10 Different Types of Sails (Plus Interesting Facts)

A sail boat with white mast leads the way ahead of its competitors.

Bremen, Germany launched in 2006 the world’s most expensive sailboat known as the Eos. Tycoon Barry Diller owned the Eos which took three years to complete and cost $150 million dollars. The world’s fastest sailboat, on the other hand, is specially-designed and known as Vestas Sailrocket 2. Paul Larsen of Australia owned the sail which he navigated on Walvis Bay, Namibia at a record speed of 65.45 knots (or over 75 mph).

Jessica Watson from Australia and Laura Dekker from Holland are the youngest at 16 years old to have circumnavigated the world unassisted. In its effort to discourage kids from embarking on such dangerous pursuits, the Guinness Book of World Records no longer recognizes any such attempts among the youngest sailors.


Clew Sails

A close look at a clew sail.

On a square sail, there are naturally four corners: two at the top and two at the bottom. A clew sail refers to either the bottom two corners of a square sail or the lower aft (rear) corner of a fore-and-aft sail. The word “clew” can also refer to the action of raising the lower corners of a square sail via the use of clew lines.

This is called clewing up. Clews are movable, and they are positioned with running rigging. Symmetrical sails are usually described as having two clew sails. In a jib or other headsail, the clew is the free corner, the one that isn’t attached to any standing rigging. In sails with a boom, a mainsail located on a sloop, the clew is attached to the boom. If the sail is square or symmetrical, each of the lower corners is called a clew.

Code Sails

When people use the term “code sail,” they’re referring to a specialized class of sails. The sails fit in between the downwind spinnakers and the upwind headsails, and they are required to be rated 75% SMG when they’re being evaluated and rated.

Code sails are fast and can have customized shapes; they are also a lot flatter than other spinnakers, with luffs that are very straight. The sails are also a little heavier and have fabric that is a little less stretchy than other types of sails. Code sails are perfect for distance races, in part because of their excellent stability and speed.

Gennaker Sails

A close look at a Gennaker sail.

Developed around 1990, these sails are a cross between a spinnaker and a genoa, and they are used when sailing downwind. They are not symmetrical in shape and also not attached to the forestay. Used mostly on a racing boat, these sails are easy to use and inexpensive as well. They are often the only downwind sails on board, and they are not very prone to collapsing like other types of sails are. The word “gennaker” is a combination of the words genoa and spinnaker, and it usually has both types of sails: a mainsail and a staysail.

Genoa (Jib) Sails

A sailboat with Genoa sail.

Genoa sails extend past the mast, and when you view the boat from the side, you are unlikely to see them because they overlap the main sail. Originally called an “overlapping jib,” it is most often used on single-masted sloops or twin-masted boats, and they work best in light to moderate winds. Although the word jib can refer to a number of headsails, the genoa, also called the genny, type of sail is one with a foretriangle larger than 100%.

Genoas are described by the percentage of their area that relates to the 100% foretriangle. Accordingly, the number-one genoas are approximately 155%; and the number-two genoas can be in the 125-140% range. In practical terms, most boats are allowed up to 155% without incurring a penalty under the rules of the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet.

Jib Sails

A sailboat with a Jib sail.

A jib sail is a secondary sail that is smaller than the mainsail and doesn’t overlap it. It is normally found at the front of the boat, and it is almost always triangular in shape. In addition, a jib sail sometimes counteracts the mainsail turning force around the pivot point of the vessel. Always placed in front of the foremast, the sail’s tack has adhered to either the bows or between the foremost mast and the bowsprit. On most modern boats, jibs and spinnakers are the two main types of headsails.

Luff, Leech, Foot

These are terms used to describe the edges of the sail’s forward (luff), aft (leech), and bottom (foot), respectively. The luff is the leading edge of the fore-and-aft sail, and it is parallel to the mast; the leech is the trailing edge, and it is considered either side of the symmetrical sail; finally, the foot is the bottom edge, and it is often attached to a boom.

Main Sails

Main sail leading the way of other smaller sails.

These are sails found behind the main mast of a sailboat. On square-rigged boats, they are the lowest and largest sail on the main mast. On fore-and-aft boats, it is also the lowest and largest, but it is frequently the only sail-rigged aft of the main mast. These sails are controlled along the foot at the boom.

Sail Head

A close look at a Sail head.

If a sail is set before the foremost mast, it is called a sail head. The most common sail heads include staysails, which include genoas and jibs; and the spinnaker, which is set independently of any forestays.

Sail Tack

The tack is the corner of a sail, along its lower leading edge. It can also refer to the side of a sailboat where the wind is coming from while you’re on the water, either starboard or port. If used as a verb, it refers to the maneuvering involved when turning between port and starboard tack by bringing the forward part of the boat, called the bow, through the wind. The tack can refer to the forward lower corner of the sail, and in some square sails, the tacks, along with the sheets, are not actually a part of the sails themselves.

Spinnaker Sails

A sailboat with a Spinnaker sail.

