Standing Rigging (or ‘Name That Stay’)

Published by rigworks on november 19, 2019.

Question: When your riggers talk about standing rigging, they often use terms I don’t recognize. Can you break it down for me?

From the Rigger: Let’s play ‘Name that Stay’…


Forestay (1 or HS) – The forestay, or headstay, connects the mast to the front (bow) of the boat and keeps your mast from falling aft.

  • Your forestay can be full length (masthead to deck) or fractional (1/8 to 1/4 from the top of the mast to the deck).
  • Inner forestays, including staysail stays, solent stays and baby stays, connect to the mast below the main forestay and to the deck aft of the main forestay. Inner forestays allow you to hoist small inner headsails and/or provide additional stability to your rig.

Backstay (2 or BS) – The backstay runs from the mast to the back of the boat (transom) and is often adjustable to control forestay tension and the shape of the sails.

  • A backstay can be either continuous (direct from mast to transom) or it may split in the lower section (7) with “legs” that ‘V’ out to the edges of the transom.
  • Backstays often have hydraulic or manual tensioners built into them to increase forestay tension and bend the mast, which flattens your mainsail.
  • Running backstays can be removable, adjustable, and provide additional support and tuning usually on fractional rigs. They run to the outer edges of the transom and are adjusted with each tack. The windward running back is in tension and the leeward is eased so as not to interfere with the boom and sails.
  • Checkstays, useful on fractional rigs with bendy masts, are attached well below the backstay and provide aft tension to the mid panels of the mast to reduce mast bend and provide stabilization to reduce the mast from pumping.

Shrouds – Shrouds support the mast from side to side. Shrouds are either continuous or discontinuous .

Continuous rigging, common in production sailboats, means that each shroud (except the lowers) is a continuous piece of material that connects to the mast at some point, passes through the spreaders without terminating, and continues to the deck. There may be a number of continuous shrouds on your boat ( see Figure 1 ).

  • Cap shrouds (3) , sometimes called uppers, extend from masthead to the chainplates at the deck.
  • Intermediate shrouds (4) extend from mid-mast panel to deck.
  • Lower shrouds extend from below the spreader-base to the chainplates. Fore- (5) and Aft-Lowers (6) connect to the deck either forward or aft of the cap shroud.

Discontinuous rigging, common on high performance sailboats, is a series of shorter lengths that terminate in tip cups at each spreader. The diameter of the wire/rod can be reduced in the upper sections where loads are lighter, reducing overall weight. These independent sections are referred to as V# and D# ( see Figure 2 ). For example, V1 is the lowest vertical shroud that extends from the deck to the outer tip of the first spreader. D1 is the lowest diagonal shroud that extends from the deck to the mast at the base of the first spreader. The highest section that extends from the upper spreader to the mast head may be labeled either V# or D#.

A sailboat’s standing rigging is generally built from wire rope, rod, or occasionally a super-strong synthetic fibered rope such as Dyneema ® , carbon fiber, kevlar or PBO.

  • 1×19 316 grade stainless steel Wire Rope (1 group of 19 wires, very stiff with low stretch) is standard on most sailboats. Wire rope is sized/priced by its diameter which varies from boat to boat, 3/16” through 1/2″ being the most common range.
  • 1×19 Compact Strand or Dyform wire, a more expensive alternative, is used to increase strength, reduce stretch, and minimize diameter on high performance boats such as catamarans. It is also the best alternative when replacing rod with wire.
  • Rod rigging offers lower stretch, longer life expectancy, and higher breaking strength than wire. Unlike wire rope, rod is defined by its breaking strength, usually ranging from -10 to -40 (approx. 10k to 40k breaking strength), rather than diameter. So, for example, we refer to 7/16” wire (diameter) vs. -10 Rod (breaking strength).
  • Composite Rigging is a popular option for racing boats. It offers comparable breaking strengths to wire and rod with a significant reduction in weight and often lower stretch.

Are your eyes crossing yet? This is probably enough for now, but stay tuned for our next ‘Ask the Rigger’. We will continue this discussion with some of the fittings/connections/hardware associated with your standing rigging.

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The Standing Rigging On A Sailboat Explained

The standing rigging on a sailboat is a system of stainless steel wires that holds the mast upright and supports the spars.

In this guide, I’ll explain the basics of a sailboat’s hardware and rigging, how it works, and why it is a fundamental and vital part of the vessel. We’ll look at the different parts of the rig, where they are located, and their function.

We will also peek at a couple of different types of rigs and their variations to determine their differences. In the end, I will explain some additional terms and answer some practical questions I often get asked.

But first off, it is essential to understand what standing rigging is and its purpose on a sailboat.

The purpose of the standing rigging

Like I said in the beginning, the standing rigging on a sailboat is a system of stainless steel wires that holds the mast upright and supports the spars. When sailing, the rig helps transfer wind forces from the sails to the boat’s structure. This is critical for maintaining the stability and performance of the vessel.

The rig can also consist of other materials, such as synthetic lines or steel rods, yet its purpose is the same. But more on that later.

Since the rig supports the mast, you’ll need to ensure that it is always in appropriate condition before taking your boat out to sea. Let me give you an example from a recent experience.

Dismasting horrors

I had a company inspect the entire rig on my sailboat while preparing for an Atlantic crossing. The rigger didn’t find any issues, but I decided to replace the rig anyway because of its unknown age. I wanted to do the job myself so I could learn how it is done correctly.

Not long after, we left Gibraltar and sailed through rough weather for eight days before arriving in Las Palmas. We were safe and sound and didn’t experience any issues. Unfortunately, several other boats arriving before us had suffered rig failures. They lost their masts and sails—a sorrowful sight but also a reminder of how vital the rigging is on a sailboat.

The most common types of rigging on a sailboat

The most commonly used rig type on modern sailing boats is the fore-and-aft Bermuda Sloop rig with one mast and just one headsail. Closely follows the Cutter rig and the Ketch rig. They all have a relatively simple rigging layout. Still, there are several variations and differences in how they are set up.

A sloop has a single mast, and the Ketch has one main mast and an additional shorter mizzen mast further aft. A Cutter rig is similar to the Bermuda Sloop with an additional cutter forestay, allowing it to fly two overlapping headsails.

You can learn more about the differences and the different types of sails they use in this guide. For now, we’ll focus on the Bermuda rig.

The difference between standing rigging and running rigging

Sometimes things can get confusing as some of our nautical terms are used for multiple items depending on the context. Let me clarify just briefly:

The  rig  or  rigging  on a sailboat is a common term for two parts:

  • The  standing rigging  consists of wires supporting the mast on a sailboat and reinforcing the spars from the force of the sails when sailing.
  • The  running rigging  consists of the halyards, sheets, and lines we use to hoist, lower, operate, and control the sails on a sailboat.

Check out my guide on running rigging here !

The difference between a fractional and a masthead rig

A Bermuda rig is split into two groups. The  Masthead  rig and the  Fractional  rig.

The  Masthead  rig has a forestay running from the bow to the top of the mast, and the spreaders point 90 degrees to the sides. A boat with a masthead rig typically carries a bigger overlapping headsail ( Genoa)  and a smaller mainsail. Very typical on the Sloop, Ketch, and Cutter rigs.

A  Fractional  rig has forestays running from the bow to 1/4 – 1/8 from the top of the mast, and the spreaders are swept backward. A boat with a fractional rig also has the mast farther forward than a masthead rig, a bigger mainsail, and a smaller headsail, usually a Jib. Very typical on more performance-oriented sailboats.

There are exceptions in regards to the type of headsail, though. Many performance cruisers use a Genoa instead of a Jib , making the difference smaller.

Some people also fit an inner forestay, or a babystay, to allow flying a smaller staysail.

Explaining the parts and hardware of the standing rigging

The rigging on a sailing vessel relies on stays and shrouds in addition to many hardware parts to secure the mast properly. And we also have nautical terms for each of them. Since a system relies on every aspect of it to be in equally good condition, we want to familiarize ourselves with each part and understand its function.

Forestay and Backstay

The  forestay  is a wire that runs from the bow to the top of the mast. Some boats, like the Cutter rig, can have several additional inner forestays in different configurations.

The  backstay  is the wire that runs from the back of the boat to the top of the mast. Backstays have a tensioner, often hydraulic, to increase the tension when sailing upwind. Some rigs, like the Cutter, have running backstays and sometimes checkstays or runners, to support the rig.

The primary purpose of the forestay and backstay is to prevent the mast from moving fore and aft. The tensioner on the backstay also allows us to trim and tune the rig to get a better shape of the sails.

The shrouds are the wires or lines used on modern sailboats and yachts to support the mast from sideways motion.

There are usually four shrouds on each side of the vessel. They are connected to the side of the mast and run down to turnbuckles attached through toggles to the chainplates bolted on the deck.

  • Cap shrouds run from the top of the mast to the deck, passing through the tips of the upper spreaders.
  • Intermediate shrouds  run from the lower part of the mast to the deck, passing through the lower set of spreaders.
  • Lower shrouds  are connected to the mast under the first spreader and run down to the deck – one fore and one aft on each side of the boat.

This configuration is called continuous rigging. We won’t go into the discontinuous rigging used on bigger boats in this guide, but if you are interested, you can read more about it here .

Shroud materials

Shrouds are usually made of 1 x 19 stainless steel wire. These wires are strong and relatively easy to install but are prone to stretch and corrosion to a certain degree. Another option is using stainless steel rods.

Rod rigging

Rod rigging has a stretch coefficient lower than wire but is more expensive and can be intricate to install. Alternatively, synthetic rigging is becoming more popular as it weighs less than wire and rods.

Synthetic rigging

Fibers like Dyneema and other aramids are lightweight and provide ultra-high tensile strength. However, they are expensive and much more vulnerable to chafing and UV damage than other options. In my opinion, they are best suited for racing and regatta-oriented sailboats.

Wire rigging

I recommend sticking to the classic 316-graded stainless steel wire rigging for cruising sailboats. It is also the most reasonable of the options. If you find yourself in trouble far from home, you are more likely to find replacement wire than another complex rigging type.

Relevant terms on sailboat rigging and hardware

The spreaders are the fins or wings that space the shrouds away from the mast. Most sailboats have at least one set, but some also have two or three. Once a vessel has more than three pairs of spreaders, we are probably talking about a big sailing yacht.

