Roller Furling and Reefing Systems - Sailboat Rigging Types

Sections: Rigging Standing Rigging Tuning Roller Furling In-mast/In-boom Mainsail Roller Furling Running Rigging

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Types of Sailboat Rigging

The basic sailboat rigging types are masthead, fractional, ketch and schooner. The masthead rig positions the mast just forward of the middle of the waterline length of the boat. Headsails are large and powerful in contrast to the small mainsail, which acts as a secondary aerofoil.

A rig category is determined by the mainsail type and the number of masts and headsails carried. Early yachts with their two masts and gaff rig provided the easiest way to handle heavy sails. Sail material improvements combined with rig engineering make single masts with Bermudan sails the popular rig.


The most basic sailboat rigging is the sloop with one mast, a gaff or a Bermudan mainsail, and a single headsail. A Bermudan sloop is described as being masthead or fractional. A masthead sloop carries a larger headsail and the forestay attaches at the mast top.

Fractional Rig

Another type of sailboat rigging is the fractional rig which sports a smaller headsail attached to a forestay fixed to the mast at some point down from the top. Fractional rigs allow for mast bending for sail control suited to dinghies, but many yachts are masthead sloops. The fractional rig places the mast farther forward and the mainsail is larger than that of a masthead rig and provides the drive.

The rig is termed 'fractional' because the headsails emerge seven-eighths or three-quarters of the way from the base of the mast, hence seven-eighths rig' or 'three-quarter rig'.

CutterSailboat Rigging

The cutter rig remains the most well-liked type of sailboat rigging, particularly for long-distance yachts with one mast carrying two headsails on their own stay reducing the size of each headsail with either a gaff or a Bermudan mainsail.

Two-masted Boats


Boats with more than one mast are uncommon, but ketch or yawl rigging is found on older boats more than 11m long. Both the ketch and the yawl have the mizzen mast stepped some way aft of the main mast.

The ketch has a larger mizzen mast which is stepped further forwards than the yawl. Another two-masted yacht is the schooner with its taller main mast stepped aft, with a smaller foremast ahead of it.

Ketches and schooners have shorter masts with smaller sails with the view to make sail handling easier. Recent developments in self stowing headsails and mainsails make for easy sail handling, leaving new multi-masted boats in a specialized market.

Una Rig

In the una, or cat, rig, has the mast is stepped right forwards and is usually unstayed with the mainsail.

Yacht Standing Rigging

The standing rigging of stainless steel wire keeps the [ masts in place ]. Yacht rigging is done with oversize wire ensuring long life and a safety factor which exceeds the designed safe working load. In boats with a bit of age, the shrouds and forestay are attached to the mast with metal fittings called tangs, but new masts have captive T-bars or ball-and- socket arrangements inside the mast section.

At the other end of the shrouds and forestay, [ adjustable rigging screws ] are attached by clevis pins to toggles acting as universal joints preventing metal fatigue. There is a backstay which leads from the masthead to the stern and terminating in a mechanical or hydraulic backstay tensioner that controls the forestay tension for upwind and downwind sailing.

Yacht Rig Tuning

Owners of cruising boats should be aware that many boat yards do not carryout full rig tuning, but usually step the mast and just tighten the rigging. A mast not tuned properly will drastically affect the performance of the boat. This then is a guide on how to tune sailboat rigging.

Basic yacht rig tuning is not difficult and the least mechanically-minded owner can make sure that the mast is upright when viewed from the side and does not have a lean [ when viewed from behind ] sighted with objects. A mast greater than one set of spreaders should be sighted up the after edge to ensure that no S-bends exist in it.

Most masts are raked aft a little, and the rake can be checked by attaching a heavy weight to the end of the main halyard. When yacht rig tuning, measure the distance from the back of the mast to the centre of the weight with anything from 9 to 18 inches being normal. Raking the mast forward decreases weather helm, the tendency to turn into the wind, and raking it back increases it.

If the mast leans to one side, adjust the rigging screw of [ each main or cap shroud ] going to the highest point of the mast, until the mast is vertical. Further adjustment of the screws to increase or decrease [ shroud tension ] should be equal on both sides, or the mast will lean again.

Removing the S-bends out of a multi-spreader rigging requires easing the backstay and main shrouds then easing the intermediate shrouds, which lead to the base of the spreaders.

Sight up the back of the mast, adjust the lower set of spreader shrouds until just tight, then adjust the next set to the same tension. When the mast is straight, [ further tensioning ] is done in pairs until all shrouds are tight.

To ensure the shrouds are tensioned enough to keep the mast secure when the boat is heeled to 20 °, the leeward shrouds should just begin to show some slackness but will not flap.

Jib Roller Furling and Roller Reefing Systems

A major yacht rigging development has been the development of efficient and reliable jib roller furling and roller reefing systems. To rig a roller furling jib, a metal or plastic tube that has a groove to accept the leading edge of the sail, is placed over the existing headstay.

When this [ tube is rotated ], the jib is wound around it and so reefed (adjusting the amount of sail to suit the wind strength); or furled, (rolling the sail up completely when you have finished sailing). At the mast end of the tube is a captive fitting containing a ball race which allows the tube to rotate when the bottom fitting, another bearing and a rope or wire drum, is rotated by the control rope.

In-mast or In-boom Mainsail Roller Furling Systems

Another development is the [ in-mast ] or [ in-boom ] mainsail roller furling systems that simplify reefing the mainsail with minimal loss in performance. Control lines with self-tailing winches for sail furling and reefing make the procedure easier.

The boat which has the traditional hanked-on mainsails, the task of mainsail changing is done by replacing the cylindrical sail bag with a flat, zipped bag which accepts a [ folded mainsail ]. This attaches to the lifelines or the toe rail for hoisting and packing.

All yachts should have netting or crisscrossed cord between the toe rail and lifelines from the mast to the pulpit preventing sails being blown or washed overboard. Permanent sail ties or elastic cords tied to the lower lifelines control a sail when lowered.

Sailboat Running Rigging Guide

Sailboat running rigging is reasonably uncomplicated with headsails [ being controlled by sheets ] leading from the sail through adjustable fairleads to turning blocks and the winch. The positioning of the fairlead is significant to the performance of the sail, and is particularly so with roller reefing headsails.

The jib sheet should always be pulling equally on the foot and the leech of the sail. This is achieved when a line is [ drawn at right angles ] to the luff of the sail passes through the clew and continues along the pull of the sheet.

If the sheet is too far back the leech will be too loose and flap. If it is too far forward, the making the leech is too tight and the sail will be baggy.

The mainsheet, working in conjunction with the boom vang, controls the position of the sail relative to the wind. Many yachts having [ mainsheet travellers ] enabling the mainsheet to be eased quickly in gusts.

Halyards are used to raise and lower sails, halyards are usually led inside the mast and emerge at deck level, where they are led aft to winches for adjustment.

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rigging screws
standing rigging
mainsheet traveller
Jib Tuning
Running Rigging
In-Boom Roller Reefing System
In-mast Roller Furling System
Lazyjack System
Jib Roller Furling system
Yacht Rigging
Mast Tuning
Mast Shrouds
Rig Tuning