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  • Writer's pictureClay Chaszeyka

10 Things to Know Before Getting Your Belay Certification

Getting your belay certification is an exciting step on your rock climbing journey. It’ll allow you to venture beyond the auto-belays and boulder mats, form belaytionships, and challenge yourself in new ways.


Rock gyms don’t require belay tests to trick or scare you away. They are in place to ensure you know the safety procedures so you and those you climb with have an enjoyable and accident-free experience. To help you have a stress-free certification experience, here are ten things you should know before getting your belay certification. Once you learn these skills, practice them at home before test day.


10 Things You Should Know Before Getting Your Belay Certification

Note: These tips are only for top-rope belay certification.

Two climbers belaying

1. Is your harness on properly? 

This first step is to know if your harness is on correctly and recognize if your climbing partner’s is, too. The checks to ensure proper positioning are as follows:

●     Untangled/untwisted leg loops

●     The waist strap sits above the hip bones

●     The belay loop in the front.

●     The tightness of the waist strap passes the 2-finger test. 

○     Slide two fingers between your hip and the harness parallel to your body. Turn your fingers as if you wanted them flat against your hip. Do they cross? If yes, the harness is tight enough. If no, tighten more.

●     The leg loops can be tightened to preference.


2. What belay device are you testing on? How does it work?

Depending on the climbing gym, you will likely have to declare which type of belay device you are testing on. Some gyms may require a specific belay device, while others will let you choose or make you perform a separate belay test for each device you wish to use.


The most commonly used belay devices are ATCs or GRIGRIs. Assuming you are testing on one of those, here is a basic understanding of each device’s mechanics.

●     ATC

○     The ATC is a friction-plate belay device. The belayer holds complete responsibility for the rope’s movement through the belay device, using their hand to control the speed at which the rope moves.

●     GRIGRI

○     A GRI GRI is an assisted braking device (note that it is NOT an automatic belay device). A cam is built into it that helps the belayer stoop the rope from sliding through the device under the sudden, quick weighting of the rope. With a lever, the belayer can release the cam when it becomes engaged.


3. Is the belay device properly set up? 

In addition to understanding how the belay device works, you’ll want to know how to set it up properly. Here is an overview of the critical checks to ensure a safe setup on an ATC or GRIGRI.

●     ATC

○     The carabineer is through the ATC, the bight in the rope, and your belay loop.

○     The carabiner is locked.

○     The brake side of the rope comes out of the belay device's “bottom” end or points toward the ground, while the side that connects to the climber is on the “top” (running up from the belay device to the anchor).

●     GRIGRI

○     The brake side of the rope comes out of the belay device's “bottom” end or points toward the ground, while the side that connects to the climber is on the “top” (running up from the belay device to the anchor).

■     The GRIGRI has small diagrams drawn on the metal plate to help you with this step.

○     The carabineer is through the GRIGRI and your belay loop.

○     The carabiner is locked. 


4. Figure-8

The figure-8 is the first step in tying the standard climbing knot - the double figure-8 (See #5). Ensure you can confidently create a Figure-8 and know what an incorrect attempt looks like.


5. Double Figure-8 Knot

The double figure-8 is a self-tightening know that the climber uses to secure themselves to the rope. As a belayer, even if you have no intention of climbing, you will need to understand how to tie this properly and check that it is correct.


The typical safety check counts five pairs of parallel lines and ensures the knot is fastened approximately six inches or a fist’s distance from the harness. You’ll also want to check that the rope goes through the proper tie-in points on the harness (most rental harnesses have one loop, while personal harnesses have two loops).


6. Finishing Knot 

Most rock climbing gyms require a finishing knot when tying in the climber. The standard finishing knot taught in belay classes is the double fisherman’s. However, here are three common and widely accepted finishing knot variations.

○     Double fisherman’s

○     Figure 9

○     Yosemite Finish/Tuck

           

Whichever variation you choose, know how to tie it confidently and correctly.


7. Pre-climb Communication between Belayer and Climber 

Communication before allowing the climber to begin is a critical step. It can be formal or informal, using the commands taught in learn-to-belay classes or pre-established commands between belayer and climber. The formal commands are:

○     Climber: On-belay?

○     Belayer: Belay is on.

*Here, the climber and belayer will want to double-check each other (i.e., the belay device assembly and the climber’s knot).

○     Climber: Climbing.

○     Belayer: Climb-on.


You do not have to use the above commands as long as the communication you choose establishes the following:

○     The belayer is ready, and their set-up is safe.

○     The climber is securely fastened to the rope.


8. Post-climb Communication between Belayer and Climber 

When the climber has reached the top of the climb or wishes to go no higher, they will call for a ‘take.’ You should know that ‘take’’ means to tighten the rope so there is no slack (visible looseness). After you’ve tightened the rope, you will verbally tell the climber to lower them to the ground. 


9. PBUS or PLUS Belay Method

The standard top-rope belay method is PBUS or PLUS. PBUS stands for pull-brake-under-slide, and PLUS stands for Pull/Punch-lock-under-slide. They are the same belay technique but with different cues to help individuals best remember the steps. You should feel confident belaying with this technique, and remember, NEVER LET GO OF YOUR BRAKE HAND!


10. How do you lower your climber using your chosen belay device? 

No matter your belay device, always lower the climber SLOWLY! Also, NEVER LET GO OF YOUR BRAKE HAND! The most significant difference between lowering a climber on an ATC vs. a GRIGRI is that a GRIGRI has a lever you have to use to release the cam before you can bring the climber down. Depending on your belay device, ensure you safely return the climber to the ground.



If you read through the ten things you should know before getting your belay certification and feel confident, you will pass your top-rope belay test with flying colors. If you feel uncertain about any of them, study and practice until you feel prepared. The great news is that the more you practice, the easier belaying becomes until it’s second nature. Most importantly, go into your certification test with confidence in your abilities. The more nervous you feel, the harder it will be to remember everything you need to. And, if you have to re-take your certification, don’t sweat about it. Many first-time belayers take a few times to pass. But belaying is an integral part of rock climbing safety, so it’s better to take your time and fully master the skills before receiving your certification. Hopefully, this blog was helpful and informative for you! Don’t hesitate to ask any lingering questions or share your thoughts below!

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