Maintaining Your Sails and Increasing Their Lifespan

Sail Maintenance

Image courtesy of slon-pics

One of the many jobs on a sailboat is maintaining equipment and deciding when it needs to be replaced. This comes with the eventual challenge of deciding between having to be content with your old, worn out sails or replacing them with new sails. The decision between the lack-of-performance of old sails and the expense of brand-new sails is a difficult one and doubly so when your sails are damaged prematurely. So, whether your sails are old and ragged or new and bright here are a few things you can do in order to prolong the lifespan of your sails and maximize their performance:

  1. Adjust your Leech and Foot lines to eliminate flutter in the sail. Flutter in the sail when left unchecked can cause stretching and premature wearing on your sail.
  2. Avoid chafing by making sure your sails do not come into contact with your rigging and/or your spreaders. If it is not possible to avoid entirely you should install spreader patches to protect your sail. You can also click here to learn how to  Install Spreader Patches.
  3. Once you have returned to the marina or are at an anchorage take the time to cover or put your sails away properly. UV rays will begin to breakdown the cloth and stitching that is left exposed. While unavoidable during sailing, by putting your sails away or making sure they are securely covered while not in use you will minimize the amount of time they remain in the sun over their lifespan.
  4. Clean your sails regularly or seasonally depending on your location. Additionally, spot clean your sails whenever necessary.
  5. Wash your sail bags. Often we are so focused on our sails we do not consider the bags we store them in. You can easily throw your sail bags in the washer on a gentle cycle with a small amount of soap. Similarly, wiping down the zippers and clasps regularly will reduce corrosion and jamming, ensuring your sail bags are in peak condition year-round.
  6. Check your battens and batten pocket’s regularly for damage from chafing or splintering. If you have noticed your batten’s splitting or splintering you can temporarily wrap the section of the batten in electrical tape to protect your sail. It is recommended that you replace your battens quickly if you notice them splintering or cracking.
    Here are some videos on how to uncoil battens, and measure and cut battens.
  7. Inspect the stitching on your sail often. Simply doing a visual inspection of the seams while in use is usually enough. However, if your sail has plenty of miles on it you should check its integrity more closely. Simply work your way along the sail while rubbing your nail along the thread. If the thread begins to snap and fall apart then your sail has begun to suffer the effects of long-term sun exposure.
  8. Keep a record of your sail use. It is not possible to specifically calculate the lifespan of a sail as conditions for all boats, locations, weather, and materials are different. Keeping a sailing log can be useful to track its use. This is especially useful for those looking to sell their boat soon as you can show the usage of your existing sails.
  9. Replace Tell Tales and Draft Stripes as they wear out. Over time these may begin to fade or peel off your sail. Because these are placed on the sail with an adhesive backing you can simply peel them off and install new ones at your leisure.  CLICK HERE for a tutorial.
  10. Fold and store your sails properly. When sails are repeatedly folded on the same creases the fibers in the cloth develop stress points which stretch more easily. Folding your sail the proper way is an important step in maintaining your sails.

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