Buying Sails: What You Need To Know


No matter how long you delay it, at some point new sails will be required. We reveal how to make the right decision.

Unless you are sailing a one-size-fits-all class, in which the material, construction and measurement of the sails are precisely regulated, you will have to make a few decisions. The choice of cloth always comes first, but the number and size of the reefs also need to be considered and the question of whether you prefer long or short battens.

There are essentially four categories of sails that need to be renewed over time:
1) mainsail
2) headsail
3) storm sails
4) Space sheet and downwind sails
Of course, the way you use the boat plays a role, but also the frequency, intensity and the conditions in which you are often out and about.

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A new mainsail

In the past, so-called fully battened mainsails were reserved exclusively for multihulls, but today they are also found on numerous dinghies and keel yachts. There are two reasons for this: firstly, the sails with continuous battens hold their shape better and secondly, they have a longer life expectancy because they are not exposed to the fabric-damaging flutter even in strong winds. But is a huge plus. but it also has disadvantages, such as higher weight and, of course, higher costs. Because battens, especially if they are light and made of carbon fiber, and the associated smooth-running sledges that connect the sails and battens to the mast, are expensive. The mast slides also wear and tear, because they are mostly made of aluminum and run up and down on plastic balls on a long rail on the mast. In doing so, they are often under great stress, which means that they wear out. However, this investment often pays off, especially if you want to own the boat a little longer.
Many sails are built with two reefs, but this may not be enough for sailors who have serious plans. Anyone who wants to be prepared for heavy weather should therefore strive to be able to tie at least three reefs into the mainsail, with which the length of the luff can be shortened by 40 percent and the sail area can be reduced to an acceptable level at Hack. Some even argue that four reefing points make sense because they save you the trouble of setting up a try sail in a storm.

A new headsail

In the past, 130 or 140 percent overlapping furling genoa could be found on almost all cruise ships. That brought good performance in light to medium strong winds, but also disadvantages, such as a bad position when a large part of the genoa had to be rolled away due to too much wind and of course great effort when hauling the pods tight after the tack. This is all well known and some good solutions have been developed for it, such as the non-overlapping self-tacking jib. It is not exactly powerful when there is little wind, but it doesn’t have to be rolled up immediately if it blows a bit and therefore have a much better shape, which is good for the sailing characteristics, especially on the cross. And because the foot of such a jib is much shorter, you don’t have to crank the winch forever after turning until the part is tight and correctly positioned.

If you have equipped your boat with a removable inner forestay, you will probably also attach a heavy-weather jib to it, with which it can still be sailed easily in fresh or strong winds (over 25 knots). A sail like this often harmonizes better with a reefed main, which means that the boat is also better balanced.


Many furling foresails now also have a kind of profile luff (e.g. through a foam pad) that is supposed to help improve the shape of the sail when the sail has been partially rolled away. The blue strip of cloth in the luff, which protects the sail from the harmful UV rays of sunlight when it is rolled up, is a bit out of fashion. On the one hand, it makes life a little more complicated because you now have to pull up a separate sail tarpaulin (a kind of sock with zipper) on a separate case in the harbor, on the other hand, these UV strips are also a main reason why headsails that are partially rolled away are so bad.

A new storm sail

A storm jib should be like a strong reefable large part of the sails of every yacht that is on the open water and sometimes has to be able to turn up against very strong winds. This also includes a trysail, which can be used in place of the mainsail in the worst-case scenario, and this helps the boat to balance better in a storm and to protect the mainsail from possible damage. A properly dimensioned storm jib should only cover 5 percent of the area a yacht has a maximum of 65 percent of the height of the foresail triangle.

Code Zero and Asymmetrical Spinnaker

As with headsails, modern spacer sheets also offer significant improvements, especially the rollable Code Zeros and asymmetrical spinnakers have revolutionized the handling of such large headsails. Code Zeros are usually laminate sails made of light cloth, but can also be cut so that they can be used on sharp courses in light winds, which also compensates for the loss of sailing horsepower that occurs when a large genoa is replaced by a slim self-tacking jib has been. The efficiency is impressive and enables even heavy, old boats to reach almost the speed of the real wind in one or two wind forces. Rollable asymmetrical spinnakers cover a wider range of wind angles, but are cut rather flat compared to conventional spinnakers, making them unstable if the wind angle is more than 140 degrees.

However, this does not mean that the traditional symmetrical spinnakers have completely disappeared from the scene. They are still used on many blue water yachts, especially when it is necessary to sail straight ahead in front of the sheets to leeward in medium winds (up to 20 knots). Nevertheless, many sailors opt for an asymmetrical spinnaker, which is cut a little more bulbous for downwind use and can be easily recovered with a so-called snuffer. With shallow water and careful steering, wind angles of up to 165 degrees can be mastered. With waves falling at an angle, this angle is reduced by at least 10 degrees, also because many want to be on the safe side and want to avoid a joke.

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Measure first, then buy

Historically, there is far less standardization in sailing yachts than e.g. on motor boats. This trend is slowly beginning to shift, because one-size-fits-all classes with strict measurement regulations are becoming more and more popular, but in general one must not assume that the sails on two boats of the same design are exactly the same size or design. Even if the lengths of the leeches should all be the same, lounger fittings and reefing devices can be different (e.g. due to a further development of the respective boat model), which also shifts the position of the thimbles.
In any case, the best thing is to ask the sailmaker to take the detailed measurements so that everything fits in the end. It does not matter where the sail is made (such as in the Far East, where many sailmakers work).

Other considerations

The processing and the equipment influence the working time and the pricing. One is tempted to save in the area, which undoubtedly reduces the purchase price, but one should also remember that nothing is more expensive than cheap goods. In the present case, you could use it to set a new sail that does not keep its shape for long, that wears out quickly because the necessary reinforcements were not or sloppily attached or because poor quality material was used. Take, for example, the batten pockets that are reinforced on a battened sail. In the case of a cheap product, this can be Dacron, which wears out quickly, while in a higher-quality sail of the same design, a cloth with aramid fibers is used for these reinforcements, which is much more resistant, allows less stretching, is often lighter – but also more expensive. It is therefore advisable to discuss with the sailmaker what use the new sail is intended for and what service life it should ideally have before it is replaced again.


And one more piece of advice at the end: Avoid the rush in spring if possible, when all sailmakers are bombarded with orders and inquiries. Sailing is a very seasonal business in many places, so it is best to order sails during the rather quiet months at the end of the season so that you have them on board for the first trip in spring. Sometimes you can negotiate very good discounts that are probably not offered in spring when everyone wants everything and of course immediately.

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