The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

The Case For Hank On Headsails

Mai Tai Sailing
[We just got an interesting and very well reasoned email from Lane Finley, a very experienced voyager who sails out of New Zealand with his wife Kaye on their beautiful classic Luders designed Annapolis 44 cutter Mai Tai, pictured above.]

By Lane Finley

Most people will believe that anyone advocating hank-on sails over roller furling in our modern world is certifiably crazy. Just look at the local marina, a sea of masts, all with roller furling systems on at least the head stay. It is very rare to find a boat today with hank-on sails. They are seen to be “old fashion”. But have they really been surpassed by modern furling sails? I think not.

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More Articles From Online Book: Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy:

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  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
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  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
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  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
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  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
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  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
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  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
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  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
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  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
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  50. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
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C. Dan

“modern boat builders have convinced many of us into thinking that the only way to go sailing is with roller furling”

Ditto for the Marconi rig

Dave Benjamin

As a company we’ve been part of a growing trend towards smaller furling headsails combined with what we refer to as a cruising code zero flown from a foil-less furler. To make furling sails easier to change out, there is a product called Kiwi Slides that allow the sail to be lowered but remain attached to the foil in the same manner as hanks. We are impressed with the reliability and robustness of modern furling gear. And while we’ve had a few customers suffer damage to a sail due to furling line parting, that is largely preventable by replacing the line regularly with a high quality line from a reputable manufacturer. There is even a furler that is made in either NZ or AUS that has a pawl of sorts that makes it so the furler can not come unwound inadvertently even if the line is shredded.

Certainly the simplicity and reliability of hanks is well proven. But we feel that there’s some viable alternatives that make sense for the vast majority of cruisers who don’t want to deal with changing headsails on a pitching foredeck in a blow.

Jacques Landry

I fully agree with Lane and think that relying solely on a large genoa on a roller furler for ocean crossing is not a smart idea. Even if you have the latest gear with all the new gizmo they can fail (and they do even on brand new boats). The only trouble you can have with a hank on sail is the halyard getting stuck, but that would be a problem with the furled sail as well.

Unfortunately, most of us have one of these large genoa on a furler, because it came with the boat, or because we mostly do coastal cruising single-handed (or kind of). I was contemplating the alternatives lately as I am planning a circumnavigation, and changing the whole wardrobe is just too expensive for me. I have a 140 and 120 genoa, a working jib (all 3 on tape) and a storm jib that is hank-on, but there are no removable stay for it. All sails are in new or near new condition (the storm sail has never seen a spray as it could not be raised) and here is the compromised I came up with.

I installed the proper attachment for an additional stay up the mast (about 35 cm down from the main stay) and will install a removable stay just aft of the furler, with all the proper reinforcement evidently. I will then have my two smaller sails (120 and 100) modified with hanks and use the large genoa on the furler for coastal cruising. When the forecast calls for more wind, or when I venture offshore, the large genoa goes down and the appropriate sail is hanked on the removable stay.

This will allow leisure sailing with friends with the convenience of a furled headsail, as well as the security and robustness of hank-on sails when offshore.

Why don’t I change all headsails to hanks ? Because I like the practicality of the furled genoa which is appropriate for most conditions but offshore in stronger winds.

RDE (Richard Elder)

All of Lane’s arguments in favor of hank-on headsails are completely logical. Back in the day I was perfectly content to use hank on sails on my Cape George Cutter, even though she had a substantial bowsprit. Of course the fact that I could buy three used headsails in good shape for the cost of a furler had nothing to do with it—–.

Still there is a reason why adoption of furling gear is nearly universal, and it isn’t that the entire world has been sold a bill of goods by Magic Marketing. Sixteen years ago I went to the start of the then BOC singlehanded race on behalf of a client. There was exactly one hank on staysail and zero hanked headsails among the entire field. And I would have to conclude that the people outfitting these boats knew far more than I about what works in the real world to provide speed and reliability.

I spent an interesting two weeks on a boat with a different approach to sail handling using modern code zero line furlers.
It had a high modulus free standing mast modeled after the one used on the Open 60, Ocean Planet. Changing headsails only required dropping the furled sail to the deck, unclipping the furler and clipping on the new furler and sail from its sausage bag, changing sheet leads, and hoisting away with the sail in its furled state at all times. This sail handling arrangement should work equally well with a permanent forestay as long as you understand that its only role is to support the mast. You can have multiple tack points, and fly anything from a downwind light air sail to a storm jib using this system. Of course I can still buy three used sails for the cost of a furler—.

