Your equipment is an investment in doing your job safely and efficiently, so keeping it in good condition is important.
By Mark Gaudet
1. Read the USER MANUAL!
An instructor at a course once asked the group how many people had read the user manual to their gear. It was frightening how many people had never opened them for their gear and wondered why they didn’t know the limitations of it.
The user manual will have details as to an expiry date for the product, compatibility details, cleaning and maintenance procedures for that specific item if necessary.
User manuals can often be found online, but are rarely read before purchase—which could save people a lot of money. Finding out that the item will not be compatible with the rope that they already own may have lead them to select a similar product that does work with the rope, etc.
2. Cycles to Failure
While some rigging lines boast an MBS of 16,000 lb+, that doesn’t mean they will hold that everyday for 5 years in a row. We don’t often deal with pieces of material that weigh the exact same everyday consistently. These weights vary throughout the tree, day and week. It's hard to say that a rope can be used this number of times before it will break, but we do know that the higher the force being applied repeatedly, does lower the number of times it will hold the load.
When your climbing or rigging line no longer becomes as supple as it once was or has seemed to lose any stretch it may have had, perhaps think about retirement for that rope. Most manufactures will have recommendation as to when a rope or other gear should be retired/replaced. Go smaller or get a stronger rope. Stay within your lane!
3. Does Rain Count as Washing?
NO! Rain doesn’t count as washing your gear just like running your hands under a tap doesn’t count either. Tests have been done that showed that dirt and mud can reduce the breaking strength of the rope by 35-50% of the original MBS. Washing more often can help keep the dirt from working into the core of the rope where it is not visible and can cause the most damage in certain ropes.
There are specialized tools designed to scrub/wash ropes available on the market. Consult the manufacture’s recommendations as to the do’s and dont's for washing your rope. Hang them to dry in an area with an indirect heat source.
Check the manufacture recommendations for retirement due to wear limitations.
Carabiners take a lot of abuse in our industry and we rely on them to work properly. We both have a task to do, theirs should be automatic (LOCK)! Small leaf and dirt debris can become lodged in the gate mechanism and cause the gate to not function correctly. A solution of warm water and neutral pH dish detergent can be used to submerge the carabiners and help to rinse out the debris while operating the carabiner. They should be rinsed with warm water to clear the excess debris and can be dried with a light stream of compressed air and let stand to dry. Lubrication should be done following this process of cleaning. A light oil designed for small moving parts should be applied to the gate mechanism sparingly. Powder lubricants should be avoided as we are using them outdoors and they will allow moisture to collect inside the mechanism.
Every piece of gear we use can be safer, easier and more efficient to use if kept clean and lubricated (if necessary).
4. Do You Have a Favorite Coffee Mug?
I'm sure if you drink your morning coffee out of the same mug everyday there is a good chance there is some staining inside and the outside decal has been worn down over the years.
Do you have a favorite end of your rope? Do you always use that end and typically climb smaller trees where the bottom half of your rope is being left in the coil or preferably the bottom of your rope bag?
I mostly climb SRS with no splices in either end of my rope. I don’t meticulously wear the halves of my rope evenly 50/50, but I don’t care which end goes in the bag first either. I have different colors of tape on either end to indicate which is which so I can switch it up if I feel like I’ve been climbing on the yellow tape end more than the black tape end. This helps to prevent uneven wear on the rope and extend the lifetime I can use it.
I find this is often the case with throwline as well, when the wear/broken feel can be noticed between the two ends. Someone who doesn’t seem to use the other end of the line may notice when they need it that it flies out in a giant mess due in part to the memory that is has kept sitting in storage. The working end will become damaged/worn from flying through unions because your shots are all on target. The moment you get a perfect yet difficult shot and pull up your rope, it will snap! Murphy has always been right with that law!
This can often be the case with a favorite or only pair of chainsaw pants. I have a few I switch between which allows for proper washing procedures to occur (which the crew is thankful for). Repairs to the outside fabric can and should be done to prevent damage to the inner protectant material.
5. When in Doubt…Cut it Out!
All too often we can become sentimental or attached to pieces of equipment. Really that’s all they are...equipment.
We have all most likely said at some time “Old faithful will get me through another ______”. This could be our first harness, the rope that we won the title on, the helmet we got for a steal of a deal or that pair of socks you hope last through the day.
Look at the user manual for that specific piece of equipment and see what the limits of time and wear is. If you're hesitant consult someone who knows and cares about your safety and health.
Climbing competitions can be a good/bad spot to do this because there is knowledgable people there to help, but they will not be willing to back down and allow you to climb on something that is damaged/worn past the limits. I have seen people show up with tattered equipment and be forced to find new, not broken in, unfamiliar gear. A competition is not an ideal spot for this but it is also not the spot we want to see anyone injured or worse.
Daily inspection prior to use is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY! Things can change day to day and even within the tree. Certain systems rely on friction and free movement of inner parts which can all be effected by changing weather and wear. Saw dust can collect over the day and cause equipment to function different. Stay alert to your equipment and always be checking it.
When you look at the up front cost of new gear it can be scary, but when thinking about how often you are climbing and what the longevity of the gear will be it doesn’t work out to that much per day.
What price are you willing to put on your/a life for that piece of equipment that needs replacing?
Follow these 5 steps and expand them to other areas not covered; ie chippers, trucks, job sites. You will notice that your equipment is SAFER, more EFFICIENT and EASIER to use!
Mark Gaudet is a climbing arborist, teacher and Notch brand ambassador from Ontario, Canada. He's been working in the private tree care industry for 10 years as well as competing across North America since 2012.