How to Reef a Main Sail in Five Easy Steps!

Did you know that you can get your boat to sail better and faster when you reef a main sail? You might think that reefing sails was just for sailing in heavy winds. But often, your boat will sail smoother, faster, and easier with this simple, easy-to-use technique. Here are five fast steps to put this super sailing technique into play on your sailboat today!

Reefing means to reduce the amount of sail exposed to the wind. Have you ever climbed up onto the roof of your home or gone outside to get some fresh air on the upper floors of a tall building. If it’s a breezy day, that wind will blow with more strength higher off the ground than it does near the ground.

Sailing winds are similar. Near the top of your sailboat mast, the wind blows with a lot more speed (velocity) than the wind near the water surface. That’s because wind at the surface slows down because of friction–or contact–with the water surface or nearby land. Higher up off the water, the wind encounters less friction, so it blows at a higher velocity.

When Do You Need to Reef Your Sailboat?

In a sailboat that has the mainsail hoisted on a tall mast, the upper part of the sail has a lot more wind blowing onto it than the lower part. Sometimes, this can cause the boat to heel a lot. When you boat heels too much, the rail, or outer edge of the boat might dip into the water. This causes the boat to slow down.

This can also cause weather helm–or the tendency of the boat to want to round up (point toward) the wind. You will know that your boat has too much weather helm when it becomes difficult to hold the wheel or tiller and keep your boat on her sailing course.

Put balance back into your sailboat with reefing. Reefing reduces the amount of sail area (surface area) up high. When you reef, you lower the mainsail down closer to the water surface. This gets the mainsail out of those higher velocity sailing winds that cause you to heel so much. Here are the five steps to take to reef your sailboat. They are written for short-handed sailing crews. So with just yourself and one other person, you will be able to reef your boat.

1. Prepare Your Main sail for Reefing

Before you go out for a day of sailing, prepare your boat for reefing. This will save you lots of time and effort once you are out sailing and find you need to reef the mainsail.

Reeve (thread) a long piece of line from a cleat on one side of the mast, up through the tack reefing grommet (ring) and back down to a cleat on the other side of your mast.

Reeve a long piece of line from an eye mounted on one side of the end of the boom, up through the clew reefing grommet, back down to a cheek block (a flat block) on the other side of the end of the boom, and up to a cleat near the forward end of the boom.

2. Head Up Into the Wind

Point the bow as close into the wind as possible. Get the mainsail to flutter. This takes tension off of the mainsail control lines and halyards to make reefing easy. Ease the boom topping lift (the line that runs from the end of the boom to the top of the mast to hold the end of the boom up) until it has lots of slack. Ease the boom vang all the way so that it has lots of slack. Ease the mainsheet so that it has lots of slack.

3. Lower, Reef, and Tension the Luff

Un-cleat the mainsail halyard. Lower the main sail about half way down the sailboat mast. Cleat the halyard to hold it in place. Pull on the tack reefing grommet line to remove all slack and cleat it off. Hoist the main as high as possible by hand; then wrap three turns around the halyard winch.

Grind on the winch until you just see a light vertical crease build along the luff of the mainsail. Stop grinding. Ease the main just a bit until the crease disappears. Cleat off the mainsail halyard.

4. Reef and Tension the Clew

Un-cleat the clew reefing line from the boom. Haul (pull hard) on the line until the clew reefing grommet and end of the boom come together. Often, you will not be able to pull the clew down all the way to the top of the boom. Cleat off the clew reefing line.

Make a simple downhaul line to pull the clew reefing grommet closer to the top of the boom. Thread an 18″ piece of line through the clew reefing grommet, haul down on the reefing clew grommet, and tie off the downhaul line beneath the boom with a square knot.

5. Test the Helm for “Feather-weight” Balance

Check the results of your efforts. Take two or three fingers and see if you can steer your boat with the tiller or wheel and hold it on course. If you can do this, you have achieved perfect sailing balance. Still fighting the helm to hold a sailing course? Continue reefing, but move to the bow. If you have a furling headsail, roll up the headsail just enough in order to achieve “finger-tip” steering control. If necessary, change to a smaller headsail, like a working jib.