A turnbuckle is the fitting that connects the shrouds to the toggle and chainplate on the deck. These are adjustable, allowing you to tension the rig.

A chainplate is a metal plate bolted to a strong point on the deck or side of the hull. It is usually reinforced with a backing plate underneath to withstand the tension from the shrouds.

The term mast head should be distinct from the term masthead rigging. Out of context, the mast head is the top of the mast.

A toggle is a hardware fitting to connect the turnbuckles on the shrouds and the chainplate.

How tight should the standing rigging be?

It is essential to periodically check the tension of the standing rigging and make adjustments to ensure it is appropriately set. If the rig is too loose, it allows the mast to sway excessively, making the boat perform poorly.

You also risk applying a snatch load during a tack or a gybe which can damage the rig. On the other hand, if the standing rigging is too tight, it can strain the rig and the hull and lead to structural failure.

The standing rigging should be tightened enough to prevent the mast from bending sideways under any point of sail. If you can move the mast by pulling the cap shrouds by hand, the rigging is too loose and should be tensioned. Once the cap shrouds are tightened, follow up with the intermediates and finish with the lower shrouds. It is critical to tension the rig evenly on both sides.

The next you want to do is to take the boat out for a trip. Ensure that the mast isn’t bending over to the leeward side when you are sailing. A little movement in the leeward shrouds is normal, but they shouldn’t swing around. If the mast bends to the leeward side under load, the windward shrouds need to be tightened. Check the shrouds while sailing on both starboard and port tack.

Once the mast is in a column at any point of sail, your rigging should be tight and ready for action.

If you feel uncomfortable adjusting your rig, get a professional rigger to inspect and reset it.

How often should the standing rigging be replaced on a sailboat?

I asked the rigger who produced my new rig for Ellidah about how long I could expect my new rig to last, and he replied with the following:

The standing rigging should be replaced after 10 – 15 years, depending on how hard and often the boat has sailed. If it is well maintained and the vessel has sailed conservatively, it will probably last more than 20 years. However, corrosion or cracked strands indicate that the rig or parts are due for replacement regardless of age.

If you plan on doing extended offshore sailing and don’t know the age of your rig, I recommend replacing it even if it looks fine. This can be done without removing the mast from the boat while it is still in the water.

How much does it cost to replace the standing rigging?

The cost of replacing the standing rigging will vary greatly depending on the size of your boat and the location you get the job done. For my 41 feet sloop, I did most of the installation myself and paid approximately $4700 for the entire rig replacement.

Can Dyneema be used for standing rigging?

Dyneema is a durable synthetic fiber that can be used for standing rigging. Its low weight, and high tensile strength makes it especially popular amongst racers. Many cruisers also carry Dyneema onboard as spare parts for failing rigging.

How long does dyneema standing rigging last?

Dyneema rigging can outlast wire rigging if it doesn’t chafe on anything sharp. There are reports of Dyneema rigging lasting as long as 15 years, but manufacturers like Colligo claim their PVC shrink-wrapped lines should last 8 to 10 years. You can read more here .

Final words

Congratulations! By now, you should have a much better understanding of standing rigging on a sailboat. We’ve covered its purpose and its importance for performance and safety. While many types of rigs and variations exist, the hardware and concepts are often similar. Now it’s time to put your newfound knowledge into practice and set sail!

Or, if you’re not ready just yet, I recommend heading over to my following guide to learn more about running rigging on a sailboat.

Sharing is caring!

Skipper, Electrician and ROV Pilot

Robin is the founder and owner of Sailing Ellidah and has been living on his sailboat since 2019. He is currently on a journey to sail around the world and is passionate about writing his story and helpful content to inspire others who share his interest in sailing.

Very well written. Common sense layout with just enough photos and sketches. I enjoyed reading this article.

Thank you for the kind words.

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Staying Power – Adding an Inner Forestay

Posted by Ed Zacko | BWI Award-Winning Articles , Projects , Rigging

Staying Power – Adding an Inner Forestay

Adding an inner forestay expands sail plan options and can make for better boathandling.

W hen my wife, Ellen, and I  began our search for an ocean-going cruising boat, high on our list of requirements was that it be a cutter—a simple, single-mast rig with one mainsail and two headsails and a mast set further aft than on a sloop.

The cutter has several benefits. The larger foretriangle allows the total sail area to be proportioned more equally between the three sails. Two ready headsails offer flexibility and efficiency, precluding the hassle of swapping a large genoa for a smaller jib when conditions warrant. The dedicated intermediate stay set aft and closer to the mast permits a staysail in strong winds, and pairing it with a deeply reefed main (or trysail) better balances the helm. And the added forestay offers security when going to windward and makes for easy short tacking in harbors under staysail alone.

Unfortunately, we never found a cutter that satisfied our other requirements. And, when we fell in love with the Lyle Hess-designed Nor’Sea 27, we bought a bare hull and deck to complete in our backyard, figuring we could fairly easily build a cutter rig for it. Our ideas were quickly dashed by Lyle himself. He pointed out that designing and building a cutter rig would result in a domino effect of additional changes that just weren’t worth it.

So, we went sailing on  Entr’acte  the sloop, and four years later, found ourselves in Portugal anchored next to world-cruising veterans Hal and Margret Roth. Their sloop,  Whisper , proudly sported an intermediate forestay they had added, which Hal said provided nearly all of the advantages of a full-fledged cutter. I  wondered about doing the same aboard  Entr’acte . “It won’t be a cutter,” Hal said, “but it will be pretty close. You just have to be very clever about how you do it—and keep things simple!”

That meeting and conversation came full circle as Ellen and I  prepared  Entr’acte  for our second voyage and debated adding roller furling. An intermediate stay like the Roth’s, we reasoned, would offer redundancy if the headsail furler broke, and it would let us set a smaller headsail in windy conditions, taking the burden off that single headstay.

Attaching an inner forestay between the mast and deck would be easy. Our challenge was to position it correctly to gain the best possible sail plan options and to make it easy to stow when not in use.

Forestay Positions

forestay sailboat

In the forward position, the stay is attached to a permanent toggle installed in the stemhead fitting’s aft-most opening. The stay is just clear of the furling drum and allows for easy hoisting and lowering of sails.

Our inner forestay would have three positions. The first would attach immediately to the main stemhead fitting just aft of the roller furling drum. In this position we could hank on the 110 percent working jib or a large nylon drifter. This would also be a better location to attach the sliding tack strap of our new asymmetric cruising chute. This strap is designed to wrap around a furled genoa and slide up and down to adjust the shape of the cruising chute’s luff, which might be all right for a Sunday afternoon. But for long passages we did not like the idea of that strap chafing mile after mile on a furled, expensive genoa and imparting needless wear on furling gear bearings for thousands of miles when not in use. Far better to have that tack strap ride on its own forestay to save the wear and tear.

The second position was 3 feet back from the primary forestay. From this position we could set our storm jib as a staysail for short tacking into an anchorage. It would also improve the boat’s handling in heavy winds. As a mainsail is reefed, the length of the foot decreases and moves forward, shifting that sail’s center of effort toward the mast. But when a headsail is furled under the same conditions, its center of effort remains unchanged, so the net movement of the center of effort is forward, which tends to unbalance the helm. Setting a headsail 3 feet further aft brings that sail’s center of effort aft, helping to balance the helm in heavier winds.

forestay sailboat

The staysail rigged, with the inner stay set in the aft position. To use this, Ed rolls in the genoa and stows the sheets forward, out of the way.

The third position would be stowed for when this stay is not needed. In our case, the wire, detached from its turnbuckle, was just the right length to clip onto a 1⁄4-inch turnbuckle attached to a bail on the starboard middle stanchion. The turnbuckle would provide just enough tension to keep it from slopping around, allowing the stowed stay to serve also as a stable handhold when needed. Attached in a straight line to the stanchion, the new stay would be out of the way until needed with no bends or extra hardware.

forestay sailboat

Fortuitously, measurements landed the aft attachment point for the new headstay between the two large cleats at the narrowest clear point on the foredeck. This is where the deck is least likely to flex under load, and the foredeck remains clear.

Stay Installation

Deciding where exactly to mount the stay was a product of trial and error with cheap line. We finally determined it was best to mount the deck attachment 3 feet aft of the main stemhead fitting and the mast band 3 feet below the masthead. This positioning would keep the new stay parallel to, and far enough away from, the main forestay to prevent the two from tangling with each other, a common problem with double forestays. With the judicious use of extra toggles, we could easily move the lower attachment point from the fore to aft positions, ensuring it fit perfectly in either location.

forestay sailboat

The mast band is attached with 1⁄4 x 20 machine screws drilled and tapped. It’s further secured through a 1⁄2-inch stainless steel stud that passes completely through the mast and compression tube. The stud also provides an attachment for tangs for running backstays.

The standing rig consisted only of the forestay and a 7⁄16-inch bronze turnbuckle. (The price of a proper “highfield lever” to tension the new stay took our breath away. We opted instead for a spare turnbuckle with toggle and quick release pins. Simple, yet effective.)

The running rig was simply a halyard and two jib sheets. We didn’t add additional winches or lead blocks, figuring that both headsails would never be used on the same tack at the same time. When we wanted to hoist a staysail, we employed the unused genoa winch.

forestay sailboat

Ed added a robust deck plate under the foredeck with an eye to accept a turnbuckle and wire that transfers the load to the foremost interior bulkhead, which is glassed to the hull.

Below decks, we installed a 1 x 6-inch white oak plank which completely traversed the deck. This one large beam effectively increased our deck thickness and served as a substantial backing plate not only for the forestay but for the deck cleats as well. This was a distinct improvement from the two smaller individual backing blocks we had before.

forestay sailboat

A 1 x 6-inch oak plank added beneath the foredeck replaced two smaller backing blocks and beefed up the entire area where two bow cleats and the forestay are attached.

To prevent leaks and mold, we thoroughly bedded the oak beam and both deck plates with Dolphinite compound. We always use Dolphinite whenever we bed wood to fiberglass or wood to metal because, unlike other compounds, it soaks into the wood to best seal out water. It also boasts anti-fungicidal properties that prevent rot. Dolphinite never gets hard and has always proved easy to disassemble, even after many years in place.