Spinnakers are special sails made for the specific purpose of sailing off the wind from a reaching course to a downwind, with the wind 90ᵒ to 180ᵒ off the bow. The sails fill with wind then flare out and in front of the boat, which is often called flying. Spinnaker sails are usually made of a very lightweight fabric, including nylon, and they are often purchased in bright, eye-catching colors. Spinnaker sails are very large and aren’t very accommodating when you’re experiencing rough waters.

Interesting Facts About Sailboats and Sailing

A group of sailors participate in a sailing event.

People of All Ages and Genders Love to Sail

The youngest person ever to sail around the globe was a 16-year-old girl.

Size Doesn’t Always Matter

Some of the most popular boats are smaller boats. In fact, the Laser dinghy is only 14 feet long and has been registered in over 120 countries, in part because people consider it easy to maneuver and easy to rig. In addition, the 8-foot Optimist is popular among younger and newer sailors and is often used in sailboat races.

Money Trails

The most expensive sailboat was launched in 2006 in Germany and had a cost of roughly $150 million.

When Speed is Important

In 2012 in Australia, a man sailed a boat that was clocked at 75 miles per hour, making it the fastest sailboat on record.

Holding Up the Sails

There are three main terms to know when it comes to the sails on a sailboat. They are:

  • The mast – the tall, vertical pole that supports the sail.
  • The boom – the lower part that is horizontal and to which the base of the sail is attached.
  • The gooseneck – the joint that attaches the mast and the boom.

Similar to a Flagpole

The rope used to hoist the sail is called the “halyard” or the “halliard,” and it is very similar to the device used on a flagpole.

Three Main Types of Sailboats

Depending on your level of experience and your preferences, you can choose from the following types of sailboats:

  • Day Sailer – made for someone who just wants to be out on the water for several hours; it has no sleeping accommodations, but you can still take a nap in it if you like.
  • Cruiser boat – medium to large in size, a cruiser boat has sleeping quarters and a cabin, and it is great if you want to be out on the water for several days.
  • Racer boat – like its name implies a racer boat is good if you like power and speed.

The Sailing Capital of the World

Annapolis, Maryland is considered the sailing capital of both the United States and the world, and if you visit this town just once, you’ll understand why.

An Olympic Sport

Sailing is so popular that it has been an Olympic sport since 1896, although it was called “yachting” until the year 2000.

Glossary of Sailing Terms

A sail boat tilts according to the flow of the wind.

Aft: This is the part of the boat on the inside towards the back part of the stern.

A-Ground: Refers to touching or resting on the bottom (ground).

A-Head: This refers to the front of the boat.

Aloft: The area overhead or very high above, above the solid structure that is higher than other parts of the boat.

A-Stern: Term describing the area behind the boat, or when the boat is backward and the stern is foremost.

ASW: Anti-submarine warfare.

Back and Fill: When you use the tide’s advantage to sail when the tide is with you instead of the wind.

Backstay: Attached to the stern of the boat instead of the bow, the backstay performs the same job as the forestay does (see definition below).

Baggywrinkle: This is a type of chafing gear that protects the sails from the damage that occurs when you rub against them. It is usually placed either on the rigging or the spar.

Battens: These are long strips of wood or even fiberglass that are used to support a sail.

Beam: The beam is the widest section of the boat; it can also refer to the area alongside of the boat at its midpoint (when looking at it lengthwise).

Beam Reach: The beam reach is an exact point on the sail that is at 90ᵒ, or perpendicular to the direction of the wind, from the wind’s direction. It is considered to be the best position for most sailboats, in part because it results in very fast speeds.

Bearing Away: When a boat bears away, this means it turns away from the wind.

Belaying Pins: Belaying pins are made of either hardwood or iron and are used for running, or belaying, rigging.

Bilge: A bilge is a compartment located in the bottom of the hull; water collects there to keep it out of the boat, and it can be pumped out later on.

Binnacle: The binnacle is the stand that the boat’s compass is mounted on.

Boom: Booms are used to keeping the sail flatter at an angle from the centerline of the boat. They are horizontal spars that are attached to the mast’s aft at a point below the sail itself.

Bow: The bow is the front part of the boat.

Bowse: A term meaning to hoist or pull up.

Broad Reach: This type of reach is not precise like the beam reach and in fact, the sail can be at any angle to the wind in a broad reach.

Burgee: A burgee is a flag that lets others know of the recreational organization your boat represents.

Careening: Careening is the act of tilting the boat on its side; this is mainly used to repair or clean the hull below the waterline.

Centerboard: The centerboard is a removable keel; it is usually removed in order to resist leeway.

Chafe: This term refers to the damage to a sail that is caused by the rubbing motion. In the more expensive, high-quality sails, there is extra protection in the areas of the sails that are more prone to chafing.

Chine: An angle in the hull that is fairly sharp, as compared to the shape of most hulls, which are slightly rounded.

Clew: The clew refers to the bottom aft (rear) corner of the sail.

