Rope: keep it tight, keep it right

Published:  01 July, 2007

Since the days when man first moved his goods and chattels about he has needed to secure his load to prevent things falling off. As a young firefighter at training school I remember well being explained the virtues of the ‘Yachtsman’s purchase’ – a marvellous knot that allowed tension to be applied to the running end.

On arrival at my first operational station I was told to forget that - and use a much simpler knot, the ‘truck driver’s dolly knot’. I have used this very adaptive and useful knot over the years for all manner of tasks. Tying the knot in a polypropylene general purpose line was never an issue, however, later it became evident that the damag caused to the rope by this knot was unacceptable when working with those of a modern kernmantle construction.
Ratchets - some positive benefits
Within the truck-driving fraternity the need to secure a load with knotted ropes had diminished with the introduction of the ratchet strap. This hand-operated tensioning device, complete with its connecting straps, allowed all manner of cargo to be quickly and securely fastened down.
Rescue tenders in my own brigade carried two 2”/50mm ratchet straps, or tensioners, to give them their proper title and they proved invaluable for all manner of tasks.
What became apparent was the need to ensure they were properly secured and that the webbing was protected against sharp or rough edges. These cheap and versatile items became invaluable for stabilising all manner of things.
As my career has become more focussed on rope rescue, I found so many applications for tensioners, that I now advocate their use for so many tasks. But buyers beware, not all ratchet straps are equal, but do outwardly, look very similar.
Steer well clear of the cheap versions that are commonly available, they may be more than adequate to secure your suitcases to a car roof rack but their application in rope access/rescue could be disastrous and best avoided.
The current choice for professional quality ratchet straps in the UK and Europe would comply with BS EN 12195-1:2003 with a stated RAS (Rated Assembly Strength) as seen in Pic.1.
Points to look for
The two tensioners differ, with the marked BS/EN version (Yellow) having a stronger construction with moving parts made to closer tolerances, the webbing is thicker and stitching more uniformed and tighter.  The RAS is calculated by halving the manufacturers stated working load limit (WLL) for the tensioner. To complicate matters, a standard width tensioner e.g. 1”/25 mm can range from 900Kg to 2000Kg WLL depending upon its specification.
For example: a 1”/25 mm tensioner rated at 900Kg has an RAS of 450Kg even when fitted with 1”/25 mm Polyester webbing that has a breaking strain of 1,300Kg.
There is a great choice of webbing termination available, a simple reinforced eye, allowing the choice of either a karabiner or Maillon connector, is my preferred choice. Commercially-available ratchet straps normally come ready fitted with end connectors and these may include Delta or D rings, snap hooks, wire hooks and S hooks.
Applications for ratchet straps
Having now determined which ratchet straps are the best to use, their application in rope rescue can be open to team innovation, providing simple rules in their use are followed:
1.) Never be directly connected to any ratchet strap (with the exception of temporary horizontal life lines made to EN 795 Class C) as they are not generally accepted as PPE. However it is acceptable to use them indirectly
2.) In their larger sizes, ratchet straps can exert a tremendous strength, so the rule is to ‘keep-it-tight-keep-it-right’. An over-tensioned ratchet strap can be as dangerous as one that is too slack.
3.) Know how to use them properly.  It always amazes me how many individuals do not understand the simple procedure in their use.
- a. Always pull through all the slack webbing.
- b. Always ensure the tensioning handle is locked closed before use.
- c. When releasing the tension be prepared for the webbing to recoil.
Used for stabilising structures they are invaluable, anything from ladders to scaffolding can be secured to prevent movement especially that caused by wind or following collapse. Also, an improvised anchorage can be backed up and strengthened by using ratchet straps to prevent movement and share the load back to other more secure points.
An example would be the use of a vehicle as an anchorage point for the fixing of ropes. The accepted methods are various but most require the vehicle to be perpendicular to the direction of the load.
Securing ropes through the wheels or other recognised strong points on the vehicle chassis. Occasionally an incident may require the anchoring of ropes to the front or rear of the vehicle. The use of a pair of 2”/50 mm ratchet straps and set no greater than at 900, when secured to the tow hitch or front towing eye will prevent any vehicle from moving.
Ratchet straps  - 1”/25 mm - are also ideal for use with a ‘Picket belay’.
This very traditional, improvised anchor is used primarily on open flat ground where substantial anchors are difficult to locate. It relies upon the load being transferred from one picket to the next and its load-bearing capability is magnified by the length of the picket, being the simple principle of a lever.
To achieve its fullest load-bearing potential it is important that the pickets are connected together under tension. Traditionally, this was done by looping cord back and forth and finishing with a simple knot, unfortunately equal tension could not be easily achieved.
The use of small ratchet straps connecting the pickets not only simplifies this task, but allows the picket belay to absorb the load equally, making it much more reliable and potentially stronger. On firm ground, steel T-section pickets are preferred but on soft ground or even sand, substitute the pickets with shovels, the greater surface area in contact with the ground will take the load better.
Stabilising your tripods
Tripods or quad pods are inherently unstable when used in most rescue situations, unless the load is directly beneath the anchorage points, they will have a tendency to topple over. I insist that all are properly-stabilised and secured down. The natural choice of tool for this task would be ratchet straps, in their small sizes 1”/25 mm, they are invaluable.
Caution should be exercised; the aim should be to eliminate undesirable movement, not to over-tighten the straps, as this would place an undesirable load on the legs. Where possible keep the straps in line with the legs and try to locate low anchorage points.
Ratchet straps can also be used between the legs to limit movement; a good tri/quad pod would have a leg locking mechanism. Early equipment relied upon chains to restrict any splaying of the legs and substituting ratchet straps for the chains can save weight, especially if carrying the equipment to remote areas of operation. 
Attaching a pulley to the base of a tri/quad pod leg, to create a deviation will require the leg to be stabilised by anchoring in the opposite direction to the proposed pull, a ratchet strap will manage this task and is simple to establish.
AHD (Artificial High Directionals) devices such as the Arizona Vortex, Larkin Frame or Oz Pod are different in their construction and application. All need securing to prevent undesirable movement and again ratchet straps can make the task a lot easier.
Tri/Quad pods can also be used in an ‘A-frame’ configuration, depending on the individual design, either by removing the trailing legs or by allowing them or it, to swing into a neutral position. 
It must always be confirmed with the manufacturer that using a Tri/Quad pod in this way is within the designed load limits and the manufacture should always be contacted if there are any doubts.
Some conclusions
‘A-frames’ are inherently stable in their lateral movement, but when tilting the A-frame beyond the vertical (such as going over a cliff edge), I always secure the head back with ratchet straps preset at my maximum desired forward angle and anchored in line and behind the base of the legs.
The head is also attached to a simple 3:1 hauling system which can then be used to tilt out or haul back the ‘A-Frame’.
In conclusion, ratchet straps have many uses in rope rescue by nature of the problems regularly faced by rope rescue teams. Through innovation and adaptability the application of these devices will prove to be very beneficial, time saving and foolproof to establish. Remember to keep to the rules and that the parts of any rigging system are only as secure as its anchor.

  • Operation Florian

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