Use these five easy steps and sailing tips to learn to reef a main sail and achieve the ultimate goal of perfect balance. You will be rewarded with blazing speed, power, and performance–wherever in the world you choose to sail!

Docking Boat in a Current

Learn to dock a boat like a pro when you make smooth and easy landings in current. Follow these fast and easy sailing tips and in no time, you will be “wowing” the folks at your marina with your docking skills!

Enter any marina and you will deal with wind or current. Face the current with your bow or stern for maximum control. You will start to lose control when the current strikes the boat on the side of the hull, nearer the beam. This vital factor will help you understand boat docking in any current or wind. In this article, you will learn how to dock a boat in an open space alongside a pier or seawall.

Look for Clues

Prepare your boat with docking lines and fenders on both sides before you enter your marina or any other marina. Why both sides? What if your engine dies all of a sudden and you need to slide over to a pier to port or starboard? Or the dockmaster changes your berth assignment at the last minute? Get your boat ready for the unexpected for peace-of-mind and worry-free docking.

Observe how the current sets when you first enter a canal or channel that leads to a marina. Look for “current tails”, or tiny streams of water that flows past pilings, day beacons, finger piers, boat hulls, or pier bases. Use that current direction to line up your boat for maximum control to approach the dock.

Stem the Current

Current sets–or flows–in one of four directions relative to the dock: parallel to the dock from ahead, parallel to the dock from astern; off the dock (perpendicular); onto the dock (perpendicular). In any approach, turn to face the current with your bow if possible. If not possible, turn to face the current with your stern.

Use forward propulsion to maintain control against a bow current. Use reverse propulsion to maintain control against a stern current. In both cases, use just enough throttle speed to maintain control.

Perpendicular current can be more tricky to deal with. Face the current with your bow if the current sets off the dock. Face the current with your stern if the current set onto the dock. Use your engine to regulate the speed of your approach. Use forward propulsion to maintain control against a bow current. Use reverse propulsion to maintain control against a stern current. In both cases, use just enough throttle speed to maintain control.

Parallel Approach with Current Ahead

Keep the current as close to the bow as possible as you approach.. Use forward propulsion to control the speed of approach. Keep your speed to a crawl. Allow the current to help keep speed to a minimum. As soon as you are alongside, put over a forward bow line first to keep the boat in her position at the dock. Then, put over the rest of your docking lines.

Parallel Approach with Current Astern

Approach the dock from down-current at a narrow angle. Use reverse propulsion to control the speed of approach. Reverse your engine to slow or stop the boat. As soon as you are alongside, put over a stern line right away to keep the boat in her position at the dock. Then, put over the rest of your docking lines.

Perpendicular Approach Technique

Approach the dock at a perpendicular angle for maximum control. This keeps your bow or stern headed into the current.

Before you approach, line up the boat so that your bow faces a dock piling or dock cleat. Your crew will loop a spring line around the dock piling or dock cleat as soon as your bow reaches the pier. Make up a spring line near the bow. Cleat off one end of the spring line. Coil the remainder of the spring line and assign one crew to work the line.

Use absolute minimum speed to approach the pier. If your bow faces the current, use forward propulsion to regulate your speed of approach. If your stern faces the current, use reverse propulsion to regulate your speed of approach. Protect the bow in both cases with fenders (or have a crew hold a large fender on a line to cushion contact points.

Stop the boat when one or two feet off the pier. Use your engine to maintain this position. Loop the spring line around the dock piling or dock cleat and bring it back aboard to a boat cleat. Turn the wheel away from the pier (or hold a tiller toward the pier). Use minimum forward propulsion to bring the boat flush alongside the pier. Remember to use fenders throughout this maneuver to protect the hull. Once alongside, put over the remainder of your docking lines.

Learn to dock a boat like a pro in current with these easy sailing tips. Gain the confidence you need to master the art of docking–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!

Anchoring Techniques at Sea

If you want to learn to sail like a pro, you will need to be able to use your sailboat anchor smooth and easy. Matter of fact, cruising sailboat folks report that they spend over 80% of their time at anchor.