Mike R

I agree with RDE. Its not all hype. I have spent some time on an Open 60 that I’m sure has more than a few thousand offshore miles on it and all the three headsails had furling gear….. Gotta be something there. I think there is a way to combine old with new.


Aren’t Open 60’s optimised for downwind? Wouldn’t the drag of a couple of furled sails hurt upwind?

Eric Schlesinger

Would I be wrong in thinking that a “code zero is pretty similar to my free flying yankee (on a bow sprit); with the addition of a furler? (The rest is a stay sail, gaff main and marconi mizzen). I have been thinking of putting the above on furler too, mmm.
cheers, Eric

David Nutt

I sailed many thousands of miles with hank on headsails. I managed the sail changes by keeping two sails hanked on at most times. When sailing with the genoa I had the yankee hanked on beneath it. When the inevitable sail change came I dropped the genoa, lashed it to the deck with permanently installed sail ties then stripped the hanks from the head stay. After the yankee was up and we were back on course I would hank on genoa beneath the hoisted yankee all ready for a wind drop. It worked really well and was never a problem when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. But time has passed.
Danza, on which my family and I did a 42,000 5 year circumnavigation and a later trip to Greenland is a cutter rigged ketch with roller furling on both the jib and the staysail and I cannot imagine sailing her with hank on sails. When windy I can carry the yankee and the staysail with the mizzen furled and two reefs in the main. When the wind comes up a bit more I roll up the entire yankee and sail with just the staysail and double reefed main. I have yet to have to put in the third reef. Attempts we have made to ‘reef’ the yankee have been futile as it reefs into a bag-like-shape which is entirely the wrong sail shape especially as the wind picks up.
I think the cutter rig is by far and away the best foredeck rig for any serious offshore boat. It gives the best options for headsails and eliminates the falsehood of a reefing headsail. That beautiful flat staysail helps put the center of effort nearer the center of the boat. If you need to use an actual storm jib wrestling with a staysail after things have gone bad is a much better option than dealing with an entire genoa or yankee.
I still find it surprising that there are not more double head sail rigs as I have never heard an argument against them.


another squishy factor with roller furling: like all mechanisms this one too is subject to failure which is when murphey’s law kicks in and your jackline-clipped-on harness becomes your best friend as you go forward to try to break the furler loose as the genoa is probably being pounded to death and your pulse rate is maxing out not to mention you are probably being soaked and loosing gobs of energy by the second from the chill and physical effort…shall i go on ? richard in tampa bay (m/v cavu’s skipper…formerly s/v sidra’s skipper)

Victor Raymond

My “new” boat has an unusual roller furler made by Reef Rite in New Zealand. It addresses two complaints that Lane brings up.
One, is the sail is attached to the foil by means of slides similar to those on the mainsail. The gate is high enough to allow all the slides to bunch up bellow it so that a second sail could be hoisted should that be desirable.
Second, the roller furler drum has a pawl with a release line running aft so that the drum will not move unless intentionally. This is a real safety factor. Of course you have to remember to release it.
In conclusion I think Lane is right about hank on sails for smaller boats but for the over 45 footers those large stiff sails get very heavy and difficult to handle on a pitching bow.

Victor Raymond

My boat has double headsails plus cutter stay. I call it a double headed cutter but not sure that is real term.

The real issue comes with changing tack with the genoa as there is little room between the stays. The only option is to furl the genoa in completely, change tack then unfurl it again. It is both time consuming and a lot of work. Maybe an electric…………..


I am not sure our setups are equivalent or if I have misunderstood, but this is what we do on our double headsail ketch when tacking;
When sailing with the forward headsail (up to max 12-14 knots – for us it’s an ‘all or nothing’ sail since the cloth is fairly light and would be ruined if used reefed in heavier winds), we always also use the inner headsail *when the wind if forward of abeam* . When tacking, we let go of the sheet to the forward headsail first which then slides on the inner headsail into the slot between the stays (the inner headsail working as a funnel). Once it’s thru we let go the sheet to the inner headsail. This way it is quite easy to single-handedly tack our ketch. Tacking downwind is a different story, so it tends to be a choice between gennaker (light wind, say below 10-12 knots) and inner headsail (above 10-12 knots), leaving the forward headsail unused in either case.

Nick Kats

This is one of the best articles I’ve ever seen re sailing.

It bucks the trend which I love to see.

One thing I’ve noticed is that many sailors on my boat hate leaving the cockpit, even in mild weather. One should be able to roam the deck of his boat in total confidence in gale conditions. I do not bother with jacklines. I rarely use my safety harness, and then only when I have to go out on the plunging A-frame bowsprit to handle the headsail. I try to anticipate deteriorating conditions by taking in the genoa or working jib early.