Close Hauled: If you’re close-hauled, you’re sailing very close to the No Sail Zone, but not entering it. In these instances, the sails should be in tight, with the centerboard fully down if you’re sailing a dinghy.

Close Reach: A close reach means any angle to the wind that is between a beam reach and close-hauled. In this instance, the sails should be let out more than close-hauled with a centerboard that is roughly ¾ down if you’re sailing a dinghy.

Daggerboard: A type of centerboard; it is removed vertically instead of horizontally.

Draft: The draft refers to how deep the keel is below the waterline.

Flag Hoist: When signal flags are hoisted, they are usually raised a certain way in order to convey a specific message.

Flank: Faster than “full speed,” flank is the fastest speed that a boat can go.

Fly by Night: This term refers to a very large sail that is only used for sailing downwind. It is named this because it requires very little attention from the boaters.

Foot: The foot refers to the bottom edge of the sail.

Fore (For’ard): This term refers to the inside of the boat towards the bow (front).

Forestay: The forestay is a piece of standing rigging that helps the mast remain upright. Usually consisting of a wire made of stainless steel, the forestay is attached to the boat at the bow section and to the top of the mast.

Genoa: The genoa is a sail that is a little longer than a jib and which overlaps the main sail. It is found at the foremast of the boat.

Gunwale: The gunwale is the top edge of a hull.

Handsomely: To do something handsomely is to do it in a slow and even motion.

Haul Wind: When you haul wind, you point the ship in the direction of the wind.

Head: The head refers to the top portion of the sail.

Head to Wind: This refers to the boat when it faces directly into the wind.

Heave: The heave refers to the up-and-down motion of a sailboat.

Hull: The hull is the body of a boat which is watertight.

In the Offing: Something that is “in the offing” is in the water but visible from the boat. It is sometimes now used to indicate that something is imminent.

Jack: A jack can refer to either a sailor or a flag.

Jib: This type of sail is triangular in shape and sits at the foremast of the boat.

Keel : Counteracting the leeward force of the wind, the word “keel” refers to generating a lift by using the boat’s forward motion.

Kicking Strap: This is a line that goes from the boom to the lower part of the mast. It provides a downforce on the boom.

Leech: The leech refers to the aft (rear) edge of the sail.

Lee Side: This side of a ship is sheltered from the wind; it is opposite the windward side.

Leeward: Leeward simply means you’re going away from the wind.

Let Go and Haul: This expression means that the ship is in line with the wind.

Luff: The luff is the front, leading part of the sail.

Luffing Up: As its name implies, luffing up means turning the boat into the wind.

Main Sail: This refers to the sail found behind the main mast of the boat.

Mast: This tall and vertical spar is there to support the sails.

No Sail Zone: This term refers to an angle that is roughly 40ᵒ to 45ᵒ and on either side of the true wind’s direction. In this zone, the boat sails are unable to generate any type of lift and therefore, they are unable to sail. If a boat wants to head upwind, they have to sail a zigzag course using either reach or close-hauled points of sail.

Outhaul: This refers to a line (rope) used to control the shape of the sail.

Overbear: To overbear is to sail directly towards another boat in a downwind position.

Ox-Eye: An ox-eye is the warning of bad weather ahead; it usually refers to a cloud or something else which can indicate this type of weather is coming.

Port: The port is the left side of the boat.

Quayside: This is either a platform or a dock that you attach a boat to.

Rigol: The rigol is the “eyebrow” or rim of the scuttle or porthole.

Roach: Since sails are never a perfect triangle, they include a curvy area on their leech, which is called a roach. Roaches also provide the boat with a little extra power.

Rudder: The rudder is the part of the boat that steers it through the water.

Run: Sometimes called “running downwind,” this refers to a boat that is sailing downwind and is a precise point of sail. In order to sail more efficiently, the sails should be eased out fully. Of all the points of sail, the run can feel like the most relaxed, in part because you’re going with the wind and not against it.

Scuttle: A small opening in or the lid of a hull or deck; it can also mean to cut a hole in something or to sink something.

Shoal: This refers to shallow water that can be dangerous to the navigation of a boat.

Starboard: The starboard is the right side of the boat.

Stern: The stern is the back part of the boat.

Tack: To tack means to change your course, and you do this by turning the boat’s head through and into the wind, meaning the wind will end up on the opposite side.

Taking the Wind Out of His Sails: This term refers to a method of sailing which steals the wind from another boat.

Tell Tales: Tell tales are light strips of material that let you know whether the air stream is turbulent or smooth. They are attached to the actual sail, making it simple to indicate the type of air stream present.

Topping Lift: A topping lift is a line that holds up the boom while you’re lowering the sail. It is usually attached to the aft of the boom and to the top part of the mast. Once the sail is raised, the topping lift can be loosened up or even removed if you wish.

Transom: A surface across the stern of a boat; it is usually flat in nature.

Wake: Wake refers to the water’s turbulence behind the boat.

Windage: Refers to the wind resistance of the boat.

Windward: The windward direction is the direction towards the wind.

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