Sail Maintenance – How to Keep Sails in Tip-Top Condition

Posted on October 9, 2013 by Lee under Boat maintenance Comments Off on Sail Maintenance – How to Keep Sails in Tip-Top Condition

boat-maintenanceI remember standing at events square in Falmouth, Cornwall in 2005 when Dame Ellen MacCarthur came out on stage to a standing ovation. She had of course, set a new world record of circumnavigating the globe in a record 94 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes.

One of the things that stood out the most was when she told the tale of how she had to climb her mast on Christmas day in freezing cold weather and high winds to do a bit of sewing. As well as regaling us with her fantastic tale, I remember thinking at the time how important sail maintenance was even then.

However, it’s not just inspiring world record breakers who need to take the utmost care when it comes to sail care. As Ian Short points out, it could mean the difference between getting back to dry land quickly when the weather changes, and being stuck out at sea as it deteriorates.

#1 Keep em clean

Fortunately sails have come on a long way in recent years and many are far more resistant to salt damage than they once were. However, taking the time to give them a clean will still extend their lifespan and keep them in better condition.

#2 Stop flogging

If you are used to seeing your sails flogging when it gets windy, then this is something you need to address. Sails that are left to flog will deteriorate quickly and their lifespan will be vastly reduced. By keeping them tight, you can not only avoid replacing them so often, but they will also stand you in good stead in windy conditions.

#3 Keep within your wind limits

The type of sail you have will dictate its limitations. As such, you won’t want to exceed those limitations, as it can be a fast track to damaging the sail. If you’re in any way unsure as to the limit on your sails, don’t worry as this tends to be written on the clew. If it’s not, then a quick call to the sails shop where you purchased it will probably fix that.

It’s also a good idea to make a note of it somewhere clear, perhaps on the sail itself as you won’t want any confusion between yourself and your crew when you’re out.

#4 Avoid too much sunlight

Your sail is just as susceptible to damage as you skin and as such, you need to take care of it. Obviously this is not possible when you are out at sea; however, when docked, you should keep it covered at all times to ensure that it retains its strength for as long as possible.

#5 Remember that salt water can damage

A good hose down with fresh water before the boat is put away will take care of any salt damage and doesn’t take long. Yes, you’re probably tired from your invigorating time on the water, but sailing equipment is hardly inexpensive, so it pays to make the effort.

If you’re storing the boat for the winter months, you should also consider getting the sail inspected and cleaned before you do by a professional cleaning company. Obviously you will need to find one that specialises in sails, in order to ensure the best service.

Ask them to check for wear on the sails too, or you can do this yourself. You should pay attention to:

  • Hanks

  • Battens

  • Stitching

  • Reinforcement patches

  • Attachment hardware (look for wearing and corrosion)

An important factor to remember is that not all sails are the same. Some will require more maintenance than others and as such you should consider this carefully. While Nylon is light and strong, but can also be susceptible to water and the heat. As such, it’s important to know what kind of sails you are using and maintain accordingly.

Happy sailing!

If you are unsure about sail maintenance or any other aspect of sailing, then perhaps you should consider a sailing course. With numerous different courses available, there’s one to suit practically every need and experience level.

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