Putting it to Work

Over time we have experimented with the inner forestay and have learned a lot. We discovered an especially interesting setup on our 2003 Atlantic crossing. The wind was in just the wrong place, not quite dead astern but far enough on the quarter so the mainsail completely blanketed the genoa, rendering it quite useless. Poling out the genoa on the other side for a dead run would require a course change 15 degrees to port of our rhumb line. To get the genoa to draw properly would likewise mean a 15- or 20-degree alteration to starboard.

Because of the relatively light wind and pronounced cross swell, the large cruising chute was not a viable option. We certainly could have sailed a day at a time gybing onto alternating tacks, but there had to be a better solution. Finally, we came onto our desired course, trimmed the mainsail and genoa on starboard tack, hoisted our 110 percent working jib as a staysail with the inner forestay in aft position, and poled  it  out to starboard. Because the jib was small and sailing by the lee, it did not drive us very well, but it did funnel the wind quite nicely into the large genoa, tricking it into drawing properly. Once set, we continued comfortably on our way for the next five days.

Our inner forestay has been a rousing success with results far better than we had imagined. It’s a simple and economical addition to our cruising rig and gives us most of the advantages of a proper cutter. After sailing thousands of miles with this system, the only improvement we might make would be to add a dedicated halyard winch.

Storing the Stay

When it came to storing our inner stay when not in use, we got lucky and were able, by removing its turnbuckle, to attach it to a stanchion with a shorter turnbuckle and provide enough tension to keep it safely snug.

But, storing the inner forestay is usually easier said than done. Once disconnected at the deck fitting, the stay is too long to stow in a straight line from the mast fitting. Bending the stiff and inflexible 1 x 19 rigging wire causes work hardening, which dangerously weakens the wire. If your wire stay is too long to stow in a straight line, it must be led around a large, smooth radius before it is put under tension for stowage.

A  stowage clip, also known as an inner forestay clip or inner stay storage bridle, solves the problem. This simple piece of gear clips onto the stay and features an eye for a strop that can be used to draw the stay away from the mast. With the strop leading forward to one anchor point on deck, the stay can be tensioned with its turnbuckle to a second attachment point slightly aft.

forestay sailboat

Wireless Options—Jamie Gifford

An inner forestay adds options for sail plan and mast control. But the location of an inner forestay can mean that it’s sometimes an inconvenience when not in use. It can interfere with tacking or prohibit dinghy storage on the foredeck. Making the inner forestay removeable alleviates some of these drawbacks but creates new challenges. Stowing the detached forestay can be difficult if long length requires deflecting wire around to its anchor point. And once stowed, the stay may bang into the mast and spreaders or chafe against a tightly sheeted genoa.

Using high-strength, low-stretch line instead of traditional wire mitigates these problems.

Dyneema or Spectra line (same fiber, different manufacturers) offers several excellent characteristics for this application. Single-braid construction is very easy to splice. It has a soft hand and is so lightweight that it floats. This makes for easier stowing than wire and less chafing against rig and sail surfaces. These high-tech lines have good UV  resistance, with tests revealing that 10 years of exposure degrades the material by about 50 percent. This isn’t insignificant, but stainless steel also degrades (from corrosion and work hardening), and the line is easier to inspect.

All materials have their Achilles’ heel. For these lines, it’s chafe. Though very slippery and chafe resistant, an edgy object pressed against a loaded low-stretch line will damage it quickly. These same lines are available as double-braided and with a polyester cover, but while these features offer some chafe protection and UV  blocking, they also are harder to splice and less slippery (important when hoisting/dropping sails). In my opinion, the gains don’t warrant the compromises. It’s best to minimize chafe by attaching sails using soft hanks of either webbing loops or soft shackles (made from Dyneema or Spectra) and to keep running gear from wearing against a low-stretch line stay.

On Totem , the Stevens 47 that my wife, Behan, and our three children circumnavigated on, the removeable inner forestay is made from Dyneema SK75. Three grades of Dyneema have appropriate strength and stretch characteristics for this application: SK75, SK78, and SK90. One-quarter-inch-diameter SK75 has a breaking strength of 8,600 pounds.

Totem also has a removable Solent stay, set parallel and close to the forestay and made from Dynex Dux. This is Dyneema line put through additional treatment that makes it even stronger and with lower constructional stretch.

In sizing Dyneema or Dynex Dux, I  recommend increasing the diameter to account for the inevitable UV damage. And splice the ends around a thimble. No knots! Thimble-less or knotted ends result in tight bend radiuses that significantly weaken the line.

High-tech line is a nice solution for a removable inner forestay and has many other applications onboard. And besides, who doesn’t like to show off a little DIY  traditional ropework in techy materials?

About The Author

Ed Zacko

Ed Zacko is a Good Old Boat contributing editor. Ed, the drummer, and Ellen, the violinist, met in the orchestra pit of a Broadway musical. They built their Nor'Sea 27, Entr'acte, from a bare hull, and since 1980 have made four transatlantic and one transpacific crossing. After spending a couple of summers in southern Spain, Ed and Ellen shipped themselves and Entr’acte to Phoenix, where they have refitted Entr'acte while keeping up a busy concert schedule in the Southwest US. They recently completed their latest project, a children's book, The Adventures of Mike the Moose: The Boys Find the World.

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Sailboat Parts Explained: Illustrated Guide (with Diagrams)

When you first get into sailing, there are a lot of sailboat parts to learn. Scouting for a good guide to all the parts, I couldn't find any, so I wrote one myself.

Below, I'll go over each different sailboat part. And I mean each and every one of them. I'll walk you through them one by one, and explain each part's function. I've also made sure to add good illustrations and clear diagrams.

This article is a great reference for beginners and experienced sailors alike. It's a great starting point, but also a great reference manual. Let's kick off with a quick general overview of the different sailboat parts.

General Overview

The different segments

You can divide up a sailboat in four general segments. These segments are arbitrary (I made them up) but it will help us to understand the parts more quickly. Some are super straightforward and some have a bit more ninja names.

Something like that. You can see the different segments highlighted in this diagram below:

Diagram of the four main parts categories of a sailboat

The hull is what most people would consider 'the boat'. It's the part that provides buoyancy and carries everything else: sails, masts, rigging, and so on. Without the hull, there would be no boat. The hull can be divided into different parts: deck, keel, cabin, waterline, bilge, bow, stern, rudder, and many more.

I'll show you those specific parts later on. First, let's move on to the mast.

forestay sailboat

Sailboats Explained

The mast is the long, standing pole holding the sails. It is typically placed just off-center of a sailboat (a little bit to the front) and gives the sailboat its characteristic shape. The mast is crucial for any sailboat: without a mast, any sailboat would become just a regular boat.

I think this segment speaks mostly for itself. Most modern sailboats you see will have two sails up, but they can carry a variety of other specialty sails. And there are all kinds of sail plans out there, which determine the amount and shape of sails that are used.

The Rigging

This is probably the most complex category of all of them.

Rigging is the means with which the sails are attached to the mast. The rigging consists of all kinds of lines, cables, spars, and hardware. It's the segment with the most different parts.

The most important parts

If you learn anything from this article, here are the most important parts of any sailboat. You will find all of these parts in some shape or form on almost any sailboat.

Diagram of Parts of a sailboat - General overview

Okay, we now have a good starting point and a good basic understanding of the different sailboat parts. It's time for the good stuff. We're going to dive into each segment in detail.

Below, I'll go over them one by one, pointing out its different parts on a diagram, listing them with a brief explanation, and showing you examples as well.

After reading this article, you'll recognize every single sailboat part and know them by name. And if you forget one, you're free to look it up in this guide.

Diagram of the Hull Parts of a sailboat

On this page:

The hull is the heart of the boat. It's what carries everything: the mast, the sails, the rigging, the passengers. The hull is what provides the sailboat with its buoyancy, allowing it to stay afloat.

Sailboats mostly use displacement hulls, which is a shape that displaces water when moving through it. They are generally very round and use buoyancy to support its own weight. These two characteristics make sure it is a smooth ride.

There are different hull shapes that work and handle differently. If you want to learn more about them, here's the Illustrated Guide to Boat Hull Types (with 11 Examples ). But for now, all we need to know is that the hull is the rounded, floating part of any sailboat.

Instead of simply calling the different sides of a hull front, back, left and right , we use different names in sailing. Let's take a look at them.

Diagram of the Hull Parts of a sailboat

The bow is the front part of the hull. It's simply the nautical word for 'front'. It's the pointy bit that cuts through the water. The shape of the bow determines partially how the boat handles.

The stern is the back part of the hull. It's simply the nautical word for 'back'. The shape of the stern partially determines the stability and speed of the boat. With motorboats, the stern lies deep inside the water, and the hull is flatter aft. Aft also means back. This allows it to plane, increasing the hull speed. For sailboats, stability is much more important, so the hull is rounded throughout, increasing its buoyancy and hydrodynamic properties.

The transom is the backplate of the boat's hull. It's the most aft (rear) part of the boat.

Port is the left side of a sailboat.

Starboard is the right side of a sailboat

The bilges are the part where the bottom and the sides of the hull meet. On sailboats, these are typically very round, which helps with hydrodynamics. On powerboats, they tend to have an angle.

The waterline is the point where the boat's hull meets the water. Generally, boat owners paint the waterline and use antifouling paint below it, to protect it from marine growth.

The deck is the top part of the boat's hull. In a way, it's the cap of the boat, and it holds the deck hardware and rigging.

Displacement hulls are very round and smooth, which makes them very efficient and comfortable. But it also makes them very easy to capsize: think of a canoe, for example.

The keel is a large fin that offsets the tendency to capsize by providing counterbalance. Typically, the keel carries ballast in the tip, creating a counterweight to the wind's force on the sails.

The rudder is the horizontal plate at the back of the boat that is used to steer by setting a course and maintaining it. It is connected to the helm or tiller.

Tiller or Helm

  • The helm is simply the nautical term for the wheel.
  • The tiller is simply the nautical term for the steering stick.

The tiller or helm is attached to the rudder and is used to steer the boat. Most smaller sailboats (below 30') have a tiller, most larger sailboats use a helm. Large ocean-going vessels tend to have two helms.

The cockpit is the recessed part in the deck where the helmsman sits or stands. It tends to have some benches. It houses the outside navigation and systems interfaces, like the compass, chartplotter, and so on. It also houses the mainsheet traveler and winches for the jib. Most boats are set up so that the entire vessel can be operated from the cockpit (hence the name). More on those different parts later.