Those who cannot leave the cockpit will never contemplate hank-ons, only roller furling. But if their furler breaks they are in big trouble, having no experience with this particular situation, and no confidence in moving about.

I have used basic furling gear 20 or so years on previous modern fiberglass boats & I cannot recall a single failure – but then I hugged the New England coast with its mild conditions & was never out in gales. 4 years ago I graduated to my heavy displacement Colin Archer type, based in western Ireland where gales are common.

Initially it can be hard work handling foresails solo. But it does not take long to get used to it. I’ve developed a variety of effective tricks for dealing with foresails & now am comfortable doing everything up forward solo – actually I enjoy it.

Hank-ons are absolutely KISS. Anything else compared to hank-ons are always going to be complex. Is it desireable to have complexity when one can have simplicity?

The cult of excessive safety & the related loss of confidence locks many sailors into their cockpits. The extreme lightness & speed of modern sailboats generates rapid violent movements. These factors have severely eroded the sailor’s ability to move about freely and make the complex roller furler the only option for them.


There’s a powerful lesson for life in general here. Worried something might go wrong? Don’t hide from it, get in amongst it. Nice example John.

Joe Casey

The initial author does not address the issue of working the foredeck in storm or near storm conditions and the increased risk to crew as compared to the relative safety of the cockpit. Also. a cutter rig with the relatively smaller stay sail provides an excellent solution to reducing sail — a smaller sail closer to the center of effort, often sheeted through lead blocks that allow you to have very flat sail. As for chafing of the furler line, if properly and fairly led, the chances of parting are quite manageable.

As for weight aloft for a roller-furled head sail, it would be interesting to calculate the weight of say the bottom third, middle third and upper third of the sail. Our 12o% genoa (dacron with spectra matrix) weighs in at 85 pounds of which I expect half of that weight is in the lower 20 ft of overall hoist. And, bagging that sail is a PITA in calm weather, taking two persons, so envisioning a sail change in storm or pre storm conditions is not high on my list.

Net we each have our preferences based on direct experience. as well as those such as the ocean racers who as others note have transitioned to a variety of furled sail solutions.

P D Squire

I thought the initial author addressed the issue of working the foredeck in storm or near storm conditions by recommending bearing away, which reduces the motion significantly and blankets the headsail behind the main taming it considerably.


As a former singlehander who only had hank on sails I saved my pennies and converted to roller furling – and happily never looked back. After converting my first boat, a Cape Dory 33 sloop to a cutter, I was happier still.

What you mentioned about being comfortable going forward I totally agree with and is also why we don’t have halyards running back to the cockpit. We believe you gradually lose your situational awareness if you only sit in the cockpit. We would never want a completely enclosed cockpit for the same reason. I would also suggest a daily walk around from stern to bow to check for chafe in rigging and sails. This has allowed me to spot things that were going wrong before they spun out of control such as a shackle pin backing out. I make my daily walk around an iron clad routine underway, usually in late afternoon so I have time to fix something if needed before it gets dark and it allows me to rest easier at night knowing we are as well prepared as we can be. Gotta keep putting credits into that black box.



I don’t have near the experience of most commentators but given this post was initially raised out of concern for the choices appropriate to the model T and given its intended audience (closer to me prob than most above) I though what the heck –

I have a 33 foot sloop that is currently used mainly for phrf racing. It came with furling gear of course and I removed it in favor of changeable heads on something called a tuffluff – mainly to address the extent to which the other phrf equipped boats are tilted towards light airs…I now change sails depending on conditions appropriate to the day. The (admittedly somewhat inexperienced) crew helps relatively little when changes are required and thats fine….the benefit has surprisingly not been in light airs but in heavy – when I can put the blade on and continue with a very pretty flat rig. Most importantly the crew remains calm and having fun as the boat approaches the conditions seen above.

So my point is this: I was reading this blog today with my coffee (thanks, it is so useful to me its hard to explain) and my wife came over and looked at the above picture and said “ooh I don’t want to be out in that” meaning it was too windy for her tastes. I bet that the people on board might be feeling similarly given their likely experience envelope (this is not a trash they could be AC45 skippers for all I know but boat choice leans towards coastal cruisers) and the fact they they are near maxi reefed. Had the conditions been felt on a heavier displacement hull or even with a flatter rig it might have been a spirited but immensely fun run I would think. This is my problem: the rig seems to me to skew the perception of crew (if they dont know better) to believe that 25kts is getting near serious and they certainly should not be fooling around on deck etc. The offshore environment commands exposure to harsher conditions and I feel like inshore cruising and racing particularly instills a sense that winds that should prob be fun are scary. My wife would prob be right about her assessment on that boat but I wanted to point out the scaling down of the perception of manageable and even enjoyable conditions that comes with poor rig shape partic for the newbie. More important are the decision that will result from that smaller comfort zone when dipping a toe offshore. – Long long way of saying though I’d love a boat that rates above 100 it may be counterproductive for your audience.

