What Is A Spinnaker Sail? – Everything You Need To Know

When it comes to sailing there are a lot of different sails. They each have a different purpose and should be used at the appropriate time.

The spinnaker is a sail used for sailing downwind. It is a sizeable parachute-type sail with beautiful colors. The spinnaker will not work for sailing on a beam reach or close-hauled. Never use a spinnaker when sailing upwind.

The Spinnaker is a lot of fun to raise and sail with. They are usually very colorful and look great when full of wind. If you want to find out more about this sail and others keep reading.

How Do You Fly A Spinnaker?

Flying a spinnaker sail can seem difficult, especially when you are short-handed. Watch the video below for tips on flying your spinnaker.

As you can see from the video above, sailing with a spinnaker isn’t too difficult. It can be intimidating your first few times though. It’s important to remember if you are going to be using your spinnaker and arent that experienced make sure there is not much wind. A lot of wind and no experience with a spinnaker can get you into trouble. Always remember to be safe when sailing. When the wind is picking up that can make flying your spinnaker even more difficult.

When you are raising or lowering a spinnaker in the high wind a Snuffer is the way to go.

A snuffer is a spinnaker sleeve/sock. It houses the spinnaker and makes raising and lowering your spinnaker a lot easier. The snuffer will allow you to raise the spinnaker before allowing it to fill with wind. This will help keep it from getting twisted or caught in the railing.

This video shows the snuffer and how it works. It is an indoors video but it really shows the basics of a snuffer.

Having a snuffer makes flying your spinnaker so much easier. You don’t have to worry about the sail falling in the water or getting all tangled up and caught on other parts of the sailboat. I highly recommend getting one of these if you will be sailing solo.

Can You Fly A Spinnaker Without A Pole?

An asymmetrical spinnaker is designed to be used without a pole. A classic symmetrical spinnaker is operated while using a spinnaker pole. Using an asymmetrical spinnaker will allow ease of use since no pole is needed to fly the sail.

Spinnaker poles can be a hassle if you are not used to using them. I highly recommend sailing with someone that has experience so they can show you the basics first. After a few times of them showing you how to handle the sail and pole, you can start to do it on your own.

The spinnaker pole can really help maximize the power of your spinnaker. A lot of times the spinnaker will be in front of the mainsail, meaning that the mainsail is catching most of the wind and your spinnaker is barely getting any. The pole will allow you to reposition your spinnaker and catch more of the wind.

The pole can also help keep your spinnakers in shape when there is less wind. The better the shape of the sail the more wind it can harness.

Asymmetrical spinnakers are ideal for most sailors these days. They do not require a pole to be operated making them much easier to hoist and lower. You can use a pole if needed to optimize shape but it is not necessary. The classic symmetrical spinnaker needs a spinnaker pole to operate.

How To Properly Rig A Spinnaker

There are quite a few different ways to rig a spinnaker. This is the basic setup for an asymmetrical spinnaker with a spinnaker pole.

To properly rig an asymmetrical spinnaker, you will need a spinnaker pole, guy line, sheet line, topping lift, and downhaul. When you connect these parts properly, you will be able to raise and use a spinnaker sail to its full advantage.

First, let’s discuss the spinnaker pole and how to set that up. The pole consists of two jaws, a ring for the topping lift, and a ring for the downhaul. See the image for the parts.

The jaws are a clamping mechanism, where the pole connects to the mast and the “guy” line. The guy will be run through the jaw and connected to the tack of the spinnaker. The guy is basically a line that will help control the trim of the spinnaker. Your lines will consist of one guy and one sheet. The sheet will be on the opposite side of the guy line. See the image above.

The two rings that hang off the pole are used for raising and lowering the pole. The one on top connects to the topping lift and the bottom one connects to the downhaul. This will help keep your pole level with the waterline.

When you have all parts attached correctly, you are ready to hoist the spinnaker. The first step is hoisting the spinnaker will be pulling the topping lift line to raise the pole. Make sure to get it level with the waterline.

Next, you will want to tighten the downhaul. The reason for this is to keep tension on the pole. We want the pole to stay level and that means we need tension pulling it both ways. Once the pole is level, pull the guy line fairly tight so the spinnaker pole does not point forward. This will keep the spinnaker pole in a great position for raising the spinnaker.

