The Handy Billy – What is one? What can it be used for and how do I make one?

In this post I look at a piece of equipment known by sailors around the world as a ‘Handy Billy’. What exactly is one? And what use does it have on board?

As skippers, we all have items on our boats or in our nav bags that we wouldn’t leave port without. A wire coat hanger, a decent tool kit and a bottle of rum stashed on board to list just some of mine! I recently spent some time on board with my Chief Instructor, Lou Barden from Nomad Sailing, who introduced me to the simple yet effective use of a Handy Billy and as a result I will be certainly adding one to my list of essential on board items.

The Handy Billy

So what is a Handy Billy?

Simply put a Handy Billy is a simple device made up with a piece of line and a number of blocks that allow you to gain mechanical advantage when lifting or moving heavy loads. The addition of a cam cleat and some quick release shackles result in this device being extremely easy to use anywhere on your vessel and also in some emergency situations. The number of pulleys increases the mechanical advantage. The above image reduces the load by 4.

What can I use a Handy Billy for?

There is a number of situations when a Handy Billy can help you! To name just a few:

  • Attached to a strong point on the boom to move a life raft off the deck and into the cockpit or pontoon
  • Attached to a Halyard to assist in the recovery of a Man Over Board
  • To lift or lower heavy objects up and down the companionway. Engine parts for example
  • Lifting large loads on board (Spare fuel, water, supplies etc)

Where can I get a Handy Billy?

You have a few options when it comes to getting hold of your own Handy Billy. Some chandlers do stock them so you can purchase one off the self, a decent rigger will soon make you one up for a small fee or you can look through that old shackle box on board, find a piece of old line and make one up yourself in no time at all.

What do I need to make a Handy Billy?

  • A length of old line – ideally at least 8 meters in length and rated strong enough for what you intend to lift. 12mm line works well
  • 2 quick release shackles or carabiners
  • 2 fiddle blocks with beckets (one fitted with a cam cleat to enable you to lock of the load)

Note – more pulleys can be added in order to increase the mechanical advantage. The above list will create a Handy Billy with a 4:1 ratio.

To create the Handy Billy start by feeding the line through the Becket on the top pulley (the one with the cam cleat). Secure this with a stopper knot.

Then feed the line through the pulleys as shown in the diagram above.

Finish by feeding the remainder of the line through the cam cleat and tying a stopper knot in the end. Attach one of the quick release shackles to the top of the cam cleat pulley and the other to the bottom of the lower pulley (where the load will be attached).

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