Mainsails| Making Sail Handling Easier

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Lots of sailors want to make mainsail handling easier. Like with their head sails, they look into furling systems to achieve this. Instead of discussing these alternatives, here we will discuss upgrades to your existing systems to make your life easier. Let’s face it, the main reason we change things is to make it easier for us. There are 3 areas that affect the ease of handling.

    • Deployment. How easy is it to pull up and go sailing.
    • Storage. How easy is it to use and to put away.
    • Reefing. How easy is it to put in and shake out Reefs.


This is basically how easy it is to pull up and take down the sail. Many prefer roller furling for this reason. They only have to pull the sail up once then furl it in and its ready to go anytime with minimum fuss.

Conventional mainsails have to be hoisted every time we want to go sailing. This is not normally a problem on small boats where the weight of the sail is manageable. As the boat gets bigger, the energy needed to handle the heavier sails increases as well. Sometimes it could be hard work. There are a few causes of this but they can be remedied.

Friction is the main enemy here. Whether its the sail slides or luff rope, friction is present and can make hoisting the sail into a major task. Making sure you have the correct sized bolt rope or luff slides is critical. Bolt ropes are difficult as they require extra care in “feeding” them when hoisting. For ease of handling, if you have a bolt rope main, you should consider converting it to use slides.

As boats and sails get bigger, sail slides need to be upgraded. There are lots of options. Just upgrading to bigger slides, or slides with slide rods or ball bearings is an option. Or upgrading to a whole new track system and slides. It all depends on the size of the sail and whether it has full length battens. These battens increase the friction on the slides because of the compression loads.

Once you have the right slide or track system for your mainsail, its very easy to use. You will be surprised at the difference it could make! There is also the option with bigger boats to use electric or hydraulically powered winches to raise the sails.


A great advantage to furling mainsails is that they roll up neatly in the mast or boom when not in use. You just roll them in and out when you go sailing. The conventional main normally lives on the boom so also needs a cover to protect it from the elements. Taking off and putting on the mainsail cover adds to the work and time in getting ready to go sailing. Sometimes it requires a few hands to flake the sail and put it away after use.

Here again the solution is to upgrade your sail cover. Just about all sail makers can supply a “lazy bag” type sail cover that works in conjunction with lazy jacks on the mast. To go sailing you simply unzip the cover that is mounted on the boom. Hoist the sail and off you go sailing. On returning, you let down the halyard, the sail falls into the lazy bag and then you zip it up. This system cuts down on the time spent putting up and putting away the sail when you are done sailing.

There are many ways to make storing the mainsail easier. And they vary according to the size of the boat, the battens, the hardware etc. There are so many options available that it can get confusing. If you need some advice please feel free to send us an email or check out our website and we will be glad to help.


Reefing in general, and especially on conventional mainsails is a task. Added to that is you are normally doing it as the wind increases. So its stressful most times. And normally requires a few hands to get it done quickly and easily.

There are a few improvements that you can do on your existing systems to make it safer and easier. Once you already have the correct luff hardware and lazy jack systems there are just a few more alterations to do. First would be to have all the reefing lines led to the cockpit so that everything can be done from the relative safety of this part of the boat. We are trying to do away with the need for crew to go forward to the mast when reefing.

Once all the reef lines and halyard are in the same area, it is easier to reef with fewer people. There is also the possibility to rig single line reefing. This is where you would use only one line to pull down both the Luff and Leech of the sail simultaneously. Again, depending on your boat, its possible to upgrade or improve your systems so making reefing easier and safer.

Final Thoughts

If you have a boat with a conventional mainsail there are ways to improve and simplify the mainsail handling. I’m biased towards this as boats with conventional mainsails have better performance than boats with roller furling mainsails. Having the ability to carry bigger Roach mainsails with full length battens comes with its own problems. However, these problems can be solved without loss to your sailing performance.

Furling mainsails, both In Mast and In Boom, have to make compromises in area, battens and hardware. These compromises lead to ease of handling for the mainsail. But also lead to drop in performance. With the availability of hardware, track systems and sail handling systems, it is possible to increase the ease of handling while still maintaining performance. In this case it is possible to have your cake and eat it.

I hope that this brief article is of help to you. If anyone needs further information or has any questions, please feel free to contact me.

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