Extending the Life of your Sails

Improve the mileage of your sail cloth by taking these simple steps for protection on and off the water.

quantum racing
Get more life out of your cloth by taking these easy steps.Quantum Sails

1. Keep your sails out of the sun

If you have furling systems, this may be just a matter of furling sails when not in use. For non-furling sails, this means covering or stowing sails. There are cover options for both mainsails and headsails, allowing the sail to stay rigged and protected between uses. When no cover is available, sails should be removed, flaked, bagged and stowed below deck or off the boat.

2. Protect your furled sails

Most owners use sewn-on sun covers to protect furled sails. Sunbrella and WeatherMax are the fabrics commonly used for sun covers. For racer-cruisers and some racing sails like furling code zeros, there are lighter weight options such as UV-treated Dacron. While there is a gain in weight savings, these materials are not inherently UV resistant. Over time the UV treatment can wear off, with the lifespan of the treatment affected by boat location and amount of time in the sun. In high exposure areas, treated covers may have a lifespan of only a couple of seasons.

All sun covers should be inspected regularly and repaired if damaged. Generally speaking, covers should be re-stitched every three years or so to prevent more extensive damage to the fabric that can occur from flogging due to compromised stitching.

To provide maximum protection for your sails, sun covers require care and maintenance. Remember, if you can see the sailcloth below the cover...so can the sun!

3. Keep your sails clean

After sun, the second-worst enemy of any sail is salt; but other types of dirt and debris can be just as damaging. Periodic sail washing is key to maintaining your sails. A couple common-sense rules apply to frequency: 1) a sail that has been exposed to saltwater should be washed sooner rather than later, and 2) all other varying degrees of grime should be removed when possible. A genoa or staysail probably needs washing, or at least a rinse, more frequently than a mainsail that is stowed under a cover on the boom or furled when not in use. Not sure if your sails are salty? Run a finger along the foot and have a taste...you’ll know right away!

4. Protect them from the elements

Sailmakers generally refer to the life of a sail in hours or seasons, rather than years. The lifespan is affected by the amount of time sailing and the level of care given to the sails. In the mid-Atlantic region, the main sailing season can begin in early spring and extend late into the fall. A sailing season in the upper Midwest, for example, is much shorter, thus extending the life of a sail. The lifespan of sails that spend the sailing season furled on your headstay, in your mast or boom, or left on the boat to endure the frigid months of winter, will be much shorter than the life of sails that are properly protected or stowed.

If you know your sails are going to be sitting idle on the boat in a marina for at least a month or more during a sailing season, you can extend sail life by taking the sails off of your boat and stowing them. If your schedule prevents you from doing this personally, contact your local Quantum loft for sail removal and storage – part of our full array of sail care services.

5. Inspect sails regularly

At least once-a-year sails should get a check-up. To do this yourself, find a dry place in good light where you can lay them flat, then work your way over every inch of the sail, looking for trouble spots such as abrasion or loose stitching. Small problems can turn into bigger problems later, so be sure to note even the smallest details. Alternatively, you can drop off your sails at a nearby sail loft for a multi-point inspection. Even simpler, with one call we can handle sail removal, transportation and inspection for one sail or your whole inventory.

6. Tape the turnbuckle

If you’ve ever scraped your finger on a piece of hardware, then you know it’s sharp enough to damage your sail. Even seemingly blunt objects (like a spreader) can damage sails on a tack, so take a look around (and up) to see what can or should be covered to protect your sails. If you have an extra piece of spinnaker cloth, wipe it across every surface of your boat and rigging. If it snags, put some tape on it. Rigging tape, self-fusing silicone tape, leather and other protective coverings are relatively inexpensive ways to protect your sails.

7. Check the leech

Even a well-protected spreader-tip or navigation light can wear a sail tack-after-tack. For these areas, a spreader-patch (or navigation light-patch, etc.) might be the answer.

8. Don't wait for repairs

A lot of catastrophic sail failures can be traced back to a small repair that was never made. When you notice a small hole or a chafed spot that’s getting increasingly worse, save yourself serious head- and wallet-ache by addressing the problem while it is still small. Our service experts have heard more than a few people come into the loft with a shredded sail saying, “I’ve been meaning to get that spot patched”.

9. Bag It

Pretty simple here. There’s a good reason new sails come with a sturdy bag and it’s not just another place for a logo. That bag is a much cheaper sacrificial covering than the sail inside of it. Take a look at an old sailbag that’s scuffed and torn-up, now imagine if that were your sail. Not good. It can be a pain to keep track of bags, but used regularly, they can really earn their keep.

10. If you don't know, ask

Curious about some sail-care method you’ve heard somebody touting on the dock or trying to figure out if your sail could use a new piece of webbing on the tack? Feel free to call the service team at your local Quantum loft. We’re happy to field your questions and provide helpful pointers. Consider us a member of your team.

This tip was brought to you by Quantum Sails.