How to reef quickly and easily – Skip Novak's Storm Sailing
How to Reef a Sail
In high wind situations knowing how to reef a sail, or reduce the surface area exposed to the wind, can be a boat-saving procedure. Reefing, or shortening, a sail can allow you to maintain control of the boat in heavy weather. The process and mechanism for reefing differs from boat to boat, but there are some basic steps with which you should be familiar. This article takes you through the process of reefing a mainsail.
Know When to Reef
Reef while you are still docked for best control.
- If there’s any hint of stormy weather, shorten the mainsail before you set out. It’s easier to unreef, or let the mainsail out, if the weather threat recedes than it is to reef while sailing in the midst of high winds.
Stay attuned to signs that reefing may be needed while underway.
- Watch wind speeds. Reef when gusts become frequent or wind speeds increase by more than 5 knots.
- Be sensitive to shifts in barometric pressure, changing cloud patterns and other weather signals.
- Reef deeply. Shorten the sail as much as possible the first time. Again, it’s easier to let it out than it is to reef twice.
Identify the Boat’s Reefing System
Look for reefing points on the mainsail.
- Reefing points are 1, 2 or 3 horizontal rows of cringles (reinforced grommets) and reefing lines (attached ties) on the mainsail. From the foot of the sail up, each row of reefing points shortens the sail a little more.
Check to see if the boat is rigged for jiffy reefing.
- This system runs a special set of lines through the reefing points, so you can reef the sail by tightening just one line.
Identify roller reefing systems.
- Boats with roller reefing have gears that allow you to shorten the mainsail by turning a crank that furls the sail around the boom or the mast.
Find automated reefing systems.
- Larger boats, and those used in racing, may be equipped with automated reefing systems. These are essentially push-button versions of roller reefing systems. In the most sophisticated systems, the boom or mast may have a specially constructed hollow into which the mainsail is furled.
Reef the Mainsail by Hand
Head into the wind to keep the boom as motionless as possible.
Loosen the boom vang, the mainsail sheets and the halyard.
Lower the sail just enough to align the desired row of reefing points with the boom.
Tighten the jiffy line if the boat is rigged this way.
- This creates a new tack and clew, shortening the sail.
Secure the reefing cringles by hand if the boat is not equipped with jiffy reefing lines.
- Begin with the luff (leading edge) cringle. Secure it to the boom by catching the grommet on a hook on the boom, if there is one, or by inserting a reefing hook into the grommet and tying it to the boom near the gooseneck. You can also tie the cringle to a cleat on the mast. This creates a new tack. Tighten the halyard to secure it.
- Secure the leech (trailing edge) cringle to the aft part of the boom, creating a new clew. Do this by threading a line up from the boom, through the leech cringle, and back down to the boom. This line may be led either down or forward to a winch that can be used to tighten the connection.
- Gather up the loose canvas. If there’s time, flake the foot of the sail so it’s easier to manage. Secure this excess canvas by tying it loosely above the boom with the attached reefing lines, or with bungee cords threaded through the cringles. Don’t tie these lines too tightly, or the sail will crease vertically, and don’t tie them under the boom. Use square or slip knots so these ties can be loosened quickly if necessary.
- Check that the shortened sail is as flat as possible. Keep the lines securing the luff and leech cringles (tack and clew) tight, and the reefing holding the spare sail loose.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for using a manual or automated roller reefing system, if one is installed.
QuestionWhat if I don't have a boat?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can purchase one, or you can rent one in some locations.Thanks!
Video: Learning to Sail: When, Why and How to Reef your Sails
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