How To Improve The Life Of Sails – 9 Tips!

Maintaining a sailboat is critical to lowering its depreciation rate and increasing its life. Sails greatly influence the value of a sailboat and need proper maintenance to extend its lifespan. If you’re a professional sailor, one quick way to save more while owning a sailboat is to improve the lives of the sails. So, how do you do it exactly?

Improving the life of sails is feasible by following these methods – folding sails, fixing rips immediately, regulating tension, checking leeches, cleaning sails regularly, protecting them from the sun, washing them with fresh water, inspecting them regularly, and taping sharp objects. These methods cover everything that’s needed to ensure sails last longer. 

In this article, let’s look at every proven method to improve the life of sails, along with precautions and guidelines to avoid the likelihood of flaws in the process. 

9 Tips to Improve The Life Of Sails

Sails can improve your sailboat’s look but need regular maintenance because they’re used as your essential means of movement. Without sails, your sailboat would not be moving unless you have an engine with plenty of gasoline. Whether sailing as a hobby or profession, prioritizing sails in your sailboat maintenance routine can save you money and effort in the future.

1. Fold Sails

How often do you sail? Irrespective of the frequency, the rule of thumb to extend the life of sails is to fold them whenever not in use. While it sounds quite simple, most boaters leave sails out in the elements and go home. This is not a good idea.

As sails are exposed to harsh temperatures, they undergo severe wear and tear. When the wind rate is high, sails get damaged easily. First and foremost, you should get ahold of a sturdy bag and store your sail in it whenever you are not using your boat. Especially if it will be for a long period of time.

You can also leave this bag in the storage unit of your sailboat and take it back when you’re starting your vacation. Doesn’t that sound simple yet effective? 

2. Fix Rips

Wind speeds can turn unpredictable, and sails need to be properly maintained to handle these changes. In high winds, there is a chance that your sails may fail. As soon as you spot such an incident, remember to jump in and fix the rip on the sail as soon as it’s safe. Spot-patching the rip saves money and time. The longer you let it stay, the further the winds can increase the size of the tear. 

Imagine a tiny spot turning into a massive disaster over time! Don’t let that happen. Instead, fix rips as soon as you notice them and you can lengthen the life of your sail. 

3. Regulate Tension

Sometimes, a sail can go the extra mile with high wind strength, leading to horizontal creases and deformation over time. 

Likewise, an older sail is also prone to deformities over time. So, while you can regulate the tension of the sail by removing creases, you should also consider reshaping it if it has deformed excessively. 

Having stressed the need to regulate tension, the process needs expertise. Especially if the sail has deformed, it needs a recut. Again, a novice needs help to attempt this process. It isn’t easy to detect the deformity either. Not addressing it correctly can cost you severely.

As a boater, we’d recommend taking pictures of your sail every week so you can closely spot any percentage of deformity in it. Then, as soon as you’ve spotted it, you can hire a professional to help the sail regain shape. It costs a bit but it is worth it as it influences the sail’s quality in upcoming sailing trips. So, don’t hesitate to throw a little money into the situation. Sails are possibly the biggest and most important part of your boat.

But here’s the good news about such deformities. It rarely happens (probably once or twice) throughout its life. Hence, ensure the sail is free from creases and continue using it. Worry only when the deformity is visible, which happens with an older sail. 

Check out my other article, its talks about all the different types of sails and when to use them!

4. Check Leeches

The leech is an underestimated aspect of the sail with much to tell about your sail’s life. For example, if you’ve noticed frequent sail fluttering, a leech line is likely to form.

The worst part is that fluttering can cause bending and create a significant tear. What’s the solution? Providing sufficient leech cord tension is one way to control the development of creases on the leech. Alternatively, plan your sailing in a low-to-medium breeze season if you can. This will extend the life of the sail and prevent flutters. 

Note: Monitoring your sail every week is one way to detect and fix such creases before they become worse. 

