, or at all suspect before you start.
While plastic cable ties might seem to be the perfect product for attaching the netting to the boat, keep in mind that UV rays degrade them, which makes them brittle and more likely to fail. I prefer using whipping instead as they are kinder to bare feet and hands and can be cut easily with a knife in an emergency.
The netting, like anything else on the boat, requires some maintenance. Give it a good visual check once or twice per season, and remember that you could be the one it prevents from going over the side.
Check out this video by Lifeline Netting to learn how to measure and install guardrail netting.