Can You Sail Without Battens? (Is It Safe?)

When it comes to sailing, sail shape is essential in getting the most out of your sails. A perfect shape in your sails will harness the most wind possible, giving you the most speed.

Battens are a very important part of a good sail shape, but they are not mandatory for sailing. Battens are not a safety measure; they are there to give the sail better shape allowing for better speed for the boat. Sailing without battens can wear out your sails more quickly over time.

Battens have evolved over the years, and there are a lot of different ones out there. This article will discuss how battens work, the different types, and the effects of not using them in your sails.

What Is The Purpose Of Battens?

When a sail has a positive roach area, the battens will help support that extra area. This will give your sail a better shape and keep it from flapping in the wind. If your sail does not have battens, the roach area would wear out more quickly and not harness as much wind.

Battens have been around for a long time and are essential in harnessing as much wind as possible. Not all sails have battens but many do. The mainsail is probably the most important sail when it comes to battens. This is your main driving sail and needs to have the best shape possible.

The size of the batten can vary depending on the sails type and the location of where the batten is inserted on the sail. Battens are usually the full length of the sail at the top end of the sail. That is because the roach area is a bigger percentage of the sail area for that section. As the battens go down, they do not stretch across the whole sail. This is because the roach area is a much smaller percentage of the sail area. Battens are specific to covering the roach area of the sail to prevent flap. (See Image of Sail Parts in next section).

There are sails that do not require battens. Some mainsails are created with no roach area. This means there is no extra flap that needs support. All support tension is created by the direct line from the head of the sail to the clew. You could still add battens if you so desired, but the sail was designed without them.

I have seen a few foresails that will use battens as well or at least offer the option. I personally never had them in my jib or genoa, but some people do. It is more for laser-type sailboats looking to race and harness as much wind as possible for top speeds. If you are a cruiser like me, then battens in the foresail will never be necessary.

Let’s talk about the different parts of the sail to have a better understanding of how battens play a part in sail shape.


  • HEAD – The head of the sail is the very top of the sail. It is the part you attach the halyard to for raising the sail.
  • TACK – Tack is the corner closest to the mast.
  • CLEW – The clew is where you attach the sheet for controlling the sail.
  • FOOT – This part of the sail is between the clew and tack and is connected to the boom.
  • LEECH – The back area of the sail where the wind comes off.
  • LUFF – Front area of the sail where the wind hits first.
  • ROACH – The area of the sail that is outside the tension line from the head to the clew. (not an actual line, just an area of tension)

Take a look at the diagram below to better understand where these parts are.

The diagram above is of a mainsail showing the different parts while sailing upwind. As you can see the battens are towards the leech side of the sail and will help control the roach area. If the battens were not in the sail, the roach area would flap in the wind because there is no tension on it, and no battens to keep its shape.

Imagine if you did not have battens in the sail, the wind would blow giving your sail shape and once it reached the green line of tension, the sail would lose the wind causing the flap of the roach area. This would slow your boat and probably be annoying when trying to get a perfect sail shape.

I do not recommend sailing without battens unless it is very light wind. I personally leave mine in and never take them out unless I am inspecting them for any kind of damage. Some people may take them out when they lower the sails, but I don’t think it is necessary. The only thing they do is give your sail better shape, there is no negative to battens, so why take them out?

No Battens, Is It Safe?

I have sailed my Catalina 22 without battens multiple times and never had an issue. I may not have been going as fast as possible, but safety was never a concern of mine.


I have not been able to find any safety issues related to sailing without battens. If you think of any please let me know by contacting [email protected].

How To Install Battens

Installing battens is usually very simple. Most sails will come with a slot for sliding the batten in. Some battens enter from the luff, others from the leech so make sure that the closure system where the battens have been inserted has been properly secured. You do not want to lose them when sailing.

There are a few different types of batten slots. Some slots will have velcro to secure the batten in its position and others will just have a sailcloth overlap that keeps the batten in position. All you have to do is slide them in. There are also batten slots that do not have a closure. The batten will usually stick out of these and you can cap off the end of the batten with a batten clap. This type of setup is for smaller types of sailboats like a laser or sunfish.

Pay attention, there may be a certain batten for each spot or the batten may have a leading edge that goes in first. If one end is thinner than the other, the thin end goes in first towards the luff and the thick end should be at the leech.

Make sure you have properly inserted your battens before raising the sail. You don’t want to be out in the open waters sailing, just to realize you put them all in backward. That would be a hassle to fix, especially if the winds are blowing 20 knots.

As a whole, battens are very simple to install and should give you no trouble at all.

Where Do I Find Replacement Battens? (Multiple Options)

All of the websites listed above will provide you with multiple options for replacing your battens. I recommend shopping around for the best price and style that you are looking for.

The important thing to remember when purchasing battens is the size. Make sure they will fit in the sail batten slot if it is already there. If you will be making your own batten slots, then plan according.

In Conclusion

This article discussed battens and if it is safe to sail without them. Battens are an essential item in getting the best sail shape. Without them, the sail will not be supported in all areas. The different sail parts and how they are affected by battens were discussed with a diagram to show the different parts visually. I personally believe there is no safety issue when it comes to sailing without battens, but if you know of one please let me know. As a fellow sailor, I am always wanting to learn something new. Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

Recent Posts