Follow these simple steps to prolong the life of your sails off and on the water...
1. Don’t leave your sails out in the sun
If you have a furling system, then use it. For non-furling sails the best method is to either stow or cover. Covers for mainsails and headsails, which allow the sail to remain fully rigged, are widely available. If you choose not to cover your sails then they should be removed, flaked, bagged and stowed either off the boat or below deck.
2. Look after those furled sails
The most common covers for furled sails are sew-on sun covers often manufactured from either Sunbrella or WeatherMax fabrics. Lightweight options such as UV resistant Dacron are suitable for racer-cruisers and some racing sails. However, it is worth remembering that UV treatments can wear off and in high exposure areas, may only last a couple of sailing seasons. Regularly inspect your sun covers and repair immediately if required. The average cover will probably need re-stitching once every three years. This alleviates the chances of damage to the fabric from compromised stitching. A good rule of thumb is that if you can see the sailcloth below the cover, then so can the sun!
3. A clean sail is a happy sail
Salt is one of the worst enemies of any sail and the key to fighting it is a schedule of regular washing and maintenance. Any sails exposed to saltwater should be washed as soon as possible. Pay attention to other types of dirt and debris and remove where possible. Remember that a genoa or staysail will need washing and rinsing far more often than a furled and covered mainsail. Run one of your fingers along the foot of the sail and then have a taste. Salty? Then your sails need cleaning.
4. Protect your sails from the elements
The lifespan of a sail is measured in seasons or even hours rather than in years and is affected not only by the amount of time sailed but also by the level of care and maintenance given. If your boat is going to be sat idle in a marina for at least a month during sailing season, then take down your sails and stow them.
5. Inspect your sails regularly
You should get a full check-up of your sails annually. This can be time consuming but can easily be carried out by yourself. Simply find a dry area with good light and lay the sail flat. Then work your way inch by inch over the sail and look for any signs of damage or wear and tear. Catching an issue early will save you both money and time. There are professional sail inspection services available who will carry out a multi-point inspection for those who would prefer.
6. Cover any sharp edges
You haven’t ever sailed if you haven’t scrapped your finger on a piece of hardware. Imagine the damage that could have caused a sail…fingers heal, sails don’t! Take a careful look around and see what you can cover to protect your sails. Even seemingly blunt fitments could potentially cause expensive damage. Wipe a piece of cloth across the surface of your boat. If it snags, then put a piece of tape over the area.
7. Don’t put off repair jobs
Many catastrophic sail failures can be blamed upon the failure to make a small repair. If you notice an area of damage, no matter how small and insignificant it may at first appear, don’t delay repairing the problem. The adage “a stitch in time saves nine” couldn’t be truer when considering sail maintenance.
8. Use your sail bag
Most new sails come with a sturdy sail bag…use it. A bag is far cheaper to replace than a sail. We’ve all seen scuffed and ripped-up, tatty old sail bags. Now imagine that was your sail! Simply stowing your sail in a sturdy sail bag offers a serious level of protection and will extend the lifespan.
9. If in doubt seek professional advice
Whilst many of the tasks related to sail maintenance are relatively easy, and simply common sense in many cases, some novices may be uneasy carrying out the tasks themselves. In which case don’t be afraid to ask advice from a more seasoned sailor or indeed seek professional help.
Need more advice on boat maintenance? See our guides to Preparing Your Boat for Winter and Antifouling here!
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