Lane Finley

Thanks everyone for your excellent comments. Now I can actually show my wife that I am not totally nuts for still having hank-on sails. Well, at least I can show her there are other nuts out there that understand my reasons. I am still one of the few people in the marina with hank on sails. Thanks though!

The really great thing that has come through in the comments is how each of you has approached the headsail issue in a well thought out way.

It was interesting to see Nick Kats comment about working on the foredeck. When I feel I can’t go forward and wrestle down a headsail in a full gale, it will be time for me to stop offshore sailing. Changing sails helps keep me fit, confident and comfortable for when all hell does breaks loose. It will happen, usually in the middle of the night, whether you have hank-on sails or roller furling. Richard gives us a good look at what happens when you are fighting a problem up forward.

Dave Benjamin made an interesting comment about the Kiwi Slides. These are a big step forward for furling sails. As he explained they allow you to drop your headsail and still have it attached to the furler instead of flying loose on the foredeck.

Victor Raymond mentioned the Reef-Rite furler, which helps eliminate the problem of a chaffing furling line by building in a mechanical stop to secure the gear from un-rolling.

I have seen a number of larger boats with two headstays, one ahead of the other, and each with furling gear. This works well until you need to tack as Victor points out. However, for offshore sailing it may make sense. There is still the issue of weight aloft though.

Jacques Landry has incorporated a sensible solution by attaching an inner forestay behind the genoa furler that can be released and carried aft while tacking out the harbour in fine weather. For those of you who have never seen a twin head stay system (two head stays side by side and about 4 inches apart). This rig has fallen out of favour because when the sail is hanked onto the windward stay it pulls across the leeward stay and not only chafes the wire but can actually unhook the hanks. It aslo doesn’t allow the use of furling systems.

We (New Zealanders) have just welcomed the Volvo 70’s into Auckland this last Sunday. The whole fleet, from the first to the last, arrived within a 14 hour period after sailing twenty days from China. The last five arrived in a 3 hour window after 5,000 miles. They all use roller furling gear. However, they have nine top (young) sailors onboard and at any time there is a problem with the rig, they just send one of these guys up, which is like 100 feet high. They also change sails continually to get the best results from changing weather patterns. When you have four guys on the foredeck, it doesn’t matter as much that the sail dumps out on deck when it is dropped. These are not exactly typical cruising boats. But it is through this kind of racing that new and better sailing equipment is developed.

There will be a size limit for handling hank-on sails. It will depend on the boat size, type of rig and how the crew is made up. My guess would be somewhat less than fifty feet for most cruising couples. That size probably covers most of us.

Your comments have all been very interesting, informative and useful. Thank you all!



To my mind, anyone promoting hanks over modern furling are not being realistic about the situation. In terms of speed, you furling allows you to “change gears” in varying winds in seconds, while the hank on boat is sailing bald headed. Reefed “bags” in real terms are a thing of the past, with modern foam luff inserts and proper furling sail design. Next is the safety issue of changing sails in a seaway. 25 years ago I was a hard core hank on fanatic, until I was passed by a smaller bareboat to windward in squally weather, whom I had already horizoned 2 hours earlier. The hank on boat is forever over canvassed or under canvassed. Hanks were OK for full crewed racing yachts, but not on short handed boat any more, racing or cruising.

Dave Benjamin

What a great discussion. I really enjoy this website a lot more than the forum sites. I wanted to address Eric Schlesinger’s question about how his free flown yankee would compare with a code zero.

It’s helpful to understand that the original code zero sails were racing rulebeaters. Racers wanted a headsail that would rate as a spinnaker. Thus they could get away with carrying the equivalent of a very large genoa without a penalty. A racing code zero is different from a cruising code zero in that there are requirements for the sail to have a certain amount of girth. For cruising applications we could care less about the racing rules so the emphasis is on manageability, performance, and of course longevity.

