Avoid flogging like the plague.

The best way to maintain the strength and shape of your sails is to minimize the amount of time they flap in the breeze. Flogging breaks down the sail material. Don’t, for example, let your jib luff while you are having lunch in between races. It’s much better to drop a sail than to let it flap. If your boat is overpowered, don’t just let your sails luff. Bend your mast, flatten the sails, hike out, put in a reef – anything to keep the boat flat without ragging the sails. Besides helping your sails, this will make you faster, too!

Roll or fold your sails carefully every day after sailing.

Sails will stay fast a lot longer if you minimize wrinkling and creasing. On one-designs, always roll your main and jib and store them in tube bags. Make sure you don’t fold or squash the bags either. I’ve even rolled the Kevlar main on a 40-footer, but it’s more normal on bigger boats to fold the sails (mains are usually flaked over the boom). Spinnakers on one-designs should be folded; on bigger boats try to stuff them neatly into their turtles.

Don’t exceed a sail’s recommended wind range.

On most one-designs you don’t have to worry about this because sails are made to cover the full wind range. On bigger boats, however, where sail loads are much greater, be sure the maximum apparent wind speed for each sail is written on its clew in big numbers, and always try to change sails before you exceed this number.

Check your spars and rigging regularly for sharp edges.

Reduce chafe by taping all cotter pins, turnbuckles, etc. Pay particular attention to the front of the mast, which claws at the jib leech on every tack, and the area where the vang attach- es to the boom, which is notorious for chewing on spinnakers as they come down. Also make sure you have good protection on things like spreader tips and stanchion tops.

Never use an overlapping genoa without spreader patches in the right place.

When you hoist a new genoa, check the spreader patches before you tack. If they’re in the wrong place, or missing, measure and mark the correct patch location(s). Then take the sail down and apply the patches before using it again. Other places where chafe patches will help include the forward part of the main (where it rubs against the shroud or spreader when running) and the foot of the genoa (where it rubs against the stanchion tops).

There are two reasons why every sailor should take good care of his or her sails. The first is to maintain their good racing shape as long as possible. The second is to prevent sail failures that could cost you a race or series.   © 2023 Stephen R Cloutier


Keep your leech lines snug.

Leech flutter, like flogging, is detrimental to sails. Always keep your leech lines just snug enough to prevent the “motorboating” sound. On jibs and genoas, keep the leechline tucked away in its pocket, so it won’t catch on the rigging during a tack. On mains, be sure to replace lost or broken battens promptly to minimize flutter.


Give your sails a complete check-over before and after every regatta.

With all sails it’s important to inspect stitching, especially in areas of potential chafe such as spreader patches. On spinnakers, look over the whole sail carefully, since even a small hole could be the start of a large tear. If you have laminated sails (e.g. Mylar or Kevlar), check them for areas of delamination. Most sail problems can be patched temporarily with “rip-stop,” but you should have a sailmaker make permanent repairs.

Use an older suit of sails for practice.

Whenever boatspeed is not your first priority, save your best sails. In general, the fewer hours you have on any sail, the faster it will be. When you are practicing, train your crew to develop an appreciation for sail care – and cost!

Store your sails dry, clean and not too hot.

Wash your sails with fresh water when they get salty, and be sure they’re dry before storing for a long time. Never let sails flog when drying. Instead, lay them out flat on a lawn. On a calm day, hoist the sails and wash/dry in place. Beware of drying spinnakers from your mast, however, as they can easily tear. Also, protect your sails from sun and heat. Don’t leave them in the sun any longer than necessary and avoid hot places like car trunks. ■

This article originally appeared in David Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts, The newsletter of how-to tips for racing sailors. If you want to sail faster and smarter, log onto SpeedandSmarts.com.


A resident of Easton, CT, Dellenbaugh was tactician and starting helmsman for America3’s successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992. He’s a Lightning World Champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle National Champion, two-time winner of the Canada’s Cup, three-time Prince of Wales U.S. Match Racing Champion, and a winner of the U.S. Team Racing Championships for the Hinman Trophy.