Most larger boats have some sort of roofed part, which is called the cabin. The cabin is used as a shelter, and on cruising sailboats you'll find the galley for cooking, a bed, bath room, and so on.

The mast is the pole on a sailboat that holds the sails. Sailboats can have one or multiple masts, depending on the mast configuration. Most sailboats have only one or two masts. Three masts or more is less common.

The boom is the horizontal pole on the mast, that holds the mainsail in place.

The sails seem simple, but actually consist of many moving parts. The parts I list below work for most modern sailboats - I mean 90% of them. However, there are all sorts of specialty sails that are not included here, to keep things concise.

Diagram of the Sail Parts of a sailboat

The mainsail is the largest sail on the largest mast. Most sailboats use a sloop rigging (just one mast with one bermuda mainsail). In that case, the main is easy to recognize. With other rig types, it gets more difficult, since there can be multiple tall masts and large sails.

If you want to take a look at the different sail plans and rig types that are out there, I suggest reading my previous guide on how to recognize any sailboat here (opens in new tab).

Sail sides:

  • Leech - Leech is the name for the back side of the sail, running from the top to the bottom.
  • Luff - Luff is the name for the front side of the sail, running from the top to the bottom.
  • Foot - Foot is the name for the lower side of the sail, where it meets the boom.

Sail corners:

  • Clew - The clew is the lower aft (back) corner of the mainsail, where the leech is connected to the foot. The clew is attached to the boom.
  • Tack - The tack is the lower front corner of the mainsail
  • Head - The head is the top corner of the mainsail

Battens are horizontal sail reinforcers that flatten and stiffen the sail.

Telltales are small strings that show you whether your sail trim is correct. You'll find telltales on both your jib and mainsail.

The jib is the standard sized headsail on a Bermuda Sloop rig (which is the sail plan most modern sailboats use).

As I mentioned: there are all kinds, types, and shapes of sails. For an overview of the most common sail types, check out my Guide on Sail Types here (with photos).

The rigging is what is used to attach your sails and mast to your boat. Rigging, in other words, mostly consists of all kinds of lines. Lines are just another word for ropes. Come to think of it, sailors really find all kinds of ways to complicate the word rope ...

Two types of rigging

There are two types of rigging: running and standing rigging. The difference between the two is very simple.

  • The running rigging is the rigging on a sailboat that's used to operate the sails. For example, the halyard, which is used to lower and heave the mainsail.
  • The standing rigging is the rigging that is used to support the mast and sail plan.

Standing Rigging

Diagram of the Standing Riggin Parts of a sailboat

Here are the different parts that belong to the standing rigging:

  • Forestay or Headstay - Line or cable that supports the mast and is attached to the bow of the boat. This is often a steel cable.
  • Backstay - Line or cable that supports the mast and is attached to the stern of the boat. This is often a steel cable.
  • Sidestay or Shroud - Line or cable that supports the mast from the sides of the boat. Most sailboats use at least two sidestays (one on each side).
  • Spreader - The sidestays are spaced to steer clear from the mast using spreaders.

Running Rigging: different words for rope

Ropes play a big part in sailing, and especially in control over the sails. In sailboat jargon, we call ropes 'lines'. But there are some lines with a specific function that have a different name. I think this makes it easier to communicate with your crew: you don't have to define which line you mean. Instead, you simply shout 'mainsheet!'. Yeah, that works.

Running rigging consists of the lines, sheets, and hardware that are used to control, raise, lower, shape and manipulate the sails on a sailboat. Rigging varies for different rig types, but since most sailboats are use a sloop rig, nearly all sailboats use the following running rigging:

Diagram of the Running Rigging Parts of a sailboat

  • Halyards -'Halyard' is simply the nautical name for lines or ropes that are used to raise and lower the mainsail. The halyard is attached to the top of the mainsail sheet, or the gaffer, which is a top spar that attaches to the mainsail. You'll find halyards on both the mainsail and jib.
  • Sheets - 'Sheet' is simply the nautical term for lines or ropes that are used to set the angle of the sail.
  • Mainsheet - The line, or sheet, that is used to set the angle of the mainsail. The mainsheet is attached to the Mainsheet traveler. More on that under hardware.
  • Jib Sheet - The jib mostly comes with two sheets: one on each side of the mast. This prevents you from having to loosen your sheet, throwing it around the other side of the mast, and tightening it. The jib sheets are often controlled using winches (more on that under hardware).
  • Cleats are small on-deck hooks that can be used to tie down sheets and lines after trimming them.
  • Reefing lines - Lines that run through the mainsail, used to put a reef in the main.
  • The Boom Topping Lift is a line that is attached to the aft (back) end of the boom and runs to the top of the mast. It supports the boom whenever you take down the mainsail.
  • The Boom Vang is a line that places downward tension on the boom.

There are some more tensioning lines, but I'll leave them for now. I could probably do an entire guide on the different sheets on a sailboat. Who knows, perhaps I'll write it.

This is a new segment, that I didn't mention before. It's a bit of an odd duck, so I threw all sorts of stuff into this category. But they are just as important as all the other parts. Your hardware consists of cleats, winches, traveler and so on. If you don't know what all of this means, no worries: neither did I. Below, you'll find a complete overview of the different parts.

Deck Hardware

Diagram of the Deck Hardware Parts of a sailboat

Just a brief mention of the different deck hardware parts:

  • Pulpits are fenced platforms on the sailboat's stern and bow, which is why they are called the bow pulpit and stern pulpit here. They typically have a solid steel framing for safety.
  • Stanchons are the standing poles supporting the lifeline , which combined for a sort of fencing around the sailboat's deck. On most sailboats, steel and steel cables are used for the stanchons and lifelines.

Mainsheet Traveler

The mainsheet traveler is a rail in the cockpit that is used to control the mainsheet. It helps to lock the mainsheet in place, fixing the mainsails angle to the wind.

forestay sailboat

If you're interested in learning more about how to use the mainsheet traveler, Matej has written a great list of tips for using your mainsheet traveler the right way . It's a good starting point for beginners.

Winches are mechanical or electronic spools that are used to easily trim lines and sheets. Most sailboats use winches to control the jib sheets. Modern large sailing yachts use electronic winches for nearly all lines. This makes it incredibly easy to trim your lines.

forestay sailboat

You'll find the compass typically in the cockpit. It's the most old-skool navigation tool out there, but I'm convinced it's also one of the most reliable. In any way, it definitely is the most solid backup navigator you can get for the money.

forestay sailboat

Want to learn how to use a compass quickly and reliably? It's easy. Just read my step-by-step beginner guide on How To Use a Compass (opens in new tab .


Most sailboats nowadays use, besides a compass and a map, a chartplotter. Chartplotters are GPS devices that show a map and a course. It's very similar to your normal car navigation.

forestay sailboat

Outboard motor

Most sailboats have some sort of motor to help out when there's just the slightest breeze. These engines aren't very big or powerful, and most sailboats up to 32' use an outboard motor. You'll find these at the back of the boat.

forestay sailboat

Most sailboats carry 1 - 3 anchors: one bow anchor (the main one) and two stern anchors. The last two are optional and are mostly used by bluewater cruisers.

forestay sailboat

I hope this was helpful, and that you've gained a good understanding of the different parts involved in sailing. I wanted to write a good walk-through instead of overwhelming you with lists and lists of nautical terms. I hope I've succeeded. If so, I appreciate any comments and tips below.

I've tried to be as comprehensive as possible, without getting into the real nitty gritty. That would make for a gigantic article. However, if you feel I've left something out that really should be in here, please let me know in the comments below, so I can update the article.

I own a small 20 foot yacht called a Red witch made locally back in the 70s here in Western Australia i found your article great and enjoyed reading it i know it will be a great help for me in my future leaning to sail regards John.

David Gardner

İ think this is a good explanation of the difference between a ”rope” and a ”line”:

Rope is unemployed cordage. In other words, when it is in a coil and has not been assigned a job, it is just a rope.

On the other hand, when you prepare a rope for a specific task, it becomes employed and is a line. The line is labeled by the job it performs; for example, anchor line, dock line, fender line, etc.

Hey Mr. Buckles

I am taking on new crew to race with me on my Flying Scot (19ft dingy). I find your Sailboat Parts Explained to be clear and concise. I believe it will help my new crew learn the language that we use on the boat quickly without being overwhelmed.

PS: my grandparents were from Friesland and emigrated to America.

Thank you Shawn for the well written, clear and easy to digest introductory article. Just after reading this first article I feel excited and ready to set sails and go!! LOL!! Cheers! Daniel.

steve Balog

well done, chap

Great intro. However, the overview diagram misidentifies the cockpit location. The cockpit is located aft of the helm. Your diagram points to a location to the fore of the helm.

William Thompson-Ambrose

An excellent introduction to the basic anatomy and function of the sailboat. Anyone who wants to start sailing should consider the above article before stepping aboard! Thank-you

James Huskisson

Thanks for you efforts mate. We’ve all got to start somewhere. Thanks for sharing. Hoping to my first yacht. 25ft Holland. Would love to cross the Bass Strait one day to Tasmania. 👌 Cheers mate

Alan Alexander Percy

thankyou ijust aquired my first sailboat at 66yrs of age its down at pelican point a beautifull place in virginia usa my sailboat is a redwing 30 if you are ever in the area i wouldnt mind your guidance and superior knowledge of how to sail but iam sure your fantastic article will help my sailboat is wings 30 ft

Thanks for quick refresher course. Having sailed in California for 20+ years I now live in Spain where I have to take a spanish exam for a sailboat license. Problem is, it’s only in spanish. So a lot to learn for an old guy like me.

Very comprehensive, thank you

Your article really brought all the pieces together for me today. I have been adventuring my first sailing voyage for 2 months from the Carolinas and am now in Eleuthera waiting on weather to make the Exumas!!! Great job and thanks

Helen Ballard

I’ve at last found something of an adventure to have in sailing, so I’m starting at the basics, I have done a little sailing but need more despite being over 60 life in the old dog etc, thanks for your information 😊

Barbara Scott

I don’t have a sailboat, neither do l plan to literally take to the waters. But for mental exercise, l have decided to take to sailing in my Bermuda sloop, learning what it takes to become a good sailor and run a tight ship, even if it’s just imaginary. Thank you for helping me on my journey to countless adventures and misadventures, just to keep it out of the doldrums! (I’m a 69 year old African American female who have rediscovered why l enjoyed reading The Adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson as well as his captivating description of sea, wind, sailboat,and sailor).