There are many differences between a yankee with free luff and a code zero. The yankee is a high clewed jib that is rather limited in applications. It’s usually made of Dacron whereas a code zero will be made from a much lighter material like nylon or a lightweight laminate. Our code zero’s are radial constructed, and share some commonalities with both genoas and cruising spinnakers. They can be carried almost to close hauled and the performance is impressive on all points of sail. The sail is designed to be used until there is enough wind to achieve equal or greater speed with the working sails. We use genoas with a little or no overlap as the code zero is far more effective than a heavy Dacron furling genoa could ever be. The code zero is usually flown from a foil-less furler. For use downwind, easing the tackling to allow some rotation in front of the boat offers reasonable performance.

We do not subscribe to the theory that it’s okay to routinely reef a furling genoa. It’s not healthy for the sail and while a foam luff helps with shape, you have to consider how the loads are being spread on a reefed headsail. When the sail is fully un-furled, we use oversize radial patches in the corners to distribute the load. When not reefed, the sail is being used as designed with draft in the proper position and appropriate depth. All that changes when it’s reefed. So our philosophy is to use a code zero for light-medium air and use the headsail when the wind picks up. We should not have to reef too often this way. A boat used for distance cruising should have a heavy air headsail as well. This could be deployed from a removable stay or for tradewinds cruising, an ATN Gale Sail may be sufficient. With a properly designed sail plan, it would be possible to circumnavigate without reefing the headsail or reef it only on a rare occasion.


Awsome. So a Yankee cutter and a code zero.

Three sails optimised for different conditions:
0-10 kts: light laminate code zero
10-20 kts: drop the code zero, hoist the medium weight yankee and heavy weight staysail on their kiwi-sliders, and unfurl them both.
20-30 kts furl the staysail.
30 – 40 kts furl the yankee & unfurl the staysail
40 kts + start thinking about reefing the staysail

Sound about right?


I have no off-shore experience but from the problems with furlers that I have seen I think hank-on, at least up to 35 feet or so, make the most sense. What about having reefs in the headsails, like Larry & Lin Pardey? Is there any downside to such a design?

Dave Benjamin


What kind of problems have you experienced with furlers? What kind were they? Were they over 15 or 20 years old? Had they been properly maintained?

As a sailmaker I am not a fan of the reefed headsail, especially if it involves a zipper. Zippers and sails do not play well together and I’d rather perform the relatively easy maintenance of a furler than be dealing with a zipper on a sail.

Here’s the real reason I stand opposed to a reefed headsail. When we reduce the luff length, we lose a lot of drive. When we’re designing headsails, we tend to reduce the LP (luff perpendicular) to make a sail usable in a higher wind range. Think of the luff length as being tied to the amount of drive (ability to punch through opposing seas) and the LP as putting a limit on the amount of heel. So luff length equals power and LP (%) equals heel.

Back in the old days, it was pretty common for a #3 racing jib to be short on the hoist. Modern sail design has moved away from that because it’s inefficient. If we put two one design yachts side by side with jibs of the same sail area but one with more overlap and shorter luff, we’d see it lose to the boat with the higher aspect ratio headsail.

On a high aspect rig, we can only reduce overlap to a certain extent. If we make the sail too tall and skinny, it’s hard to keep the leech from fluttering without adding battens. If we add battens, we usually put them in the leech, parallel to the luff if the sail is roller furled. What I’m getting at is at some point, we have to reduce the luff length to preserve a manageable aspect ratio.

Back to the topic of furlers, I feel that misgivings about reliability are a bit overstated. We see standing rigging fail periodically yet most of us own boats that rely on standing rigging to keep the mast up. Applying the same line of thinking to rigging as some do to furlers, why is it that we don’t all own boats with freestanding rigs like Freedoms and some of the Tanton designs? There are numerous boats that I’ve worked on or been involved with in some manner, that have used a furler for tens of thousands of ocean miles with no problems. Furlers need periodic inspection and maintenance, but properly installed and maintained, they are are incredibly reliable pieces of gear.

Gary Schwarzman

I can respond to Neil’s query about reefs in headsails. For several years we had a reefing jib on Anasazi’s cutter rig. When a reef was required, that meant dropping the sail, scooching out onto the bowsprit (well harnessed in), tying in the new tack and seven reef points, re-tying the clew and raising the sail. The operation was a pain, but there was a certain glory to it as well.

You can evaluate your own eagerness to tie in a jib reef, but there are a couple of other disadvantages to a reefing jib. First, after working out the sheet leads, it was impossible in our case to design a reef that paralleled the weave of the cloth, which meant that the line of reef points created a weakness in the sail. (A sailmaker can explain that better than I can.) Ultimately the sail did fail along the reef points. Second, reefing the jib moves the center of effort forward. Since at the same time you likely are reefing the mainsail at the same time, which also moves CE forward, there is a significant effect on sail balance, possibly to the point of creating lee helm.

