Care for your sails – a guide by Simon Phillips

Simon Phillips on sail maintenance.

Now that the sailing season is well underway – I thought I would write an article on looking after your sails! 

Sail maintenance is easy, takes little time and can make a big difference to the life and performance of your sails. Whether you have new racing sails made from Kevlar or Dacron cruising sails that are several years old, a little care can drastically increase the life of your sails.

Here are some immediate tips for the longevity of your sails – 

  • Avoid flogging
  • Stay within the wind range for the specific sail
  • Protect from UV 
  • Minimise chafe
  • Proper storage

Avoid flogging

This is the best way to maintain the strength and shape of your sails. Minimising the amount of time they are flapping in the breeze. Flogging and leech flutter degrade cloth properties quickly, therefore every effort should be made to avoid these. This is especially true with Kevlar sails, which could easily loose all of their strength in just a few hours!

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Hoisting – Motoring gently with the wind slightly one tack helps. 

Always keep your main and headsail leech lines tight enough to stop the leeches from fluttering.

Reefing – Do as much preparation as possible prior to reefing, to limit the time the main is de-powered, and therefore potentially flogging

Lowering – Lowering the sail on one tack is safer and stops flogging. Flaking the forward end first as the sail comes down will help.

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Wind range

One of the quickest ways to destroy a sail is to use it in more wind than it was designed to be in. The best way to avoid this is to stay strictly within the maximum wind speed recommended by your sailmaker for each sail. On racing headsails, this is often stamped on the clew of each headsail. It is useful to know what the wind range is for your sails.

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Protect from UV degradation

Direct sunlight is a sails worst enemy – as it will eventually cause breakdown of the cloth. Sailing in the sunshine is beautiful though! keeping your sails out of the sun whenever you are not using them is preferable. For a roller furling headsail, ensure you have UV material on the leech and foot for protection when it’s rolled up. This will only be on one side of the sail so ensure your furler rotates the correct way to store the UV strip on the outside of the sail!  Keep a mainsail cover over your mainsail when not in use.

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Chafe is what will wear your nice sails away! The more a sail rubs against any part of the boat or rigging, the sooner it is likely to show failure. There are a couple of good ways to extend the life of sails – avoiding chafe whenever possible, eg. don’t let the running backstays rub against the leeward side of the mainsail; don’t drag sails over non-skid decks, around shrouds, or along the dock, ensure the cross trees are smooth on the aft edge. If you can’t avoid chafe, it must be minimised. Use tape or leather to cover cross tree ends, stanchion tops—any part of your rig that constantly rubs on sails. This is especially important when using light wind sails such as spinnakers or cruising chutes. Check your boat for untaped cotter pins, sharp corners on fittings, unprotected burrs, screw heads, halyard hooks etc. and tape them. Check the front of the mast carefully as the headsail goes across it every time you tack.

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Storage of your sails.

Whenever your sails are not in use, they should be stored dry, free of salt and folded in their bag. If they are folded in the same position every time, there will be fewer permanent creases instead of many light ones that gradually shake out. Sails will last longer if they are rolled in their sausage bags. Store a spinnaker dry and loosely stuffed in its snuffer or bag. Don’t store spinnakers wet for any length of time, as darker colours will bleed into lighter ones, and dampness promotes the growth of mildew.


Seaway Yacht

Seaway Yacht