Great article and very good information source for a beginner like me. But I didn’t find out what I had hoped to, which is, what are all those noisy bits of kit on top of the mast? I know the one with the arrow is a weather vane, but the rest? Many thanks, Jay.

Louis Cohen

The main halyard is attached to the head of the mainsail, not the to the mainsheet. In the USA, we say gaff, not gaffer. The gaff often has its own halyard separate from the main halyard.

Other than that it’s a nice article with good diagrams.

A Girl Who Has an Open Sail Dream

Wow! That was a lot of great detail! Thank you, this is going to help me a lot on my project!

Hi, good info, do u know a book that explains all the systems on a candc 27,

Emma Delaney

As a hobbyist, I was hesitant to invest in expensive CAD software, but CADHOBBY IntelliCAD has proven to be a cost-effective alternative that delivers the same quality and performance.

Leave a comment

You may also like, guide to understanding sail rig types (with pictures).

There are a lot of different sail rig types and it can be difficult to remember what's what. So I've come up with a system. Let me explain it in this article.

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The Ultimate Guide to Sail Types and Rigs (with Pictures)

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Fractional Rig: Everything You Need to Know

by Emma Sullivan | Aug 21, 2023 | Sailboat Maintenance


Short answer fractional rig:

A fractional rig is a sailboat mast configuration where the forestay (the wire or rope that supports the mast from the front) attaches to a point lower on the mast than its highest point. This design allows for greater control over sail shape and is commonly found in high-performance racing boats.

Understanding Fractional Rig: A Comprehensive Guide

Introduction: Sailing is an art that requires a deep understanding of boats, their components, and how they work together to harness the power of the wind. One essential aspect of sailboat design is the rigging system, which plays a crucial role in determining a boat’s performance and handling characteristics. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of fractional rigs – their purpose, composition, advantages, and tips for optimizing their use on the water.

What is a Fractional Rig? A fractional rig refers to a sailboat’s mast setup where the forestay (the wire or cable running from the top of the mast to the bow) does not intersect with the mast at its top point. Instead, it attaches at some point below it. This configuration creates two distinct sections in terms of percentage height: one shorter section above and one longer section below this intersection point – usually around 7/8 or 9/10 up the mast’s length.

The Purpose and Advantages of a Fractional Rig: 1. Versatility: The fractional rig is highly versatile as it allows sailors to adjust sail area quickly according to changing weather conditions while maintaining balance and control. 2. Enhanced Performance: Due to its ability to distribute loads more evenly along the mast, a fractional rig enables increased stability and reduced pitching moment during strong winds. 3. Improved Upwind Performance: By positioning more sail area forward compared to other rig configurations like masthead rigs, fractional rigs generate better drive upwind resulting in higher pointing angles. 4. Simplified Sail Handling: With lesser reliance on heavy overlapping headsails common in conventional rigs, managing sails becomes less physically demanding during maneuvers such as tacking or reefing.

Components of a Fractional Rig: 1. Mast Section: The mast used in fractional rigs often has slightly different dimensions than those employed in other systems due to its specialized function. Its shorter upper section allows for better control of the mainsail’s shape, while the longer lower section offers increased downwind power. 2. Forestay: The forestay is connected to the mast below its top point and usually runs from a fitting on deck to secure bow fittings. Its angle and tension can be adjusted to optimize sail trim and overall rig balance. 3. Backstay: Unlike a conventional rig where the backstay connects at the masthead, in fractional rigs, it attaches lower down – generally above or just below the intersection point with the forestay. Adjusting its tension further influences mast bend and sail shape .

Tips for Optimizing Fractional Rig Performance: 1. Experiment with Tensions: To maximize your boat’s capabilities, don’t hesitate to experiment with various forestay and backstay tensions until you find the optimum balance between mast bend, sail shape , and wind conditions. 2. Master Sail Controls: It is essential to understand how to adjust jib halyards, cunninghams, reef lines, vang tension, and other controls that directly affect sail shape and power distribution. 3. Fine-tune Rigging Settings: Regularly inspect all rigging components for wear or damage and fine-tune settings such as shroud tension or spreader positioning to ensure proper alignment and stability of your fractional rig.

Conclusion: The fractional rig is an ingenious design approach that empowers sailors with increased versatility, enhanced performance characteristics, improved upwind ability, and simplified sail handling. By understanding its composition, advantages, and optimizing techniques discussed in this comprehensive guide, you will be better equipped to master the art of sailing using a fractional rig system. So hoist your sails high with confidence as you explore new horizons guided by the power of an intelligently engineered fractional rig!

How to Set Up a Fractional Rig: Step-by-Step Instructions

Setting up a fractional rig may seem like a daunting task, but with our step-by-step instructions, you’ll be able to tackle it with ease. Before we dive in, let’s first understand what a fractional rig is.

A fractional rig refers to the configuration of the mast and stays on a sailboat. Unlike a masthead rig where the forestay attaches at the very top of the mast, a fractional rig has its forestay attached at a point lower on the mast. This design offers increased maneuverability and performance, making it popular among racing sailors.

Now that we know what a fractional rig is, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of setting it up.

Step 1: Start by prepping your boat Before you even think about setting up your fractional rig, make sure your boat is properly prepped. Clean off any debris or dirt from the deck and check that all hardware is in good working condition. It’s crucial to have everything in place before proceeding.

Step 2: Assemble and attach your mast With your boat prepped, it’s time to assemble and attach the mast. Lay out all the sections of your mast and make sure they are aligned correctly before connecting them together. Once assembled, carefully raise the mast so that it sits securely in its step or tabernacle. Use proper support equipment if necessary for additional stability.

Step 3: Securely attach shrouds and stays Next comes attaching the shrouds (sideways supports) and stays (fore-and-aft supports). Begin with attaching the lower shrouds to their designated points on both sides of the hull. Ensure they are securely fastened using appropriate tensioning devices such as turnbuckles or pelican hooks.

Move on to attaching any intermediate shrouds if required for added stability – this will depend on your specific boat design. Finally, secure your forestay at its designated attachment point on the mast. Remember, in a fractional rig, the forestay attaches lower on the mast compared to a masthead rig .

Step 4: Tension your rig Once all the shrouds and stays are attached, it’s time to apply tension. This step is crucial as it ensures proper alignment of the rig and maximizes its performance. Use a tension gauge or similar tool to achieve the recommended tension specified by your boat’s manufacturer or tuning guide .

Ensure you evenly distribute tension across all stays and shrouds, avoiding any overtightening or loose spots. This will help maintain balance and prevent any unnecessary stress on the mast or rigging elements.

Step 5: Check for proper alignment and adjustments Now that your fractional rig is set up and properly tensioned, it’s time for some fine-tuning. Stand back and visually inspect how everything lines up – look out for any twists or misalignments in the mast or stays. Adjust as necessary.

If you notice any excessive sagging in your forestay, consider adjusting the jib halyard tension accordingly. Similarly, pay attention to mainsail luff tension by utilizing cunningham or downhaul controls provided on your boat .

Step 6: Test sail and make final adjustments With everything aligned and adjusted to perfection, take your sailboat out for a test sail . Pay close attention to how the boat performs – observe its handling characteristics in different wind conditions.

During this test sail, make note of any potential issues or areas that could be further improved. These observations will guide you in making final adjustments once you return to shore.

And there you have it – a step-by-step guide on how to set up a fractional rig! While this explanation may seem technical, don’t forget to approach each step with confidence and patience. With practice, setting up your fractional rig will become second nature, allowing you to fully enjoy all its benefits while out on the water.

Frequently Asked Questions about Fractional Rigging: Explained

Title: Demystifying Fractional Rigging – Your Comprehensive Guide to Frequently Asked Questions


Fractional rigging is a crucial aspect of sailing that often poses several questions for novice sailors and even some experienced mariners. In this blog post, we aim to shed light on the most commonly asked questions about fractional rigging, providing you with a detailed, professional, and insightful explanation. So let’s dive in and unravel the mysteries !

1. What is Fractional Rigging?

Fractional rigging refers to a sailboat configuration where the forestay (the cable supporting the mast from the bow) is attached at a point below the masthead. This setup determines how much of the sail area of a boat is located forward versus aft of the mast.

2. How does Fractional Rigging differ from Masthead Rigging?

In contrast to fractional rigging, masthead rigging involves attaching the forestay directly at or near the top of the mast. This design places more sail area ahead of the mast compared to fractional rigs, offering improved upwind performance but compromising downwind speed potential.

3. What are the advantages of Fractional Rigging?

Fractional rigging provides numerous benefits depending on your sailing preferences and objectives: – Enhanced control: The lower forestay attachment point allows for precise adjustment and tuning options during varying wind conditions. – Improved performance: Fractional rigs excel in upwind sailing due to increased ability to depower sails quickly, resulting in better stability and maneuverability. – Increased versatility: Unlike masthead rigs, fractional rigs exhibit superior characteristics across different wind strengths and points of sail .

4. Are there any downsides or limitations with Fractional Rigging?

While fractional rigs have many advantages, there are certain considerations as well: – Reduced downwind potential: Compared to masthead rigged boats, fractional rigged vessels may experience slightly slower downwind speeds due to lesser sail area positioned forward. – Complexity in tuning: Fractional rigs require more meticulous tuning, as the lower forestay attachment demands careful balancing of mast bend, rig tension, and sail trim . This tuning process can be time-consuming for less experienced sailors.

5. Can I switch from a Masthead Rig to a Fractional Rig?

Switching from masthead to fractional rigging is indeed possible but requires significant modifications. The conversion involves adjusting various elements, such as installing a new lower forestay attachment point and adjusting the sail plan accordingly. It’s essential to consult a professional rigger before undertaking such conversions.

6. How do I determine if my boat has Fractional Rigging or Masthead Rigging?

Determining whether your boat features fractional or masthead rigging can usually be done by inspecting where the forestay attaches on the mast. If it connects below the top of the mast, you have a fractional rig; otherwise, it’s likely a masthead rig.

7. Are there any specific maintenance requirements for Fractional Rigging?

Fractional rigging typically requires regular inspections to ensure its structural integrity and optimal performance: – Check for signs of wear and tear on all standing rigging components. – Regularly inspect fittings, turnbuckles, spreaders, and shrouds for corrosion or damage. – Perform periodic re-tuning of your fractional rig as per manufacturer specifications or with expert guidance.