The next step is to raise the spinnaker. When you raise the spinnaker, it should flow out smoothly and fill with wind. If your spinnaker was not packed correctly it could be knotted when it comes out. Knots could be a hassle to fix, especially out on the water in windy conditions. Always make sure it is packed correctly before raising it.

Once the spinnaker is raised you can trim it by pulling in the spinnaker sheet. You may need to adjust the guy, but usually, the sheet is enough to trim it correctly. The spinnaker should be a nice full parachute look when properly trimmed.

You should never try to sail upwind when using a spinnaker. These sails are huge and can cause big problems if the wind hits them in the wrong direction. Always be ready for anything when it comes to sailing.

What Size Spinnaker Should I Get?

Forestay length is the measurement needed to estimate spinnaker size. It can be calculated by finding your I and J measurements or by raising the spinnaker halyard and measuring from the top to the forestay deck mounting point.

This measurement will allow you to find most sail-size recommendations online. There are a lot of boats and each one can handle multiple size sails. You need to ask yourself, what do you want a spinnaker for?

Do you want a spinnaker for racing? Do you want a spinnaker for cruising? Will you be using a pole? Is this going to be a furling spinnaker or use a sail sock? How much can I afford? Do I want an asymmetrical or symmetrical spinnaker?

These questions will help decide what type of spinnaker you need. I recommend getting the following measurements from your boat before looking for spinnakers. See the image below.

I = is the measurement from the top of the spinnaker halyard to the deck. J= the measurement from the bottom of the mast to the forward mounting point of the spinnaker. If you don’t have a spinnaker mounting point, the forestay mounting point is a good place to measure too. Now, the F measurement can be calculated by the following calculation, F= √(I^2+J^2). This reads, square root of I squared, plus J squared. You can also get the F measurement by simply hoisting a tape measure on the spinnaker halyard and measuring to the forestay mounting point after you have hoisted the measuring tape to the top.

Once you have these calculations you can start to look at new spinnaker options. The easiest way to get a new spinnaker, if money is not a factor, is to have one made. The sail-making company you choose will simply ask for these dimensions and make a new sail to fit your boat perfectly. This can be pricey but is the most accurate option.

If you would prefer to find one used you can estimate the size you need by the measurements you’ve taken of your boat, I & J. Just remember a spinnaker size can vary on a single boat. I recommend finding someone with your same boat and seeing what size spinnaker they prefer. Below is a table of recommended sizes for certain boats. These are not specific to asymmetric or symmetric types, just an estimate as a whole.

CATALINA 2225.88.0
CATALINA 25032.09.0
HUNTER 2734.511.3
HUNTER 3042.012.8
HUNTER 3446.013.7
PEARSON 3340.512.7
PEARSON 3946.216.2
TARTAN 3747.016.0
TARTAN 3850.016.0

These are recommendations and you can probably go up or down in size depending on your needs. That is why it is so hard to pick a spinnaker. There are a ton of options out there and everyone has their own opinion on which one to get. Just remember to ask yourself what your needs are for a spinnaker and what you hope to get out of one. This will help determine which one you should purchase.

Spinnaker Tips

There are a few other things or tips to remember when raising a spinnaker.

1. The spinnaker sail lines (guy & sheet) will go on the outside of the rails.

Your spinnaker is going to be flying out in front of the boat and you don’t want those lines being tangled on the deck.

2. Make sure your lines are cleated before raising the spinnaker.

If you raise your spinnaker and didn’t cleat off your lines, bummer. Your sail will blow all the way out and your lines will go with it. Making it very hard to get back. Same for a jib or genoa. I’ve been there trust me it sucks.

3. If you are using a spinnaker pole, the jaws face up.

The opening of the clamps or jaws should be facing up towards the sky. This will prevent any range of motion limitations.

4. Always make sure to pack your spinnaker correctly if using a sail bag.

If your sail was not packed correctly and you try to raise it, there is a strong chance it will be tangled. If the wind is blowing untangling it will be extremely difficult.

5. Raise the spinnaker quickly.

When pulling the spinnaker halyard, remember this should happen quickly. We don’t want the sail to fill with the wind before we get it up. If you do it too slow, the sail could fill with wind and hit the water getting it wet.


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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