Essential Sail Maintenance Tips

Jackie & Noel Parry
Posted September 9 2016

It is imperative to care for your sails. Your mainsail drives your boat forwards – imagine being a thousand miles away from the nearest land and your mainsail tearing – beyond repair.

UV Protection

Sun is very damaging to the sail; you will add years to the life of your sails if you look after them. Dark sail covers are better, as they prevent passage of light and therefore prevent damage more effectively than lighter coloured materials. Under the sail cover, a layer of space blanket material makes fantastic protection. At the very least, add an additional layer of heavy duty material to your sail cover. Sail-makers state that one layer of ordinary material is not enough for complete protection.

Wear and tear

If you are sailing in a light wind with some swell and your sails are ‘slatting/snapping’ hard each side, reef them down and turn the engine on (or be very patient). This will help keep the boat steady and give you a much more comfortable ride. It will also greatly reduce the slatting/snapping, which severely damages sails. The use of diesel will, in the long-term, be much cheaper than the amount of wear on your sails.


Mount a separate sail track for your storm main. When a storm is predicted, prepare the storm sails while it is calm. Have your suite of storm sails in an easily accessible place at sea. In port, our storm sails live in the sail locker at the bow. When we are at sea we keep them under the saloon table, so we do not have to venture up to the end of the boat and rummage in a cupboard during violent seas.

Common sail problems

Baton pockets on sails are a major problem. If the batons have insufficient support they can chafe and damage the sail. Repairing sails due to baton damage is one of the largest sources of income for sail-makers. If you are buying or repairing sails, ensure this area is sturdy.


Constantly monitor your sails. Pay particular attention to a partially furled jib in strong winds; the motion can cause chafing very quickly when the furling unit continuously moves, causing the sail to rub against itself.


Maintain a good supply of sail tape on board. This sticky tape (sail tape), together with sailcloth, is what makes repairs at sea possible. Sewing equipment like sail-maker’s palms or sewing machines are a necessity.

New sails

If you can tear your sails by hand or poke your finger through the fabric, it is time for new sails.

Recut sails

If your sails are responding poorly when you tension the leech (aft edge of sail), they are overstretched. A mainsail that is stretched will not trim correctly. You may be able to have a sail recut if it is out of shape, but it is likely that the fabric at the seams would only allow an effective recut once.

About the book: The Maintenance and Repairs section in Cruisers’ AA has over thirty A4 pages of tips, advice and hints for you and your boat. To grab yourself a copy, follow one of these links:

Amazon: ebook for Kindle- $4.54

Amazon: Paperback- $29.95

Boat Books: $39.95 (AUS)

1 person found this helpful. Do you?Thank Jackie & Noel Parry


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