Fractional rigging possesses unique advantages that cater to different sailing scenarios while providing enhanced control and performance characteristics. By understanding these frequently asked questions about fractional rigging, you’ll be equipped with invaluable knowledge that will help you optimize your sailing experience. Remember to consult with professionals for advice specific to your boat model before making any major changes. Happy cruising!

The Advantages and Benefits of Using a Fractional Rig

When it comes to sailing, technology and innovation have played a crucial role in making the sport more accessible and enjoyable for enthusiasts . One such advancement that has revolutionized the sailing world is the fractional rig. This ingenious system offers numerous advantages and benefits to sailors, whether they are beginners or seasoned professionals.

To start with, let’s understand what exactly a fractional rig is. In simple terms, it refers to a sailboat rigging configuration where the forestay (the wire supporting the mast from its front) attaches below the top of the mast. Unlike a traditional masthead rig that secures the forestay at the very top of the mast, a fractional rig provides versatility and improved performance on different points of sail.

One advantage of using a fractional rig is its ability to offer better control in various wind conditions. The adjustability it provides allows for fine-tuning sail shape and balance, enabling sailors to optimize their boat’s performance. Whether you’re battling strong winds or gliding along in light breezes, being able to make precise adjustments can greatly enhance your sailing experience .

Additionally, compared to masthead rigs, fractional rigs offer increased maneuverability and responsiveness due to their lower center of effort . With less weight aloft, boats rigged with fractional systems are more agile and quick to respond to helm inputs. This allows sailors greater control over their vessel’s movements, especially when tacking or gybing.

Another significant benefit lies in the reduced loads experienced by both the hull and rigging components throughout maneuvers. By moving away from relying solely on headstay tension for stability under heavy winds, fractional rigs distribute loading more evenly along multiple stays – such as intermediates or runners – leading to decreased stress on hardware and overall increased safety levels.

What truly sets fractional rigs apart is their versatility across various points of sail . Compared to masthead rigs limited by upwind performance primarily, fractionally rigged boats excel in both upwind and downwind conditions. The adjustable forestay allows for a wider range of headsail options, enabling sailors to choose the most appropriate sail area for the prevailing wind strength and angle. This flexibility translates into improved speed, pointing ability, and overall performance across different points of sail .

Additionally, fractional rigs often feature smaller headsails – such as genoas or jibs – which are easier to handle than larger sails traditionally found on masthead rigs. This can be especially advantageous for sailors who prefer single or short-handed sailing, as it reduces physical strain and makes maneuvering the boat more manageable.

Finally, from an economic standpoint, employing a fractional rig can translate into cost savings over time. Smaller headsails generally require less fabric and maintenance compared to their larger counterparts. Moreover, the reduced loads on standing rigging components result in decreased wear and tear, prolonging their lifespan and lowering maintenance expenses.

In conclusion, using a fractional rig offers a range of advantages and benefits that enhance both the enjoyment and performance of sailing. From better control in varying wind conditions to increased maneuverability and improved versatility across points of sail, this innovative rigging system is truly a game-changer for sailors . So consider embracing this technology if you’re in search of enhanced sailing experiences – you won’t be disappointed!

Fine-Tuning Your Sailboat with Fractional Rigging: Tips and Tricks

Fine-tuning your sailboat with fractional rigging is a skill that can elevate your sailing experience to new levels. While the basics of rigging are essential, mastering the art of fractional rigging requires attention to detail, precision, and a touch of finesse. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of fractional rigging and share some tips and tricks that will empower you to optimize your sailboat’s performance .

Understanding Fractional Rigging:

To start off, let’s clarify what exactly we mean by “fractional rigging.” This term refers to a type of rig setup where the forestay is attached at a point below the mast’s top. Unlike a traditional rig setup where the forestay is attached at the masthead, a fractional rig allows for more efficient control over sail shape and balancing. The finer adjustments possible with this configuration can prove invaluable when it comes to maximizing speed and handling in various wind conditions.

Tip 1: Balancing Your Sails for Optimal Performance

One of the primary advantages of fractional rigging lies in its ability to fine-tune sail balance. To achieve optimal performance, it is crucial to ensure an appropriate balance between the mainsail and headsail. By adjusting tension on both halyards – main and jib – you can optimize leech tension and maintain proper airflow across your sails. Excessive headstay sag can lead to reduced pointing ability, while excessive mainsail luff tension can cause excessive weather helm. Experiment with different tensions until you find the sweet spot that offers maximum efficiency.

Tip 2: Controlling Mainsail Shape with Backstay Tension

Managing mainsail shape plays a pivotal role in harnessing wind power efficiently . With fractional rigging, backstay tension becomes an essential tool for shaping your mainsail on different points of sail . As you tighten or release the backstay, you will notice changes in both luff curve and mast bend. Take the time to familiarize yourself with how these adjustments affect your sail’s shape and make incremental changes based on wind conditions. Remember, a flatter mainsail works better in higher winds, while more depth can be beneficial when the breeze is light.

Trick 1: Fine-Tuning Rig Tension for Added Stability

Finding the right rig tension can enhance stability and control, contributing to overall performance. A useful trick involves adjusting cap shroud and lower shroud tensions. Incremental modifications to these tensions will influence your boat’s balance between weather helm and lee helm. If you find yourself fighting excessive weather helm, consider loosening the cap shrouds slightly or tightening the lowers. Conversely, if you experience lee helm, try tightening the cap shrouds or loosening the lowers. Striking a harmonious balance will result in improved handling and speed.

Trick 2: Mast Rake Adjustment for Upwind Performance

Fine-tuning your mast rake can significantly impact upwind performance by optimizing lift generated by your sails. By adjusting forestay tension (using either adjustable turnbuckles or backstay adjustment), you can alter mast rake subtly. Experiment with different settings to determine what works best for your boat and prevailing wind conditions. Keep in mind that a more raked mast generally provides increased pointing ability but may reduce overall downwind performance.

Fine-tuning your sailboat with fractional rigging requires a combination of knowledge, practice, and intuition. By understanding how different adjustments impact sail shape, balance, stability, and performance characteristics, you can gain a competitive edge on the water. Remember to always experiment incrementally, document changes made, and observe their effects before settling on an ideal configuration for each set of conditions you encounter. With these tips and tricks under your belt, prepare to take your sailing prowess to new heights as you fine-tune your sailboat with fractional rigging !

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Implementing a Fractional Rig

Implementing a fractional rig can be an incredibly beneficial decision for any sailing enthusiast or boat owner. It offers improved control, better balance, and increased efficiency on the water. However, like any complex system, there are common mistakes that inexperienced or unaware individuals often make when it comes to setting up and using a fractional rig. In this blog post, we will explore some of these pitfalls and provide you with professional insights on how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Neglecting Proper Measurement and Tuning

One of the critical aspects of implementing a fractional rig is accurately measuring the mast height and properly tuning the rig. Failing to measure your mast correctly can lead to improper sail shape, reduced performance, excessive weather helm, or even mast failure in extreme cases. Take the time to measure your mast height accurately before choosing sail combinations or making adjustments.

To ensure proper tuning, consult with experts or refer to manufacturer guidelines specific to your boat model. Adjusting shrouds and stays too tight or too loose not only compromises performance but also poses safety risks. Utilize specialized tools like a Loos gauge when tightening standing rigging for accurate tension readings.

Mistake #2: Incorrect Placement of Fractional Attachment Point

Placing the fractional attachment point incorrectly is another critical error often made during implementation. This point determines where the jib’s tack attaches to the forestay above the deck level when running with smaller headsails (e.g., jibs). Placing it either too high or too low can result in imbalanced forces on the boat while sailing close-hauled or reaching.

If placed too high, excessive tension can be created in both forestays – leading to increased loads on hardware and potential structural damage. On the other hand, if positioned too low, it could cause excessive twist in larger sails – affecting overall power delivery and balance under various wind conditions. Therefore, carefully consider consulting knowledgeable sailing professionals or referring to design plans to ensure proper placement of this attachment point.

Mistake #3: Neglecting Proper Planning and Execution

Perhaps the most common mistake made during the implementation of a fractional rig is neglecting comprehensive planning and proper execution. Rushing into modifications or adjustments without careful consideration can lead to unnecessary expenses, compromised performance, or even jeopardize the safety of all onboard.

Before implementing a fractional rig, it is crucial to thoroughly evaluate your boat ‘s characteristics, sailing goals, and intended usage. Consider how various factors such as mast height, forestay length, sail combinations, and crew capabilities will impact performance. Pay attention to detail when setting up your rig by following manufacturer recommendations or consulting with experienced riggers who can offer tailored advice based on your specific needs.

Mistake #4: Using Inappropriate Sail Combinations

Matching sail combinations appropriately with a fractional rig is crucial for optimizing performance and preventing undue stress on the mast and other rigging components. One common mistake is utilizing oversized headsails with excessive overlap on staysail/stemstay setups.

Using overlapping headsails that are too big can lead to an imbalance in forces between headstay and inner forestay (stemstay), thus causing excessive loading on these components. This unbalanced load distribution can result in poor handling characteristics, diminished control while tacking or gybing maneuvers, compromised pointing ability in upwind conditions – ultimately undermining the benefits of a fractional rig setup.

To avoid this error, consult sailmakers or experienced sailors knowledgeable about fractional rigs regarding appropriate jib sizes for different wind strengths and expected sailing angles.

Mistake #5: Ignoring Regular Inspection and Maintenance

Lastly, neglecting regular inspection and maintenance is a common oversight that can have severe consequences for your fractional rig’s longevity and reliability. Failing to conduct routine checks for signs of wear, corrosion, loose connections/joints, or damaged components significantly increases the risk of catastrophic failure while at sea.

Develop a periodic inspection checklist or refer to manufacturer guidelines to assess critical points such as mast fittings, spreaders, stay and shroud terminals, turnbuckles, block attachments, and any other components integral to the rig’s integrity. Addressing minor issues promptly will help ward off major failures and ensure a longer lifespan for your fractional rig.

