AMS Spring 2023

Allen Brothers Create 3D Printed Ball-and-Socket System for Safer Trapeze Sailing

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allen_logo_smSailing is perceived as a tranquil activity by many. Watching all sizes of boats silently gliding across the horizon, boasting white sails plump with wind at sunset, it’s easy to think that’s how you want to spend your vacation–or your complete retirement.

Trust me though, behind the scenes, sailing is often anything but a calm, stress-free activity. It’s generally much better defined as a sport, full of adrenaline-pumping action, sailors shouting orders at one another (and in a very ‘salty’ tongue), and the pure thrill of adventure. But with that comes a serious need for safety, which is often being refined in sailing due to experience, and unfortunately, sometimes misadventure. Now, we see 3D printing coming to the rescue as it gives those who have a big stake in the sport–like Julian Bethwaite and the Allen Brothers–a way to customize parts for superior use–and fit.

UntitledThe daughter of a racing enthusiast, I can attest that sailing is often the exact opposite of relaxing. While my dad may be a great sailor, you better know what you are getting into before you crew with him, where it’s all about hardcore speed, winning, and a lot of learning for those who are brave and have a very thick skin. Fun is mixed in there somewhere too, but often I think that’s felt more after you get home and experience intense gratitude over surviving the trip.

As for safety in sailing, it’s certainly a concept, but no one feels all that safe when the boat has overturned and they find themselves plunged into the water–hopefully not having to escape the cockpit or a tangling of lines in the process. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, however, and let safety take a backseat altogether.


The new Allen Keyball trapeze system

One of the most exciting parts of feeling your boat grab the wind and take off is being able to ‘hike,’ or lean out of a very small sailboat and control it with it with your weight and center of gravity. This sense of control, combined with accelerating speed, is one of the greatest feelings in the world, as the boat slices through the water and you become the envy of every sunburned, beer-drinking landlubber on the shoreline.

While simple toe straps are available to assist in hiking, many can’t wait to try to the trapeze. This is the guy you see wearing the wire and leaning waaaaaaay out of the boat–and even walking along the sides as necessary. The trapeze sailor can do far more without falling out of the boat as he wears the wire hooked to his harness, generally near the waist. This allows him to lean out further, balancing the boat and using the wind optimally.

Often also known simply as ‘the trap,’ while this device allows the sailor to do more to control the boat without falling into the water, it also tethers him to the small sailboat that is, let’s not forget, at the mercy of a capricious Mother Nature and her winds. In the case of capsizing or the need to get out of position quickly, it’s obviously very important to avoid entrapment, and a quick release mechanism has been viewed as quite important by many–for obvious reasons. Many have differing opinions on this though and continue to favor the traditional wire rather than quick release systems created over the years.

With 3D printing however, some tech-savvy sailors have been able to create a more customized system that they think many will find offers safety and the same functionality necessary. The Allen brothers have refined what is known as the ‘keyball’ system, in collaboration with Julian Bethwaite, who has been engineering a quick release design for quite some time. They’ve gone directly to the source of the problem, which is the hook, and have replaced that with a ball-and-socket system that offers much greater safety, as well as better features for those considering using it over the traditional trapeze.

UntitledWith the new Allen Keyball system, 3D design and printing allowed for a socket with a smooth connection and quick release of the ball, but only when required by the user–offering both reliability and safety. The design is streamlined and simple. With no moving parts, nothing is lost–and the new buckle design fits all harnesses.

Based in the UK, the Allen Brothers have been in business for 60 years, and over time have evolved into a ‘high-tech’ company, while retaining all of their original engineering roots. This is what makes them special as both manufacturers and innovators.

“As designer and manufacturer, our job is to make innovative products that work effectively,” states the team on their website. “Sourcing the best materials which are carefully stored and utilized, employing a highly skilled workforce with the latest manufacturing technologies and having an in-house design and engineering department is where we have the edge over our competitors.”

The Allen Brothers have been manufacturing hardware parts for those sailing smaller boats since 2008, and often work with experts in the industry like Julian Bethwaite, who bring first-hand experience to specific design requirements.  Discuss this story in the 3D Printed Ball-and-scoket Forum on

[Source: ScuttleButt Sailing News]

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