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There is a story I have heard about climbers who confused "take" and "safe" and I am wondering if it has actually happened.

The story goes like this,

The climber is out of sight of the belayer and gets to a hard spot. The climber yells down "TAKE"

"Please pull in as much slack as possible."

However the belayer hears "SAFE" as in ,

"I am at the anchor, please take me off belay."

and so the belayer takes the climber off belay. Then the climber attempts the move and falls and plummets to the ground.

Also the confusion is supposed to be because of the belayer being English/Australian, as the American way of asking to be taken off belay is to yell "OFF BELAY".

This seems plausible, but are there any actual records of this happening?

  • 2
    The way I learned signals is on belay and belay off to further differentiate the two. – StrongBad Apr 6 '17 at 11:31
  • 1
    "SECURE!" Where in the climbing world do people call out, "safe?" – ShemSeger Apr 6 '17 at 14:23
  • Presumably that's why we normally call "take in" rather than shortening it to "take"? I have heard people call "take in slack", which is pretty dangerous (and I've attempted to educate said people as to why it's a Bad Thing to say). – Toby Speight Apr 6 '17 at 15:34
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    Interesting - here (GB) "Off belay" is confirmation from the belayer that they are no longer controlling the rope (so the leader is able to take in ready to put the second on belay). – Toby Speight Apr 6 '17 at 15:36
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    I hadn't thought this could be an issue. Maybe because I was taught rope calls in the USA, so I'm used to using TENSION instead of take and OFF-BELAY instead of safe. In my regular groups we often shorten to "Tense" if we need a one-syllable call (later, when the climber is safely on a ledge we joke: Do you want me to make you tense or give you tension? If I say you're off-belay you'll surely get tense!). – Roflo Apr 6 '17 at 16:27
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Yes! My friend Wendy was belaying my friend Jake on the classic trad route Cemetery Gates.

I think it was the first pitch. He was around 30m into the pitch and was having a hard time. He'd not moved for a while and shouted down something. Wendy took this to mean safe and started unscrewing the karabiner. The next second he's falling. She makes the catch and all is well, but it was close to disaster.

I was at another crag at the time so I can't give too much detail, but the issue was that he said "take!" and she heard "safe". This is the one and only time I've heard about this happening though.

Additionally, Rock and Ice post details of accidents that happen in the states. Edit: heres an example close to the matter at hand

I've been out climbing at Bosigran on windy days several times and not been able to hear my partner. I think it's USUALLY best just to fall off rather than shout take. Rope tugs can be used to signal an increment to the next phase of the climbing system. I've also used walki talkies, but my friend Joe dropped one in the ocean. Thanks Joe.

  • Can you link to an article on Rock and Ice about an accident specific to this issue? – imsodin Apr 6 '17 at 9:53
  • @imsodin nah they havnt got one. but if it happens, it'll in americaland itl prolly go on there – ldgorman Apr 6 '17 at 11:08
  • @imsodin oh wait here you go – ldgorman Apr 6 '17 at 11:09
  • Better to drop a walkie-talkie into the ocean than to drop a climber into the rock. – endolith Mar 29 '18 at 18:51
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Anecdotal, but this did happen to a climbing partner of mine while they were climbing with someone else. The climber yelled "Take!" while out of sight of the belayer, and heard a reply "OK, you're off belay!" He immediately clipped in directly to the nearest piece of (trad) gear, and, still holding on to the rock, got a second piece in as a backup, also clipped directly to his harness, and then screamed at the belayer to put him back on belay.

Using a clearer instruction than "Safe" is a good start, but not really sufficient, as regardless of what the climber intends to say when they reach the belay/anchor, a belayer could still mishear a climber's call of "Take" as "Safe". I'd suggest it is more important that the belayer always asks for confirmation before taking a climber off belay.

E.g.

"I'm safe!"
"Ok, [climber's name], taking you off belay?"
"Yes, [belayer's name], take me off belay."
"Ok!"
*Belayer only now takes the climber off belay*
"Ok, [climber's name], you are off belay!"

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