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I have just tried using an automatic belay machine in an indoor climbing gym. I didn't receive any specific safety training, but it seems to be straightforward. So what safety concerns should I pay attention to?

Is there anything I can do by mistake, which could be dangerous for me or anyone around me?

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Regarding your own safety:

  • Attachment: Do actually use and clip into the auto-belay system. It sounds ridiculous, but according to @Guran did happen, and it's not that hard to imagine. In many gyms the auto-belay is clipped to some kind of fabric attached to the wall, that will cover a section of the climb. Thus it's almost impossible to start climbing without first undoing this by clipping the auto-belay to ones harness.

  • Correct attachment carabiner: Mostly specialized types that can't turn or open accidentally. In a well-run gym this is given (probably certifications apply, don't know about any such).

  • Attachment point: Clip into the belay ring, not just the hip or leg loops or even gear loops (you never know).

  • Malfunctioning: Test the auto-belay on first use by jumping down at a safe height.

  • No helmet: I seem to recall a report about incidences with helmets catching while descending and thus incurring injuries. Climbing helmets are anyway not primarly designed to guard from banging your own head and thus generally not used in gyms.

  • Fast climbing: You must not outpace the mechanism that pulls the auto-belay line/rope in. At least all systems I encountered are not designed to catch such a fall dynamically. With the advent of speed climbing there may be such devices, but unless you are sure (got confirmation by maintainer/owner) don't assume that.

Both yours and others safety:

  • Landing zone: Make sure there aren't any people at the base of your climb. Usually there's a belayer at the bottom, so many people aren't used to the possibility of having someone climb above them. Again in a well-managed gym these areas should be marked, but there might still be someone there (e.g. kids). Always look down and call out if necessary after falling/sitting into the belay.

  • Other climbers (not auto-belay specific): Make sure there are no climbers close to the side where they could be in your fall zone or vice versa.

  • Obviously the first part is also somewhat about others safety, as you falling on someone standing below isn't particularly healthy for them either, but yeah... – imsodin May 21 '19 at 11:40
  • “You must not outpace the mechanism that pulls the auto-belay line/rope in.” Are they using special versions for speed climbing? I’ve never managed to out-pace the automatic belay machines at my local gym (but I’m not very fast). – Michael May 21 '19 at 12:10
  • @Michael That's what I was alluding to: I don't know about special versions for speed climbing, but the versions I know are out-paceable by me (only on easy routes when I try to, that's definitely not a normal scenario) so they are most certainly out-paceable by a speed climber. So they must be using a different version, as it specifically warns against out-pacing in the rules of those auto-belays. – imsodin May 21 '19 at 12:30
  • The auto-belay systems I've used have two carabiners that should always be clipped on and off in a specific order. – TGnat May 21 '19 at 20:12
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    One definitely can not understate the point of clipping in. In my gym there have been 2 incidents over the last years where people did not clip in, one incident was deadly. We therefore have big triangular pieces if cloth now mounted which cover the base of the wall if nobody is clipped in. Once done climbing the auto belay should be clipped into the piece of cloth and not somewhere else (like bolt hangers on the walk). I have seen these triangles also in other gyms – Manziel May 22 '19 at 10:59

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