That’s because they sail to the destination and then spend time ashore to shop, sight-see, travel, and mingle among the local folks. Follow these five sailing tips to make sure you can set your anchor deep into the seabed under engine power–wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

Think slow, smooth, and easy. Put those three actions into play anytime you want to lower and set your sailing anchor. Realize that this will be one of the few times you have to do something “blind”. As soon as you lower your anchor below the water surface, you will no longer have it in sight.

So, you will need to slow the pace of this sailing skill to make sure that the anchor and anchor rode (rope or chain) make it to the bottom without knots, twists, or snarls. And that once your anchor rests upon the bottom it will align itself to dig deep beneath the seabed and set safe and secure. Follow these five steps to anchor your small sailboat under engine power. And remember–slow, smooth, and easy!

1. Point Into the Elements and Drift

Align your bow so that you are pointed into the stronger of the two elements–wind or current. Stop all momentum (forward motion). Lower your anchor until it hangs straight up and down (called “short stay”), but has not yet touched the bottom. Allow the boat to drift aft with the elements or place your engine in astern propulsion at the slowest speed possible. Lower the anchor just enough so that it makes contact with the seabed. You will know this happens when the anchor rode (line or chain) becomes slack. Go to the next step.

2. Lower Anchor Rode Equal to Two-Times Water Depth.

Continue to drift or motor aster at the slowest speed possible. Veer (let out) about two times the water depth in anchor rode. Your anchor flukes should dig into the seabed and “take a bite”.

3. Snub the Rode to Get Your Anchor to “Take a Bite”.

Tug on a rope anchor rode a few times to get the anchor to set and hold. Set the anchor windlass brake to get the anchor to set and hold if you use all-chain anchor rode. Go to the next step.

4. Veer the Remainder of Your Anchor Scope.

Veer the rest of your calculated anchor scope. Use a scope of 7 feet of rope rode for each foot of water depth (7:1 scope) with rope or rope and chain anchor rode. Use at least 5 feet of chain rode for each foot of water depth (5:1 scope) with all-chain anchor rode.

There will be circumstances where this amount of scope will not be possible (i.e. crowded boat anchorages). Use the most scope possible to avoid the possibility of dragging anchor (the anchor pulls out of the sea bed). Cleat off your anchor rode or set the windlass brake (all-chain rode). Go to the next step.

5. Check That Your Anchor Holds.

Place the back of a hand or bottom of your foot on top of the anchor rode. Vibration means you are dragging. Veer (let out) more scope and test again. Continue this sequence until you no longer feel vibration. If necessary, weigh anchor (pull it out and bring it aboard) and move to a better spot or a different anchorage.

When you are satisfied that your anchor has set deep into the seabed, check your position with drag bearings. Drag bearings are used as a fast way to tell you if you start to drag anchor.

Choose an object off the port of starboard beam. This could be a pier, corner of a house or roof, building, tower, or a prominent tree, hill, or mountain peak. Take a bearing to the object with a hand-bearing compass. Record the bearing and object description in your boat log. Share this information with your sailing crew or partner so that all hands aboard are involved in sailing safety.

Check the bearing three to four times the first hour at anchor, and then at least once an hour afterwards. If the bearing changes by more than a degree or two, you are dragging. Veer scope or move to a more secure spot.

If the wind or current shift, so will your boat heading. When that happens, choose a different object off the port or starboard beam. Make a new entry in the boat log and pass the information along to your crew.

Learn to sail with confidence when you know the sailing skills you need for safe anchoring under power. Practice these sailing tips for peace-of-mind when you lower your sailboat anchor–wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

How Far Can I Sail in a Day?

How far you can sail in 24 hours? If you want to go on a sailing cruise, you need this sailing skill so that you can carry enough food, water, fuel, and sailing gear for your sailing crew. Use these simple sailing tips.

What type of sailboat do you sail?

Sailing speed depends on factors like weight (displacement), type of hull configuration (single or multi-hull), sailing ability of the boat in flat or choppy water, and how well the boat treats her crew (pitching like a bronco, or slicing through the water like a hot knife through butter?). Use this guide to estimate you expected speed over a day to help provision your small sailboat for cruising.