5. Clean Sails

There’s no reason to postpone cleaning your sail. As sails are prone to harsh conditions (sun, wind, and water) they are more likely to be covered in debris. Such debris can attribute to wear and tear. 

Some boaters underestimate the need to clean sails. So, when is the right time to clean your sail? Ideally, it would be best if you were cleaning your sail at the end of each outing. That may be a hassle but it’s definitely the best option.

There’s no standard time to clean the sail. You should remove the sail and clean it thoroughly whenever it’s exposed to debris or saltwater. Allowing it to dry completely, so moisture doesn’t build up is another must. Folding it in a wet state can loosen stitches and increase mold.

Even if you’re unsure of the salty nature or presence of debris, you should still clean it. When in doubt, clean it out.

6. Protect From Sun

Just like humans develop sunburns when exposed to the sun for long hours, sails on boats also need protection from the sun. In fact, experienced boaters believe that the worst enemy of a sail is sunlight. It has the potential to hamper the cloth and cause creases. 

While the sail’s exposure to the sun can’t be controlled, you can still use sun covers to enhance protection. You can either go with commercial sun covers or purchase a customized sun cover for your boat. 

As you purchase a sun cover, assess if it’s resistant to UV rays. Some sun cover manufacturers advertise the cover’s resistance, but the reality is that such covers wear out quite easily. In addition, some genuine covers might lose their resistance to UV rays because of the wrong furling. As you fold the sun cover, ensure the strip remains visible from the outside.

Above all, sun covers need proper maintenance too. Clean and inspect them regularly per manufacturer’s guidelines.

7. Wash With Freshwater

When cleaning your sail, ensure you don’t expose it to more salt water. Doing so not only deteriorates the quality but also lowers the overall life. 

Use fresh water and mild soap (pH neutral) to rinse the sail thoroughly every season. This quick wash allows the sail to perform better and reduces the degree of deterioration. 

8. Inspect Regularly

Inspecting your sail at the end of each use is an excellent way to fix rips timely and maximize its life. However, inspecting your sails at least once a month is highly recommended. 

If you’re an experienced boater, you can look into nuances and fix them on the go. Otherwise, you can hire a professional to perform multi-point inspections if your sail has been exposed to wear and tear. 

9. Tape Harsh Objects

Did you know that sails are fragile and easily torn when exposed to sharp or even blunt objects? While packing or furling a sail, most boaters do it in a hurry. Anything around the sail area may poke or rub against it causing a tear or small hole.

Try this tape for your sail tear repairs!

Likewise, purchasing a cover for the sail is essential when you’re storing it. Sharp objects can often make large holes in the sail and affect its overall life. 

Here’s what you can do to extend the life of your sail. Invest in silicone tape or rigging tape to protect the sail. Ensure that it isn’t stored next to harsh objects. What appears to be a blunt object can be damaging to a sail as well.

When Should I Replace My Sails?

Sails wear out at the end of 2,000 hours of use. However, sails need replacement only after a decade of use with proper maintenance. 

Depending upon your use of the sails, the present condition of the sail, the type of material, the age, and any issues that were faced, the sail’s replacement date can vary.

If you’ve repaired or patched your sail multiple times, it’s high time that you invest in a new sail. A high-quality sail doesn’t need replacement within a decade. The deterioration will be minor if you have a healthy routine of maintaining your sail. 

When I was sailing my Catalina 22, built in 1984, my sails were well over a decade old. They had a few repair spots but still allowed me to sail with no problem. I was not trying to sail as fast as I could or get somewhere in a hurry. This means I didn’t need to replace them. Everyone’s situation is different.

Final Thoughts

A sail is as crucial as every other component associated with a sailboat. It can affect the boat’s performance if it isn’t maintained properly. 

As it doesn’t wear out easily, it’s highly recommended to focus on improving their lifespan with the simple methods mentioned in this article. Even if you’ve purchased an aged sail, these methods still have the potential to extend life and guarantee excellent performance. 

To maximize your sails’ value, ensure you include sail maintenance as part of your regular sailboat maintenance schedule. Your sails will thank you! Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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