The bottom line: although I took a certain satisfaction in a reefable headsail, we abandoned the concept. In our cutter rig it offered very little advantage over just dropping the jib in favor of the inner staysail, and several disadvantages. In a sloop rig it might make sense, especially if you and your sailmaker can make the sheet lead and cloth orientation work out. And especially if your sloop has no bowsprit.

Dennis Fechner

I have owned sailboats for 40 years. I worked for 8+ years in a boatyard. I often assembled and installed and repaired furling gear. I was also the one to haul the young riggers up the mast to untangle the halyard from the furling gear. The worst tangle was on a Profurl…the “hat failed”. It took an hour aloft. We did 4 of those one Summer not all Profurls…Harken and Schaeffer as well.
All this in Seattle on inland waters!!!

About 10 years ago while mored at Shilshole Bay Marina the wind went from 20 to 45 to 50 almost instantly.

Every single boat with a furling head sail that came back into the Marina was blown out with the sail (no sheet attached) only half furled. One furling gear was so twisted and broken it had to be replaced. 100% owner/operator failure!!

A boat a few slips from me had the furling jib open at the top of the sail and made for an effective small spinnaker that almost took the rig down. When the owner showed up a week later it took him two hours to cut the sail off the furler and get it down.

Gee, all this sounds like fun off the Washington/ Oregon coast in 40 knots doesn’t it?

At the boatyard I personally saw two 3/8 inch head stays snapped off right at the top of the furler. The top of the furler was with in an inch or less of the Norseman fitting. Installation is one of the most important aspects of a furling system…the other is how you operate them…and every one of us is capable of “forgetting” or making a mistake.

On big boats they are almost a necessity when one contemplates the alternatives so John has the proper approach. These are convenience items not safety items. And to me Lane is also correct as to the benefits of hanked on sails and the windage and weight of furled sails BUT size of boat, where you sail is also important. And how many in your crew and their ages.

I sometimes long for furling on my Rival 32 but I use a down haul line on every jib I put up and to me that is worth 1/2 a furling gear as I can safely lower the jib all the way to the deck from the mast while the reefed main keeps the boat sailing very slowly to windward.

BUT to be really safe one has to be proactive when the wind starts to increase and not get caught….in sailing for 40 years I have realized one thing: It does not take that much sail area to move the boat close to hull speed when the wind gets up to 18 and higher….most sailors carry too much sail and then “have all these problems”. Just read DDDB to see how most wait FAR too long to take appropriate action.

At 70 years of age I AM thinking of furling and exactly how to do it and how I am going to use it.

If I do, I have decide to install another stay 8 inches below the head stay at the top and 20 inches behind at the bottom. The high cut working jib goes on the furler and the light weight 130, the #4 and storm jib go on the inner stay.

I feel that I can take down the smaller working jib if a big blow is coming ( especially if anchored) without much difficulty.

From all I have seen if the furler is installed and used correctly, having a Yankee on the furler, will eliminate MANY of the problems I have seen out there mostly because you won’t be tempted to reef your Genoa. Plus changing the furling drum line often AND finding some way to LOCK the drum in a gale while hove-to is a must to me.

I would also plan on spraying my sail with Sailkote to make a tighter wrap and NOT using a heavy cover. I have seen some amazingly tightly wrapped sails and none of the had Sunbrella…good suff but not on a sail in my opinion unless your daysailing most of the time.

I think I will plan to hoist an ATN sock over the sail at anchor/ slip and put up with replacing to headsail a bit more often if I have to. A small and tight wrap is a very important thing to me for safety.

My last comment is this: furling gear seems very appropriate when day sailing out of a slip because it really is easier and you will sail more often. Lane is also correct to me…hanked on sails in a SMALLER boat are really trouble free AND from my experience of sailing from Seattle to Cabo, including a 40 knot gale, I did not need or miss a furling jib. It was easy to change sails or take them down the few times we did because we had time and no land to think about hitting. It was easy.

Off shore sailing is sometimes EASIER than weekend sailing!! I really mean that. Now that I sail mostly in Mexico at 70 years of age perhaps furling is appropriate.

If I had a big boat like John’s I would do exactly as he does….so all of you are correct in my opinion:-)

John has the professional attitude about this very serious piece of gear.

Marc Dacey

If you hadn’t made this recent post, Denny, I would have missed it, as I tend to read the “recent comments” column on the right hand of the home page as a guide to what I should read next.

