If you are getting started with sailing, you’re probably very excited for the moment you finally raise a sail. The next question is which sail to raise first.
Which sail do you raise first on a sailboat?
The first sail that you should raise is the mainsail, whether you intend to sail up or downwind. Next, you’ll raise either the jib or the spinnaker, depending on whether you expect to sell upwind, at a reach, or downwind.
Getting started with sailing as a lot of fun, but it is crucial to know the basics of how to raise your sails before you get out on the water. Here’s what you need to know about how to raise sails and what order to raise them in.
Depending on the wind, raising the sails can be quite loud at first. The boom will swing out and sails may slap and crack. It can be a bit scary if you’re not expecting it, so be ready and stay calm as you raise the sails.
Raising the Mainsail
The first sail that you will raise is the mainsail. It goes up easily most of the way, provided you are pointing steadily into the wind. For the last few feet you will need to apply some pressure to pull the mainsail up.
You may find it helpful to use a winch at this point. As the mainsail goes out, the boom will swing about. (The boom is the horizontal rod that attaches to the mast and holds the bottom of the mainsail).
Be sure to warn any passengers when you are hoisting the mainsail so they can stay out of the way. The boom can be dangerous and is one of the most common causes of injury for sailors.
Which Sail do You Raise Next?
The jib is a triangular sail that rests ahead of the mast. This sail goes up next. It tends to be a bit easier to hoist than the mainsail. The jib also flops around as it is raised and before the wind fills it.
Unlike the main sail, the jib isn’t attached to a boom that is swinging around, so it is safe to move around the jib if you need to release an anchor or mooring.
How do You Begin Sailing?
The goal when you hoist the sails is to point into the wind. This can be done in a number of ways:
From Mooring or Anchor
A mooring is a permanent structure with a line coming from it that boats are tied off to.
An anchor goes with the boat and can be deployed to hold it in place wherever the boat goes. If the boat is anchored or moored from a single bowline you will already be pointing into the wind in the perfect position to raise the sails.
This is one of the easier ways to raise the sails since you don’t have to worry about where the boat is going as you’re doing it. It’s also easier for one person to do alone since you don’t need to pilot the boat while the sails are being raised.
Most modern sailboats are equipped with motors. If you are starting out from a more crowded area or launching your boat from a trailer, you will likely motor out before you begin sailing.
To raise the sails while motoring, turn the bow into the wind in an area where you don’t have to worry too much about running into shallow water or obstacles. Someone will need to keep the boat turned into the wind under motor while you raise the sails.
This part is a juggling act between maintaining enough power to keep control of the boat and not going forward so fast that it fills the sails with wind prematurely.
Multihull sailboats with engines on either side of the boat have an advantage here since they can hold themselves in place without making forward motion.
What Happens Once the Sails Are Up?
When the sails are up, it is time to turn into the wind to fill the sails. This is one of the trickier aspects of beginning to sail, and it is one of the times when sails are most vulnerable.
Starting from Mooring or Anchor
When the boat is released from the morning or the anchors pulled up, the boat will tend to drift backward. By pulling the jib out to one side, you can cause the bow to swing out towards the opposite side and fill with wind.
When the bow has turned approximately 45 degrees from the wind, you can adjust both sails until it stops flapping by pulling them tighter.
How tight you pull them depends on how hard the wind is blowing and what angle you want to keep to the wind. You’ll know they’re tight enough when the sail stops flapping and the boat jumps forward.
Starting from Motor
Once the sails are fully up, the helmsman can turn the boat slowly to approximately a 45 degree angle from the wind.
It can be somewhat challenging to keep the boat pointed in the correct direction when starting from motor.
Employing the autopilot can be a good way to help you keep a consistent angle and also free up the helmsman to help with raising the sails.
Tending the Sails
Many sailors imagine themselves sitting back, watching the world go by as the wind magically moves them along. In fact, tending the sails is often a continuous process.
When the wind is very steady or you can set a downwind track, you may need to trim sails less often, but most of the time they’ll need to be adjusted for little variations in the breeze or in your course.
If you are trying to set a fast pace, you will be even more dedicated to constantly trimming the sails so that they have enough wind to fill them but not so much that they begin to flap.
When Would You Raise a Spinnaker Sail?
Spinnaker sails aren’t used as often as the main or the jib. As may be expected by its name, the main is used no matter which way you are sailing to the wind.
The jib is used when you are sailing upwind. It may also be used when sailing perpendicular to the wind, or reaching. The spinnaker is only raised when you are sailing downwind, or sometimes when you are sailing perpendicular to the wind at a primarily downwind angle.
Spinnakers are delicate sails that can’t handle heavy winds, but they are a great way to capture even light downwind breezes and create a very pleasant and predictable sail.
Can You Raise Sails by Yourself?
If you are imagining a solo voyage, you may be wondering whether you can raise your sails alone.
If you have chosen a boat that is designed to be handled by a single person, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be able to raise your own sails. An autopilot is extremely helpful to keep the boat pointed into the wind.
You’ll likely never forget the first time that you raise the sails yourself. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing the wind fill the sails and feeling the boat leap forward beneath you.
Have fun, and remember to watch out for the boom!
What Happens If Wind Suddenly Picks Up Or Changes While You Are Sailing?
Sudden changes in wind often mean a storm is coming. If you actually see a storm or feel sudden shifts in wind, especially if the wind is cold, it is wise to reduce the sails that you have up so that you can better handle changes.
If the wind is very strong or the change is very sudden, you may decide to bring your sails down entirely and proceed under motor power. The jib should be dropped completely.
The mainsail can be brought to half-mast or lower, depending on the wind. Keep in mind that one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a sailboat is being caught with sails up in a storm. Your sails could be ripped and destroyed or your boat could even capsize.
What If The Boat Heads Out Of The Wind Before The Sails Are Up?
A common mistake for new sailors is allowing the boat to move out of an upwind position before the sails are fully up.
Keeping your boat anchored or moored while you raise the sails should solve this possibility. Still, it can still happen if the wind suddenly changes while you are raising the sails.
If this happens to you, don’t panic. Stand clear of the boom, especially if it is flailing about in the wind. Turn the wheel to face back into the wind. If you are struggling, drop the sails so that you can start over again.
What If I Struggle To Raise The Sails?
If you are finding it difficult to raise your sails even if you are pointing upwind and the sails are completely empty, you have a couple of options. You can use automatic winches to raise your sails for you.
However, if anything should go wrong with automatic winches, you can find yourself in a very dangerous situation. Your other option is to move down to a smaller boat with smaller sails that you are able to lift.