The sailboat’s sails

The sailboat’s sails are among the most important aspects to consider whenever you’re thinking about getting a boat. The boat will typically have a sail-plan that is comprised of multiple sails that are used in certain configurations, depending on the boat.

In most cases you will find that the sail-plan has these three configurations listed. First of all there would be the light air configuration, used whenever the force of the wind is at 1 or less. That’s the wind that you will have most of the time and it requires a combination of very large sails that can give you speed even when there is just a breeze. Second, there are the working sails that have to be changed quickly whenever there are conditions that are variable. They don’t weigh much either and they have to be stronger since they are used in stronger winds. The stronger the wind, the more the sail area needs to be reduced. Thirdly, there is the sail plan that is designed with storms in mind. They take little space, they are tough and they allow you to control the vessel even during storms.


The sails are always balanced against the keel’s drag, allowing for the boat to point towards the wind, so it doesn’t turn with its side if control is lost. In a situation like that, a smaller boat could be destroyed by the breaking waves. There are various situations that the boat’s architect tries to prevent by working and testing the sail plan in various situations.

Types of rigs

Fore-and-aft: these are flat sails that will run both fore and aft, as the name suggests. You will find them easy to manage, as they don’t have to be relaid if there is a change in course. One example is a Bermuda Rig, that has a triangular mainsail.

Gaff: this type of rig comes with sails that are triangle shaped and they run fore and aft, with a gaff on the upper edge. If it’s close-hauled the efficiency is reduced, but with the gaff’s help the boat doesn’t lean as much because of the force of the wind against the sails.

Square: the name of this rig comes from the square angle that is visible between the mast and its sail, so it has no connection with the sail shape. While old boats would require crews to climb up in order to unfurl or furl these sails, modern ones have a remote control that does all this for them.

Lateen: this type of rig has a very low drag and it uses a sail that has a triangular shape. It is placed on the mast at an angle and it runs both in the fore and the aft.

Types of sails

Depending on the rig form, you will find that there are certain sails that are required. The staysail is one of them, a cloth piece that is connected to the stay with at least one side (sometimes two). The jib is the type of sail that is placed at the front of the first mast and it’s a headsail.

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