In conclusion, implementing a fractional rig can be an exhilarating endeavor that enhances your sailing experience. However, it is crucial to steer clear of these common mistakes discussed in this blog post. Remember to prioritize accurate measurement and tuning, ensure correct placement of the fractional attachment point, plan meticulously before execution, select appropriate sail combinations for optimized performance, and conduct regular inspections and maintenance for long-term reliability. By avoiding these pitfalls and taking heed of professional advice provided here, you will be well on your way towards maximizing the advantages offered by a fractional rig setup while enjoying safer and more rewarding adventures on the water!

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What is the forestay on a boat?

The forestay is an essential component of a sailboat’s rigging system. It is a wire or cable that runs from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat, securing the mast and supporting the tension of the sail rig. The forestay is typically the longest and strongest wire in the rigging system, as it bears most of the load of the sail when the boat is under sail.

The forestay plays a critical role in shaping the sail’s aerodynamics, which ultimately determines the boat’s speed and performance. The forestay creates the forward tension that allows the sail to maintain its designed shape, which helps to maximize the boat’s efficiency in various wind conditions. A loose or over-tightened forestay can negatively impact the sail’s shape and thus the boat’s performance.

Different types of boats use different types of forestays. Smaller sailboats often use a simple steel wire, while larger boats may use a thicker stainless steel cable wrapped in a thin coating of plastic, reducing windage and providing some protection against corrosion. Some boats also use a self-tacking jib system that eliminates the need for a separate forestay.

Regular maintenance is crucial for the safety and longevity of the forestay. Since it’s constantly exposed to the elements, it’s subject to wear and tear, including rust, mechanical wear, and UV degradation. Regular visual inspections and replacement of worn or damaged components is essential to ensure that the forestay can safely support the mast and sail loads.

The forestay is a vital part of a sailboat’s rigging system, and understanding its role in shaping sails and providing stability is critical for any sailor. Regular maintenance and attention to detail can help ensure the safety and longevity of the forestay and enable sailors to fully enjoy the sailing experience.

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The DIY Solent Stay or Inner Forestay

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Among the many rigging improvements I’m pondering for my Yankee 30 Opal the year ahead is installing a second forestay to allow more flexibility in my sail plan.

A few years ago we dove into this topic in a two-part series on headsails. Two articles discussed the advantages of retrofitting a sloop with an inner forestay so that a smaller headsail could be set in higher winds. In the first part, technical Editor Ralph Naranjo discussed the Solent stay. In the the second part if the series , sailmaker Butch Ulmer wrote about the advantages of an inner forestay or staysail stay.

A Solent stay is a stay that sets between the mast and the forestay. It connects to the mast at a point that is only slightly below the existing backstay, and meets on the deck only slightly abaft of the existing forestay. Under such an arrangement, the mast requires no additional support. The existing backstay provides adequate tension to counteract the loads of any sail that is set from the new stay. Because it requires no additional backstay support, a Solent stay is a slightly less expensive option than the more common staysail stay, and it offers many of the same advantages.

An staysail stay also sets between the mast and the forestay. As the name implies, a staysail stay is where you would set a staysail, although it is also commonly used for setting a storm jib. In this modification, the forestay joins to the mast much closer to the deck than the Solent stay, so that some support aft is needed, usually in the form of running backstays-backstays that can be tensioned when needed, and slacked out of the way when they are not required. The staysail stay meets at the deck further aft than the Solent stay, thus bringing the center of effort further aft, which is usually desirable in heavy weather.

Why add an additional stay? As we saw in part one of our report, a Solent sail or staysail stay resolves the difficulty in managing a boat in winds at the upper range of a roller-furling jib’s designed parameters (usually above around 30 knots). The failings of a roller-reefed headsail become especially apparent when trying to work to windward. Even the best-cut furling jib will not furl down to the same efficient shape of a sail designed to perform in higher winds. There is also the risk of the furling gear itself failing, or the jib unfurling to its full dimensions.

It is important to keep in mind that most coastal sailors don’t need to bother with either of these stays. If you a prudent near-shore sailor, a well-designed and constructed furling jib will usually serve just fine. Butch Ulmer’s report discussed several methods sailmakers use to improve the performance of the roller-furling headsail when reefed down. A padded foam luff, conservative sizing (so reducing the size of the furled sail), stiffer sail material, and more sophisticated construction can all help make the furled sail more efficient. However, several of the sailmakers we spoke with suggested that a second forestay would be a welcome addition aboard a boat that has aspirations for a long offshore cruise.

The DIY Solent Stay or Inner Forestay

The most common question we were asked in the wake of our recent two-part series on headsails was, “How do I install an inner forestay or Solent stay?” Because either of these stays might one day be depended upon in the direst of circumstances, and because every boat presents different challenges for this project, it’s important to do your research and investigate other boats that have carried out this retrofit. Once you have a general idea of what features you like, consult a rigger for the initial design.

The rigger can also help you source the parts you need, and hopefully point out other details you might overlook, such as where to install the sheet leads, how to prevent corrosion of the new hardware, and what deck reinforcements might be required. If you are having a sail made for the new stay, then getting the sailmaker involved in the design will also help.

Once you have your measurements and hardware, you can carry out the installation, depending upon your ability. In some cases, you may need some fiberglassing skills, since the padeye/chainplate for the new stay must be adequately reinforced. Usually, fiberglass work can be avoided by transferring the load to the hull or a stout bulkhead, but as Brion Toss demonstrated in his recent article on the hidden causes of rig failure , this requires a general understanding of common installation errors and potential trouble spots.

For those who are considering an upgrade here are some other resources to consult as you begin your search.

  • Don Casey’s This Old Boat Casey’s comprehensive book on upgrading an old sailboat dedicates several pages to adding an inner forestay. This comprehensive book is a must-have for anyone planning to turn a run-down sailboat into the pride of the marina. You can probably find a used copy on Amazon, but if you buy new from our bookstore , it helps support more Practical Sailor tests and special reports.
  • PS Advisor Adding a Staysail Back in 1999, when former editor Dan Spurr was refitting his sloop Viva , he pitched this same question to naval architect Eric Sponberg, who offered some sage advice. This article also references three books that will be of help to anyone considering a retrofit, among the Understanding Rigs and Rigging by Richard Henderson.
  • Whence Thou Comest, Highfield? We don’t know what was in the (former) editors water bottle when he came up with the headline for this test of quick releases for stays and shrouds back in 1999. After evaluating several devices, the test team concluded that ABI’s Highfield lever to be the best of the bunch. The company has since gone out of business, but the as the Rigging Company describes, three other worthy substitutes are now available. We routinely turn to the Rigging Company for advice on hardware and installations and its website has a section dedicated to installing an inner forestay that covers many of the hardware details, including devices for storing the inner forestay when not in use.
  • Spar specialists Selden has a number of informative articles on rigging installation and maintenance. It offers step-by-step advice on installing an inner forestay fitting (nose tang) on the mast. For those who are dealing with a classic boat, fabricating their own chainplates or tangs, or simply enjoy digging into archaic, yet still valuable advice. Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design offers tips on calculating loads and fabricating hardware. It is still relevant enough to pick up from a used book store. Rig-Rite also offers a selection of staysail tangs.
  • Rigger and sailmaker websites In addition to its discussion of stay releases the Rigging Company has additional information on adding a Solent stay. Brion Toss’s Spartalk discussion board (log-in required) has several threads dealing with inner forestays, Solent stays, and related hardware. Among them is Toss’s rant against the ABI forestay release . He prefers the babystay releases from Wichard (see page 9 of the catalog), available in wheel, ratchet, or lever designs, depending on the size of the boat. And sailmaker Joe Cooper describes a lightweight Solent stay retrofit using fiber instead of wire for the stay. (Because of unknowns regarding fiber stays, PS still prefers wire for this use.)
  • Owner retrofits A number of blogs and archive articles from old magazines offer insight into what a retrofit entails. The Windrope family has done an excellent job documenting the addition of a Solent stay to Aeolus , their Gulf 32 Pilothouse sloop.


Dear Darrell,

A smaller headsail, or storm jib is indeed preferable to rolling up a Genoa when heading windward in winds over even 20 knots But adding it on as a retrofit brings up the issue of the lines to control it. Ideally it could be fitted on to a self-tacking rail, but these are quite awful if not installed in the original design, just one more thing to trip over and mess up a clean foredeck. I had researched this and apparently there are a number of simple solutions using a rigging set up based on the foot of the mast and clew of the jib, providing just one line astern through a deck organiser to the cockpit ‘piano’. This line simply controls how tight the jib will be and can be left alone when tacking upwind to act as self tacking jib. We sail in the Aegean where wind can be anything from ‘nothing’ to 35 knots sometimes with quick changes, so it pays to be adaptable. If you have any comments or recommendations for such rigs, it may well interest other readers as well and indeed myself as well.

I had a cutter, a Kelly Peterson 44. Great sailing cruiser. However, I would have rather have had a Solient over the traditional cutter. Not even including that yes, it required running back stays, the boat would balance better with a rolled jib over the staysail alone, even with double reefed main. Of course the set of the rollered 110 was not that great. A solient would have been my preference. Walter Cronkite had an interesting custom arrangement on his boat. He had his jib and solient on two stays separated an appropriate distance to properly function and both were on a yoke that would swivel. Just one attachment at masthead and one on stem. Of course hi-thrust bearings on both. The active sail would swivel aft when in use and the inactive would swivel forward complete out of the way! Clever arrangement. Yes, you would get a little “dirty” air from the inactive but everything is a trade off. Probably one that I would take if I could afford all that custom work.

I also have a cutter; CSY 44. When tacking, the jib would not come thru the innerforestay cleanly and would hang up. I installed a quick disconnect and when I know I will be beating it is set up that way. Makes it a lot easier to tack. I see hanging up as a problem with a the double forestay unless you carry the smaller sail on the most forward. However, is this where you want a storm jib? Should I need the storm jib, the staysail stay is the perfect place.

We had a custom rig built for our boat, a Valiant 40′ cutter with a bowsprit that sets the forestay two foot further forward. It was designed to allow both a Solent sail and/or a Staysail. We sail the boat as a Cutter and have no problem at all with the inner forestay interfering with the genoa and jib sheet, (just backwind the staysail until the clew of the genoa has moved to the leward side). The Staysail is roller-reefing too, and is small and very easy to handle, even in a blow. (don’t need the self-tending feature.) When in high winds, the furling staysail is perfect. As for the solent, I consider it more appropriate for a drifter, perhaps wing & wing with the genoa for downwind sailing.

