How to care for your sails
tips to help your sails last longer
into serious racing, itís a fair bet your sails are made from Dacron.
Even though Dacron is a fairly robust fabric, it does break down
and even a little care and attention will extend the life of your
Here are 7 tips
to help you care for your sails.
If you let it,
the sunís ultra violet radiation will cause more damage to your
sails than anything else.
add UV stabilisers (usually titanium dioxide) to their cloth when
itís made. Titanium
dioxide may add weight and stiffness to the cloth, but it absorbs
and blocks UV radiation. However, when this treatment has absorbed
as much radiation as it can, or has worn off, it can no longer protect
there is no way to reapply the treatment and nothing can reverse
the damage caused by UV radiation.
For the mainsail,
the answer is to flake and cover it at all times or remove it from
the boom if youíre not going to use your boat for more than a couple
a furling headsail make sure the ďsunshieldĒ layer on the front
is in good condition before you leave the sail furled for more than
a couple of weeks. Itís preferable to remove the headsail and stow
Make sure you
wash your sails periodically to remove salt crystals which can act
like tiny light prisms increasing UV damage.
They say 5 minutes
of luffing can cause more damage to a mainsail than a month of normal
of a mainsail damages the head of the sail just below the head board
due to the shock loads on the sail at this point during luffing.
In heavy weather, allowing the main to depower by letting it flog
will also damage the leech of the sail.
the headboard can be reduced by having a full length batten at the
top which stiffens the sail at this point. However damage can occur
at the outboard and inboard ends of the batten pocket.
Itís good seamanship
as well as good economic sense to reef before you get to the point
of having to depower the main by letting it flog.
areas for sail chafe are lifelines, staunchions and spreader tips
and most of us apply patches to our sails at these points.
you donít keep your sails clean, salt crystals will work their way
into weave and seams of the sail. The sharp edges of the crystals
chafe and cut the filaments of the fabric, effectively chafing and
wearing out the entire sail.
Make sure you
wash your sails periodically during the season.
Before you finish
sailing for the season take lots of photos of your sails on all
points of sailing and from all angles.
like a photo of a flogging leech or a strange set of wrinkles in
the luff to help explain to your sailmaker the problems youíre having
with a sail.
5. Wash your sails
At the end of
the sailing season, or twice a year if you sail all year round,
you should remove all your sails from the boat and clean them.
Spread out the
sails on a clean, non-staining surface and rinse them off with fresh
water. Scrub the sails gently with a soft bristle brush. You can
use a mild laundry detergent in plenty of water for dirty areas.
Donít use any bleach. Dark stains are best left to the sailmaker.
Dry your sails
away from strong sunlight to avoid UV damage. Pack your sails when
dry by flaking them down by the foot and then roll them up from
the luff to the leech to form a ďbrickĒ. Store them away from moisture
and add some moth balls to the sailbag.
Inspect your sails
each sail at the end of the season and decide if the sails need
service by your sailmaker. Batten pockets, headboards, sunshields,
grommets and chafe patches are all good candidates for repair.
You can write
a sail log of the work to be done on each sail and stick colored
spinnaker repair tape near the areas to be repaired to help your
sailmaker. You could also write in pencil directly on the sail the
repair work to be done.
Spinnakers and gennakers
If your light
weather headsails are more than 3 years old and youíre concerned
about your light weather performance you can test the sailcloth
sail material loses its surface finish over time and will allow
more air to go through the material and also allow the material
to absorb more water. Get your sailmaker to give you a small new
piece of your spinnaker fabric and test the difference in porosity
between the new piece and your sails by placing it over your mouth
and sucking air through the fabric.
If you can suck
air through your sails you know the fabric has lost its finish and
is leaking air when hoisted on your boat.
there is no way to replace this finish on the sail fabric.
Take just a
small amount of care and your sails will last longer and keep their
design shape longer.
And if you're
not totally convinced sail care is important - check the price of
a new set of working sails for your boat at your local sailmaker.