Raising the Mainsail – Sailing Basics Video Series

Raising the mainsail can be frustrating, and it can be hard to get good sail shape! In this video we will show you the simple steps to simplify the process of raising your mainsail, and we will explain how to get the proper halyard tension to guarantee that you have perfect sail shape. We’ll also show you how to lower and flake your mainsail, to protect the life of your sail.

1. Get everything ready

2. Head into the wind

3. Slow down

4. Pull halyard to raise mainsail

5. Look for vertical wrinkle or trough

6. Re-tension mainsheet and boom

We already took notes!

Hey guys, we’re just about to go sailing, and we wanted to show you how to raise your mainsail. Couple of steps, tips, and tricks. One of the critical things here is just halyard tension. We want to show you how to get the best halyard tension, just to maximize your sail shape. Get all the things ready to raise your main before you leave the dock. It’s a lot easier to do this at the marina when you’re in a slip rather than out on the ocean when the boat’s going up and down on the waves.

Four things you want to do to get ready to raise your main. First thing you want to do is unzip your sail bag and make sure the sail’s ready to go up. Number two, check your halyard. Often at night, you’ll put it around a cleat or pull it away from the mast just so it doesn’t clang. Make sure the halyard’s ready to flow smoothly and pull your sail up.

Number three: you want to release anything that’s holding your boom down. You want your mainsail to actually lift your boom to get the proper sail shape. The two things that are holding our boom down are the boom vang and mainsheet… Go ahead and open the rope clutch, and release your boom vang. And the second thing that we want to do here, is we want to ease our mainsheet. You’ll see some people open the rope clutch and just let their mainsheet go, and the boom will swing. We don’t actually like letting it swing side to side, because it could knock someone in the water. Best to give about 18 to 24 inches of slack in your mainsheet, just so it can swing a little bit.

The fourth and last thing that you want to do is release your reefing lines. Often when we’re done at the end of the day, we’ll pull in our reefing lines and tighten those, just to keep them nice and tidy. We want to release all of those so that when the sail goes up, your reef lines are not going to hold your sail down.

We’re ready to raise the main now. Really important: the helmsman needs to get the boat directly into the wind. This is critical, because if the boat is a little off the wind, the sail hanks or the cars that go up the mast track, are going to get pinched in that sail track. So make sure the boat is into the wind. The helmsman’s going to want to slow down; you don’t want the boat bashing forward. Go as slow as you can, just to make it easier.

If you’re short-handed at this point, one great tip is put the boat on autopilot, and that way, you can go forward and do the things you need to assist in raising the main.

The person on the halyard can now start pulling on the halyard. Usually it’ll go up most of the way without too much resistance. If it’s a really windy day, you may want to have the person at the mast jump the halyard and just help raise that. When the sail gets almost all the way up to the top of the mast, you’re going to feel more resistance, and this is when you’re going to need to put the halyard around the winch and start winching it in.

You’ll notice as your sail reaches the top of the mast, you’re going to have horizontal wrinkles coming off from the sail hanks or the cars in your sail. We want to keep tensioning the halyard until those disappear, and to have perfect halyard tension, we’re actually looking for some vertical wrinkles to come off the tack of the sail, the bottom corner of the sail, and we’re also looking for a vertical line or wrinkle to appear parallel to the mast. Once we’ve got that nice halyard trim, then we go ahead and re-tension our boom vang and our mainsheet. When we do this, we now should have no vertical wrinkle and no horizontal wrinkles. If you re-tension your boom vang and your mainsheet and you’re still seeing a vertical wrinkle, it means your halyard is actually too tight. So when we re-tension, everything should disappear and our sail should have that nice wing shape.

Okay, so been sailing for the day. It’s now time to lower our mainsail, and head into an anchorage so we can enjoy some cocktails. In some of our favorite sailing video blogs, you’ll see folks that just ease the halyard and just drop their mainsail, and just kind of cram it in the sail bag. Not the best way to do it. A sail represents a big investment, and when you just cram your sail in your bag, you’re going to have all these little crinkles and chafe points that are really bad for your sail.

What you want to do is make sure you are flaking your sail, just to preserve the life of your sail. You want to get the boat into the wind, so we’re ready to drop the main. Really important at this point that we tighten our mainsheet. Not a good idea to go up and be trying to lower your sail and put it in the bag if your boom is swinging. So make sure your mainsheet is tight. If you have several crew, get one person up at the mast, one person at the back of the boom, and then one person to ease the halyard.

If you happen to be short-handed, use the autopilot. This really helps. The person on the halyard can now start easing the halyard. Really important that they ease it slowly, just to give the people that are up on deck a chance to slowly flake that sail. What we’re going to do to flake the sail is, as the sail comes down, you want to pull it first to one side, and then to the other side. Pull it to the first side, wait till that hank actually touches and stops. That’s going to be your first flake.

It’s critical at this point that the person on each end of the sail, so the person on the mast and the person at the boom, pull from opposite directions just to stretch that sail out. We’re going to start flaking like that, first to one side, then to the other side, pulling as we go to make sure there are no crinkles in our sail. Once you’ve got your sail flaked, go ahead and zip up your sail bag, take your halyard, put it around a cleat, or tie it off … It’s really annoying when you’re trying to sleep at night, and your halyard is constantly clanging against the mast.

We’ve put away our sail. It’s now time to go ashore or head back to the dock, to enjoy those beers, those drinks or whatever you’re going to do, just to celebrate a great day of sailing.

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About the Video Series

New to sailing? We created this comprehensive basic sailing video series just for you! We know how difficult it is to find solid answers to your questions related to sailing fundamentals. As professional sailing instructors, we get it, and since we cover these topics regularly with our students, we knew we could help you too. We created these Learn How to Sail:Sailing Basics Videos, to be your ultimate sailing 101 video series. In them we cover monohull sailing for beginners from anchoring to steps to recovering a man overboard, all the way up to perfect sail trim!


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