The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier


Having suggested, in my usual oh so low key and gentle way, that it would be a good idea to unstep your mast when laying up your boat, I’m thinking that the very least I can do as a follow-up is share some of the things I have learned while unstepping a 75′ mast some 15 times over the last 23 years.

I’m going to start with tips to help you select a yard to unstep your mast and then move on to stuff that will make things run smoothly on the big day.

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

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  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
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  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
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  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
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  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
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  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
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  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
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  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
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David Nutt

Good points as usual and even more true on bigger masts where man handling is a poor choice.
I unscrew the turnbuckles all the way and leave the barrels on the boat. Having only the threaded end of the stays and shrouds with the mast reduces weight and reduces stuff to bang around doing things it shouldn’t. It also leaves you no excuse not to clean the barrels of the turnbuckles which sometimes is tempting not to do.


I disconnect the turnbuckles on their upper ends and leave them on the boat (to be cleaned and greased later). That way no part of the turnbuckle comes into contact with the sometimes soiled ground.
To prevent the turnbuckles lying on deck, scratching and smearing it, i fix them to the lower lifeline with the pin. That way everything remains neat. And even less weight and bulk on the loose rig.

Ed Finn

Turnbuckles , I usually put one or two drops of lube oil on the bolts at both ends of each turnbuckle, I find that makes them much easier to unscrew, just one or two turns with a wrench , and you can back them off the rest of the way with your fingers. That makes the lift out proceed more smoothly, less rushed and thus the whole mast take down less stressful.
John- Lifting strap, how did you get that lifting strap rigged above the spreaders?Climb the mast? Or do you rig it with the halyards, you didn’t mention the lifting strap.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Good tips. I think that one thing that your pictures show but you don’t mention is that you need to rig the mast correctly. Our owners manual actually has measurements for where to rig it for lifting but many don’t and owners need to know where the appropriate lift point is. Also, it is important that you are hooked into a loop that goes completely around the mast and is attached in some form to the mast butt by a line/strap to keep it in place. I have witnessed 2 masts where the crane was attached to the line running down to the butt which works fine when picking the mast up but slides when laying it down and results in the masthead crashing into the ground during a sudden shift. Finally, the wire angle is really important. The crane operator can’t fully see this so a spotter needs to stand in a place where they can (looking at 90 degrees to the operator). In general, the wire should be vertical and if it isn’t, you could well end up in a situation where the mast suddenly moves and damages something because of the horizontal component of the force.


richard s. (s/v lakota)

question: does it ever end ? answer: nope

believe it or not there is no breeze tonight here in biras creek, n. gorda sound, and there was hardly any all day…have never experienced such calm conditions down here this time of the year when the christmas winds should already be building…actually had a reach the other day from vieques to st john with the 15 kt breeze out of the northwest believe it or not…i was thankful for the nice ride when it is usually slogging it out on the nose for this run…since then the breeze has steadily declined to the nothing it is tonight…haven’t seen one mosquito though so it could be worse…cheers

Wilson Fitt

All excellent advice. Lifting heavy, awkward and fragile things is potentially dangerous. I get little shivers when I see lifting operations being conducted without basic safety gear like hardhats and high viz vests that are mandatory in industrial operations, around here at least.

If, as I have, you find yourself in charge of the lift either because it is a do-it-yourself boatyard crane or the crane operator that you have hired is inexperienced around boats, plan the whole operation in detail. Have a pre-lift conference to review every step; if the operator does not have a clear view of you standing on deck (quite probable) assign a spotter who will always stand in clear view of the operator to relay your signals; forbid anyone else from directing the operator; don’t rely on shouted instructions; work out and understand hand signals between you and your spotter and the spotter and crane operator for “up slow”, “stop” (hold), “down slow”, etc; post someone (not you) below deck with a hatch open so you can be in voice contact at all times; lift from above the balance point (seems obvious but I have seen masts slung below the lower spreaders with near disastrous consequences); transfer the vertical load from the sling to something strong near the base of the mast (I use the halyard winches); go slow and do not rely on brute force (your crew should not ever have to do any heavy lifting).