I concur with you on the subject of furling. My first boat, which I still have, is a 1970s IOR-type racer-cruiser that still sports hank-on sailing. With a vast J-measurement and skinny main typical of the times, bringing down the hanked-on No. 1 can be a chore, so I am pleased you mentioned the downhaul, the installation of which can be done with Spectra line with a double-braid tail spliced (if required), allowing a “deck douse” by steering head-to-wind and dousing from the mast. Easy and you can get your sailorly thrills going forward on hands and knees to bungee the sail flat to the rail or on the deck if conditions aren’t great for folding it down. The downhaul line is a simple and yet rarely seen control line I recomnend widely…like I do with the barber-hauler, something else gone the way of the lead line!

As for our bigger boat, a heavy displacement (15 tonnes) 41 foot steel pilothouse cutter, I feel I have to accept a furler for the Yankee, although I may opt for something other than the current ProFurl, as yours isn’t the first alarming story I’ve heard concerning them, and the idea of a “lockable” furler and a slide-equipped track has great merit in my view.

Our staysail on the cutter is hank-on and will remain so. It’s the size of the No. 2 on the 33 footer, so I am going to keep the “light” one and have a similarly sized one made in heavier cloth, but with a set of reef points about one-third of the way up. As I have driven our steel beast at 7 knots in 32 knots of wind with the staysail alone, this seems prudent for offshore…that and a trysail track affixed to the Selden mast. A great post: thanks.

Victor Raymond

Hello Denny and Marc
I too have a combination of head sail Reefing options. For the two headsails we have New Zealand Reef Rite furlers. These are super heavy duty with locking pins which prevent the furling drum from rotating inadvertently.
Ou staysail is hank on with a down haul and two reefs. It is without doubt my favorite sail for ease of setting, striking and sheeting. Above 30 kts it is all the boat needs.
Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Dennis Fechner

In that same “instant gale” in Seattle…one 42 foot boat’s furler jamed so he could not roll it up..down went the mast. Forgot about that one. And one more: I remember a big boat with a furler jamed…it would not turn. So we took it completely off and this is what I found: the top of the furler was within 1 inch of the Norseman and two strands had broken and unlaid going into the top of the furler which prevented it from turning!! He was lucky it did not brake and the whole mast fall down like the other guy.

If I use a furler I intend to place the top of the furler no closer than 5 inches from where the wire enters the what ever fitting I use…usually a Norseman/Staylock. 7″ is probably better but 5″ is minimum in my opinion.

One more thing I am looking into. I liked the Spinnlock furler because it did not use the halyard after hoisting the sail. Friends of mine on a Tartan 43 used one and loved it. That is not made any more. The Alado does not require the jib halyard either. It uses it’s own with a special fitting at the top. I like the round tubes of the Harken and like their gear so I am thinking of not putting on the swivel and putting a fitting over the top of the furler tubes that has a tang to put a block onto it. No halyard wraps possible! I will use 1/4 inch spectra for the halyard.

Yes, I could put a halyard restrainer at the top of the mast but why give up the halyard? AND with the halyard
at the furler it will be easy to raise and lower the sail..won’t need two people. And, admit it, how many of us ever change the sail? That is the whole point of John’s 100% Yankee. Will the sail furl? Alado says the swivel does not do much…..using poly line instead of foam like North does to take some of the fullness out is what makes the sail furl better. I cannot confirm that but am willing to try to end all problems at the top of the mast. I am not saying you should do this but it is what I am going to do…it’s just too easy to “forget” and take tension off the furling sail and not take up the tension before using it…..and then your halyard can wrap…so all furlers must have a halyard restrainer at a minimum to help mitigate this problem because you will forget.

Down haul lines are SUPER but they too must be attached properly so they don’t jam! The line MUST be attached to the sail not around the head stay. I simply tie a small loop of line through where the hank goes and then attach the down haul line with a small bronze swivel fitting I can open with one hand…NOT a stainless one…why? because there will come a day when you forget and attach the fitting to the stay and it will JAM. I know because this happened to me and I could not believe it but the sail would not come down! The wind was climbing fast. BUT I was able to put the down haul line onto the jib winch and tighten it and broke the bronze fitting and the whole sail dropped to the deck.
That was a designed in safety factor in case I forgot…I did.
I attach the down haul line to the third hank from the top……NEVER THE TOP HANK.

Even with a stay sail it will be way safer to use a down haul line in case the wind is 50 knots and above…so much safer, you cannot get your eyes torn out with a flogging sheet…and so easy your wife could do it. Once I showed my girl friend she was so amazed how easy it was that she volunteered to lower the sail in 35 knots all by herself.

Please excuse me for these long posts but safety has been a top priority for mine for decades.

