How To Belay With An ATC

Here are instructions for how to belay with an ATC. The ATC, or Air Traffic Controller, is the most common type of the belay devices in the present, replacing the classic Super 8 as the friction tool of choice for most climbers. Different types of ATC´s can be found in the market, some of them quite sophisticated. But don´t be fooled; every ATC will do what´s expected of it efficiently.

To belay with an ATC you will need:

  • Two people. A climber and a belayer, each with their respective harnesses.
  • An Anchor, that could be a fixed one in the case of top roping or a gym wall, or a temporary one when lead climbing.
  • A rope, long enough to connect both sportsmen through the anchor.
  • An ATC device.
  • A locking carabiner.
  1. Tie the climber to one end of the rope, using a figure eight double loop knot to the harness.
  2. Make the long end of the rope go through the anchor and down to the belayer.
  3. Clip the locking carabiner to the belayer´s harness as directed by the harness´s manufacturer.
  4. Clip the ATC´s wire in the carabiner. Don´t lock the carabiner yet.
  5. Make a bite on the rope, and make it go trough one of the ATC´s windows. The side of the rope that is connected to the climber through the anchor should be going out to your left had, or right hand if you are left handed, leaving your stronger hand with the coil of remaining rope.
  6. Looking at the wall, the climber should be attached to the end that is closer to the wall, and the belayer to the one on the outside.
  7. Make the rope go through the carabiner, as well as through the opening in the ATC, and lock the carabiner.
  8. The belayer must stand clear of falling rock from the climber, but not too far as to form a wide angle with the rope.
  9. The belayer must keep the rope tight at all times, always maintaining the strong hand to the side and back, maximizing the friction between the rope and the ATC, thus creating an acute angle as the rope goes through the ATC. Usually, ATCs have a drawing to remind us of the right rope setting.
  10. The movement to retrieve rope has to be practiced long enough to be able to do it without looking at the rope, because the eyes of the belayer must remain in the climber. Again, the rope should never be off the strong hand, and the weak hand can help in the pulling movement.
  11. The rope has to be politely coiled when not in use, always allowing fast and effective release.
  12. When the climber needs the rope to be tightened or loosen, a set of conventional signs and phrases have to be used in order to make the communication between climber and belayer efficient and safe.
  13. Before the climber starts to go up, both the belayer and the climber have to check each other´s equipment. 

A few more things to remember:

  • Climber: Double check your belayer´s equipment, and let him check yours. Make sure you use the rope closest to the wall.
  • Belayer: Check your partner´s equipment, make sure he uses the rope closest to the wall, and keep the coil of unused rope by your strong hand´s side. Don´t take your eyes off the belayer. Keep the rope as tight as needed, maintain fluid communication with your partner.
  • Improper harness use: all the webbing must be fastened and straight
  • Twisted carabiner or ATC: the rope has to be placed as described, and be able to run smoothly and break when required.
  • Figure eight double loop: it must be double checked, because a mistake in this stage can be fatal.
  • Wrong rope placement: if the belayer uses the side of the rope closest to the wall, a lot of friction will prevent easy and natural rope movement, and will keep the climber unsafe.
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