Displacement Cruising Sailboat Speed

Single hull, heavy cruising sailboats “displace” a certain amount of water. Imagine that you picked up a sailboat out of the water and the “water hole” the boat was in did not fill back in with water. The amount of water contained in that hole would about equal the advertised displacement of the sailboat.

For example, If a cruising sailboat has an advertised displacement of 28,000 pounds, then when in the water, she displaces that same amount of water. When sailing, she must push this amount of water out of the way. That creates a lot of friction and restricts the maximum speed that can be achieved.

To figure the maximum theoretical speed of a displacement sailboat, use this formula: 1.34 times the square root of the waterline. Multiply the result by 24 hours. This gives you the theoretical distance a displacement sailboat can cover each day.

First, locate the specifications for your sailboat or any other sailboat you are interested in. Look in the specification sheet, online, or in an advertisement. Here’s an example:

Oubound 44 Cruising Sailboat:

LOA 44’9″; DWL 40’3″, Beam 13’6″;

Draft 6’6″/5’6″; Displacement 28,000 lbs.;

Ballast 10,000 lbs.; Sail Area 1,083 sq, ft.

From the advertisement, you see that this Outbound sailboat has a displacement of 28,000 pounds. Determine her approximate maximum sailing speed with the formula for displacement sailboats. Follow these steps:

Find the square root of the Design Water Line (DWL) 40’03” = 40.25′. Square root of 40.25′ = 6.34 x 1.34 = 8.5 knots. Multiply 8.5 X 24 hours = 204 miles per day.

Remember this will always be just theory. Plan for those days when the winds are super light and your speed will be slower than the theoretical displacement speed. On the other hand, you will have days when you run downwind where you will exceed hull speed. The wise skipper will be ultra-conservative in his or her estimates. Some skippers of larger cruising boats would use a conservative estimate–like 150 miles per day–for sailing safety. That way, they can provision the boat with enough food, water, fuel, and sailing supplies for their crew. This covers unexpected events such as extra light or heavy sailing weather or crew emergencies.

Catamaran and Trimaran Sailboat Speed

Multi-hull (more than one hull) sailboats–called catamarans if they have two hulls, or trimarans if they have three hulls–have most of their hulls above the water. These boats are not slowed down as much by friction like their heavier displacement cruising cousins.

Big catamarans and trimarans can often exceed hull speed. Their speed over a sailing day depends on the sailing winds and seas. The sailing skipper may decide to slow the boat down while at sea (reefing or reducing sail) to avoid crew fatigue and boost crew comfort.

As recommended above, be conservative in your estimates–even in super fast cruising sailboats. Just because a boat can go fast all day long does not mean that her crew can. It’s a lot of wear and tear on a short-handed sailing crew to sail fast hour after hour. Some sailors of fast cruising boats like to plan for a maximum of 150 nautical miles per day for provisioning and arrival time estimates.

Other Sailing Speed Averages

Dinghy sailboats and small catamarans (i.e. Hobie Cat) skim across the water and have just a small amount of their hull beneath the water. This avoids most of the friction that heavy displacement cruising boats face. But, unlike cruising sailboats, dinghies have no room for lot of provisions–food, fuel, sailing gear, emergency sailing equipment–that you will need for sailing day after day when cruising.

So, unless you are that rare sailor who likes the smallest of accommodations, you will want to reserve sailing dinghies for day sailing trips. Day sailors go out for the day and return in the late afternoon or early evening. Plan you sailing so that you have plenty of time to make it back before darkness (unless you like sailing after dark–nothing quite like it!).

One plan would be to sail upwind or up current, beating or close reaching through most of the day. When it’s time to head back, you can then fall off to a comfortable broad reach or run. back to your marina or boat ramp. That way, you avoid a lot of hard tacking against the wind to make it back home.

Learn to sail with confidence when you know how to estimate how far you can sail in a day. Use these simple sailing tips to help plan and provision your next sailboat cruise–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!