How Do You Rig A Small Sailboat?

Are you considering small sailboat ownership? You may be wondering exactly what you’ll need to do to get your boat ready to sail every time you want to go out. Rigging your small sailboat isn’t hard, but it is essential to do it correctly if you expect a safe and pleasant sail.

How Do You Rig A Small Sailboat?

To rig a small sailboat, you’ll first make sure the mast and boom are in place. You will then attach the tiller, rudder, and engine if relevant. Next, you’ll connect the jib sail lines and the jib sail. Finally, you will attach the mainsail lines and attach the mainsail to the mast and boom.

This is everything you need to know about rigging your small sailboat to enjoy a trip out on the water.

What Is Left In Place On A Small Sailboat?

Every time you approach your small sailboat to go for a sail, you won’t have to rig it completely. Some aspects are left in place on small boats, making it easier for you to rig and get going the next time.

  • The mast. The mast is the vertical rod that stands up from somewhere towards the center of the boat and holds the sails upright. On small boats, the mast is generally removable, or it can be collapsed so it is easier to trailer or store the sailboat. However, if you’ll be leaving your sailboat in place and aren’t worried about storing it under a tarp, you will probably leave the mast in place between sails.
  • The boom. The boom is the horizontal rod that connects to the mast and holds up the mainsail. On most small boats, it is dropped to the deck for storage, but not removed. If you do need to trailer or store your small boat, the boom can be removed. 

Getting The Mast And Boom Ready To Sail

If your mast and boom aren’t currently in place, you need to position them before you move forward. Here is how to get your mast and boom ready. 

  • Attach the mast to the mast step. The mast step is a mounting piece attached to the deck of the boat, usually made of thick stainless steel. In most small boats, the mast is put in place by hand, and a heavy metal pin is used to secure it. Once the mast has been put in place into the mast step, or “stepped” you will secure it in place with lines. Every boat is a little bit different, but there should be shrouds going in at least two directions to keep the mast firmly attached.
  • Attach the boom. On most sailboats, the boom attaches to the mast right below where the sail attaches. Attachment between the boom and mast varies, but the boom must be able to swing from side to side freely. This is usually done with a joint called the gooseneck, which pivots and allows the boom to move freely.

Rigging Your Small Sailboat

Every time you take your sailboat out, you will need to perform the following steps.

While the boom and mast are generally kept in place, the rest of the rigging is usually detached and replaced every time you sail.

This is for the safety of the equipment and to make it easier to store your small boat.

The Rudder

A small boat’s rudder can take some wear and tear if it is left on in the water. Therefore, it is usually removed between trips.

Usually, the rudder is attached with pins called pintles that you insert in a downward direction into rings called gudgeons on the stern. 

The exact attachment varies between boats, but it is usually pretty straightforward and clear how you will attach the runner to the stern when you put the rudder in place.

Sometimes rudders already have the tiller attached and sometimes they don’t. Here’s how you attach the tiller if your rudder doesn’t already have one.

The Tiller

A tiller is a thin arm that attaches to the rudder to enable you to steer. Usually, it goes into a slot near the top of the rudder.

The typical way of connecting it is a pin to lock it into position, but your tiller may have a different attachment. 

If you do have a pin, make sure that it is attached to a lanyard so that you don’t accidentally drop it overboard. Many sailors also utilize a tiller extension.

This is especially important if you are single-handing your boat since it lets you steer while moving further up the deck to handle the sails. Tiller extensions usually fit onto the tiller and may or may not be secured with a pin.


Some small sailboats have motors and some don’t. If your small sailboat does have a motor, you will probably remove it between trips. You may also tilt it up, but many people choose to remove it entirely. 

The motor should be settled into its casing, generally with two pins to hold it in place. Be sure to check the platform that the motor settles onto regularly to make sure that it is not degrading.

Attaching The Sails

The most exciting thing about getting your small sailboat rigged is doubtless attaching the sails.

After all, this is what makes it into a sailboat. Sails should always be removed or covered between trips since sunlight and weather can age and weather them very quickly. 

On small boats, it is usually more convenient to remove the sails than to bag them. Here’s what you need to know about attaching small sailboats sails.

Attaching The Jib

  1. Position the sail. Spread out your sail and determine which of its corners is the head. This is the top of the sail, and will be more narrow than the rest of the sail’s triangle.
  2. Attach the halyard. The halyard is the line that holds the sail in place. Attach your halyard shackle to the corner. Double-check that the shackle is closed and very secure, since it will be the only thing keeping your sail up.
  3. Follow the luff to the next corner. The luff is the bottom edge of the sail. It generally has attachment points every foot or so, making it easy to determine from the other side of the sail. At the corner between the luff and the edge of the sail, you will attach a grommet to the bottom with either a pin or some kind of shackle. 
  4. Attach the bottom of the sail.  Take a hold of the halyard so that you can raise the sail slightly and attach the bottom of the sail with attachment points called hanks. Start with the hank that is closest to the head of your sail. Hanks are generally spring-loaded to make it easy for you to attach them to the sail. Continue down along the luff, raising the sail a little more as you go so that you can move from one hank to another. As you go, be sure that the sail is not twisted and that all the hanks are in line.
  5. Attach the jib sheets. Jib sheets are lines that control the jib from the cockpit. Sometimes they are left in place on the sail, but more often, they need to be attached each time you take out your small sailboat. If there is a shackle on your jib sheets, use it to attach the jib-sheet to the sail. Otherwise, use a bowline to make the attachment. Each sheet will be run from the sail, past the mast, and into the cockpit. You may choose to run the sheets inside or outside the shrouds, depending on your boat. Attach the sheets to cleats to hold them in place.

Attaching The Mainsail

How Do You Rig A Small Sailboat?
  • Position the sail.  Lay out your mainsail just as you did with the jib. Identify the three corners and find the head of the sail, which is the narrowest end of the triangle. You will attach your main halyard line to the head of your mainsail. 
  • Attach the other end of the mainsail.  Generally the forward lower corner of the mainsail is attached to the boom with a removable pin. When it is attached, the luff, or lower edge of the mainsail, will be secured at both ends.
  • Secure the main sail to the boom. Your mainsail may be directly attached to the boom by being inserted into a groove along the entire end. On other boats, the sail is attached at points. Depending on how your mainsail is attached, you will have more or less flexibility. However it is attached, make sure that all attachments are secure so that the mainsail will not separate from the bloom while you are underway.
  • Attach the mainsail to the mast. Most mainsails fit into a groove in the mast that enables them to raise smoothly without a gap between the mast and the sail. Others have slugs to attach the mainsail to the mast. However your mainsail attaches, make sure that the sail isn’t twisted anywhere as you gradually raise the sail and attach it to the mast. You’ll pull the halyard slowly as you answer each attachment point to the mast.
  • Raise the Mainsail. You are now just about ready to sail. As you continue attaching the mainsail to the mast, you will keep raising it. When you’re done, the main will be up. Pull hard on the halyard to take any slack out of your mainsail and then tie it off onto a cleat.

Go Sailing

All you have to do is lower your centerboard if your sailboat has one and raise the jib and you are on your way.

With the sails raised your sailboat will catch the wind and move forward. Adjust the mainsheet and the jib sheet as needed.