I truly hope all this helps people to think really hard about what is being sold as a safety device and “must have”….Yes….but….make it fool proof or suffer the consequences which may not be pleasant….tame the beast…then it will work great for you.


Dennis Fechner

Marc….Profurl is excellent gear…it is only the top hat that sometimes does not work….loose halyard? No matter what furler use a halyard restrainer!

Victor: Reef Rite is also excellent gear. Wow, you use a down haul….great..

Dave Benjamin

I would be hesitant to install an integral halyard furler like the Alado on a cruising boat unless it was a pretty small boat. The problem is how do you handle the compression loads from tensioning the luff of the sail? With an integral halyard furler, those loads get transmitted into the foils.

I think the vast majority of these nightmare stories with furlers can be traced back to improper installation. It’s very common when I’m out working for me to see improperly installed furlers.

There is no guarantee that a furler has been properly installed unless you verify all details of the installation yourself. It’s foolish to assume that simply because it was installed by a boatyard or rigger that it was done properly. Anyone can call print a business card that says rigger. There’s no licensing or certification, at least here in the US.

If I were installing a new furler, I’d give serious thought to the Reef-Rite or one of the other quality furlers from Australia or New Zealand.

Dennis Fechner

Your point is well taken about loads on foils. Hanked on sails require more tension than luff tape sails and my boat is not 40 or 50 feet long.

It is an area I am thinking about….using a Harken cruising furler with its round and strong foils may easily take the load of a 210 sq ft working jib while it may not for a 400 foot sail.

I like the reef rite…but it will cost me 3 times as much…but I like the idea of kiwi slides and may use them..maybe.

Installation is one of the keys to success and when I walk the Marinas in Mexico I see many furlers destined to fail at some point. Sad.

Of course I may decide that furling is not worth the money, time or effort on my 32 footer….but then again it my. Thanks for your concerns.

Dave Benjamin


You may want to investigate the Facnor genoa furlers as well. We have some clients who have gone with those rather than Harken and they are well priced. Facnor is a major player in Europe. They are very easy to install and depending on where you are in Mexico, I can tell you that finding a good rigger there can be quite challenging. The Facnor is designed for easy owner install. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Marc Dacey

I too have heard good things about Facnor and Schaefer’s “open” model…it looks like a colander.

Lots of good advice here. To Dennis: I’m not going to ditch the Profurl, but I am likely to rerig prior to departure next year and we’ll see how it is holding up. I liked what I saw at the Reef Rite website, and they are news to me…pretty good news, as I like the idea of the Kiwi Slides and the “braking pawl” in particular. Sheet wraps are basically just holding by friction and every year you see some big headsail flogging freely at dock…at sea it could be a lot worse.

Dave Benjamin

On some furlers you can pin the drum so it can’t turn when the boat is left at the dock. Some people don’t put too many sheet wraps on their headsails and others put none. Unintended un-furling at the dock is preventable. Removing the headsail when the boat isn’t going to be used for a while extends the life of the suncover and eliminates the possibility of surprises.

Victor Raymond

Besides not having to deal with the luff rope inside the foils, another advantage of Kiwi slides is the fact that you can lower your sail (unfurled) to below the entry gate and then hoist another sail. Obviously you would not be able to furl or reef it but lets you enjoy many of the advantages of hank on and still be able to furl your primary headsail. This would also come in handy if you had some repairs to make on the primary headsail but wanted to keep sailing with your secondary headsail. Anyhow enough of this. Your heads must be spinning:) No pun intended.

richard s.

good deal as this restores my orig thinking that roller furling is essentially viable-dependable…the one halyard wrap i have experienced was because the adjacent spinnaker halyard was not tightly drawn allowing it to foul the deployed headsail i needed to retrieve…naturally this occurred in a tight spot entering the channel for the main anchorage at anegada where there is little wiggle room for fiddling around…managed to resolve the problem but not before superficial but quite audible keel contact with some coral…what is onedrop please ? and what is the meaning for this ‘&amp’ abreviation i have lately been seeing a lot of in these posts ?
regards from tampa bay and s/v lakota

Victor Raymond

We have had issues with the amp and dash but it is not consistent. I wonder if it is a browser issue. I am using Chrome on a Mac.

Dennis Fechner

Great last comments from John. I forgot about the possibility of the spinnaker halyard getting wrapped up in the furler….seen that too.

To hear that John has had no problems in all those years and miles is a great testimony to everything he has written about them. Thanks John.
But I agree with Lane too and all he said.. ..thanks Lane.
And there were so many other great comments and good advice…thanks everyone.
I’m done.