Great Article, Darrell. Your advice to consult a rigger is spot on to address mast support issues. I helped deliver a beautiful Outbound to the Caribbean several years ago from New England. Once we turned south, the skipper set the hank-on Solent staysail on the inner stay. Sweet indeed. Easy to hoist and dowse. Nothing complex about a hank-on headsail. They go up and come down every time.

Interesting article, Darrell. Thank you. But my lord, does anybody proofread this stuff?

As I research adding a solent stay on our Tartan 27 I find many riggers are recommending a 4 to 1 purchase rather than a Highfield lever. They like the ability to adjust the tension at will. For our little sloop with a tabernackle the solent is much simpler and would remain stowed most of the time.

As a cutter sailor I must make a point of clarification. Installing an inner stay or staysail to your sloop design does NOT make it a cutter. A true feature of a cutter is that the mast is further aft than on a sloop in addition to the staysail feature. That is paramount to moving the center of effort further aft as the designer intended.

I have seen a number of cutter owners removing the staysail to sail the boat as a sloop simply because they don’t know how to sail it properly as a cutter. On the other hand, one unnamed circumnavigational sailor calls her boat a cutter when it is simply a sloop with inner stay…the manufacturer never made that boat design as a cutter. Last but not least one prominent cutter manufacturer offered their design as both a sloop and as a cutter; I called them to verify the fact that the mast was still in the original design location as a cutter. Can you begin to imagine what would be involved to design and build a sailboat with optional mast locations or even modify a sailboat from one rig location to the other?

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A glossary of sailing terminology

Most commonly a stainless steel wire, the forestay is a piece of standing rigging which helps keep the mast upright. It is attached at the bow of the boat, to the top of the mast

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What is a Sailboat Stay?

What is a Sailboat Stay? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

A sailboat stay is a cable or line that supports the mast. Stays bear a significant portion of the mast load.

Stays are a significant part of a sailboat's standing rigging, and they're essential for safe sailing. Stays support the mast and bear the stress of the wind and the sails. Losing a stay is a serious problem at sea, which is why it's essential to keep your stays in good condition.

Table of contents

‍ How to Identify Sailboat Stays

Sailboat stays connected to the top of the mast to the deck of the sailboat. Stays stabilize the mast in the forward and aft directions. Stays are typically mounted to the very front of the bow and the rearmost part of the stern.

Sailboat Forestay

The forestay connects the top of the mast to the bow of the boat. The forestay also serves an additional purpose—the jib sail luff mounts to the forestay. In fact, the jib is hoisted up and down the forestay as if it were a mast.

Boats equipped with roller furlings utilize spindles at the top and base of the forestay. The spindles rotate to furl and unfurl the jib. Roller furlings maintain the structural integrity of a standard forestay.

Sailboat Backstay

Backstays aren't as multifunctional as forestays. The backstay runs from the top of the mast (opposite the forestay) to the stern of the sailing vessel, and it balances the force exerted by the forestay. Together, the forestay and the backstay keep the mast upright under load.

Sailboat Stay vs. Shroud

Stays and shrouds are often confused, as they essentially do the same thing (just in different places). Stays are only located on the bow and stern of the vessel—that's fore and aft. Shrouds run from the port and starboard side of the hull or deck to the top of the mast.

Best Sailboat Stay Materials

Traditional sailboat stays were made of rope and organic line. These materials worked fine for thousands of years, and they still do today. However, rope has limitations that modern sailboat stays don't.

For one, traditional rope is organic and prone to decay. It also stretches, which can throw off the balance of the mast and cause serious problems. Other materials, such as stainless steel, are more ideal for the modern world.

Most modern fiberglass sailboats use stainless steel stays. Stainless stays are made of strong woven stainless steel cable, which resists corrosion and stress. Stainless cables are also easy to adjust.

Why are Stays Important?

Stays keep the mast from collapsing. Typical sailboats have lightweight hollow aluminum masts. Alone, these thin towering poles could never hope to withstand the stress of a fully-deployed sail plan. More often than not, unstayed masts of any material fail rapidly under sail.

When properly adjusted, stays transfer the force of the wind from the thin and fragile mast to the deck or the hull. They distribute the power of the wind over a wider area and onto materials that can handle it. The mast alone simply provides a tall place to attach the head of the sail, along with a bit of structural support.

Sailboat Chain Plates

Sailboat stays need a strong mounting point to handle the immense forces they endure. Stays mount to the deck on chainplates, which further distribute force to support the load.

Chainplates are heavy steel mounting brackets that typically come with two pieces. One plate mounts on top of the deck and connects to the stay. The other plate mounts on the underside of the deck directly beneath the top plate, and the two-bolt together.

Mast Stay Mounting

Stays mount to the mast in several ways depending on the vessel and the mast material. On aluminum masts, stays often mount to a type of chain plate called a "tang." A tang consists of a bracket and a hole for a connecting link. Aluminum masts also use simple U-bolts for mounting stays.

Wooden masts don't hold up to traditional brackets as well as aluminum. A simple u-bolt or flat bolt-on bracket might tear right out. As a result, wooden masts often use special collars with mounting rings on each side. These collars are typically made of brass or stainless steel.

Sailboat Stays on Common Rigs

Stays on a Bermuda-rigged sailboat are critical. Bermuda rigs use a triangular mainsail . Triangular sails spread their sail area vertically, which necessitates a tall mast.

Bermuda rig masts are often thin, hollow, and made of lightweight material like aluminum to avoid making the boat top-heavy. As a result, stays, and shrouds are of critical importance on a Bermuda rig.

Traditional gaff-rigged sail plans don't suffer as much from this issue. Gaff rigs use a four-pointed mainsail. This sail has a peak that's taller than the head and sometimes taller than the mast.

Gaff-rigged cutters, sloops, schooners, and other vessels use comparatively shorter and heavier masts, which are less likely to collapse under stress. These vessels still need stays and shrouds, but their stronger masts tend to be more forgiving in unlucky situations.

How to Adjust Sailboat Stays

Sailboat stays and shrouds must be checked and adjusted from time to time, as even the strongest stainless steel cable stretches out of spec. Sailboats must be in the water when adjusting stays. Here's the best way to keep the proper tension on your stays.

Loosen the Stays

Start by loosening the forestay and backstay. Try to do this evenly, as it'll reduce the stress on the mast. Locate the turnbuckles and loosen them carefully.

Match the Turnbuckle Threads

Before tightening the turnbuckle again, make sure the top and bottom threads protrude the same amount. This reduces the chance of failure and allows you to equally adjust the stay in both directions.

Center the Mast

Make sure the mast is centered on its own. If it's not, carefully take up the slack in the direction you want it to go. Once the mast is lined up properly, it's time to tighten both turnbuckles again.

Tighten the Turnbuckles

Tighten the turnbuckles as evenly as possible. Periodically monitor the direction of the mast and make sure you aren't pulling it too far in a single direction.

Determine the Proper Stay Pressure

This step is particularly important, as stays must be tightened within a specific pressure range to work properly. The tension on a sailboat stay ranges from a few hundred pounds to several tons, so it's essential to determine the correct number ahead of time. Use an adjuster to monitor the tension.

What to Do if you Lose a Stay

Thankfully, catastrophic stay and shroud failures are relatively rare at sea. Losing a mast stay is among the worst things that can happen on a sailboat, especially when far from shore.

The stay itself can snap with tremendous force and cause injury or damage. If it doesn't hurt anyone, it'll certainly put the mast at risk of collapsing. In fact, if you lose a stay, your mast will probably collapse if stressed.

However, many sailors who lost a forestay or backstay managed to keep their mast in one piece using a halyard. In the absence of a replacement stay, any strong rope can offer some level of protection against dismasting .

How to Prevent a Stay Failure

Maintenance and prevention is the best way to avoid a catastrophic stay failure. Generally speaking, the complete failure of a stay usually happens in hazardous weather conditions or when there's something seriously wrong with the boat.

Stays sometimes fail because of manufacturing defects, but it's often due to improper tension, stripped threads, or aging cable that hasn't been replaced. Regular maintenance can prevent most of these issues.

Check the chainplates regularly, as they can corrode quietly with little warning. The deck below the chainplates should also be inspected for signs of rot or water leakage.

When to Replace Standing Rigging

Replace your stays and shrouds at least once every ten years, and don't hesitate to do it sooner if you see any signs of corrosion or fraying. Having reliable standing rigging is always worth the added expense.

Choosing a high-quality stay cable is essential, as installing substandard stays is akin to playing with fire. Your boat will thank you for it, and it'll be easier to tune your stays for maximum performance.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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Parts of a sailboat

A Guide to the Different Parts of a Sailboat  

forestay sailboat

Table of Contents

Last Updated on November 29, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

When you use Boatsetter, you have the opportunity to choose from a myriad of different  sailboat rentals  from all over the  United States and beyond . A sailboat is a perfect way to relax on the water, either on a solo adventure or on an excursion with friends and family.

When you rent a sailboat with Boatsetter, you will have the option to book a captained sailboat to enjoy your day out on the water or book bareboat to hone your sailing skills. Either way, you may be interested in the intricacies of a sailboat and its different parts. If this sounds like you, you have come to the right place. In this article, we go in-depth about the different parts of a sailboat so that you can be more knowledgeable about whatever boat you may choose and come away from reading this feeling more confident about the whole sailing experience.

A basic sailboat is composed of at least 12 parts: the hull , the keel , the rudder , the mast, the mainsail, the boom, the kicking strap (boom vang), the topping lift, the jib, the spinnaker, the genoa, the backstay, and the forestay. Read all the way through for the definition of each sailboat part and to know  how they work.

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boat hull

In short, the hull is the watertight body of the ship or boat. There are different types of hulls that a sailboat may have, and these different hulls will often affect the speed and stability of the boat.

Displacement Hulls

Most sailboats have  displacement hulls , like round bottom hulls, which move through the water by pushing water aside and are designed to cut through the water with very little propulsion. The reason these are called displacement hulls is that if you lower the boat into the water, some of the water moves out of the way to adjust for the boat, and if you could weigh the displayed water, you would find that it equals the weight of the boat, and that weight is the boat’s displacement. One thing to know about displacement hulls is that boats with these hulls are usually limited to slower speeds.

Planing Hull

Another type of hull is a planing hull. These hulls are designed to rise and glide on top of the water when enough power is supplied. When there is not enough power behind the boat, these boats often act as displacement hulls, such as when a boat is at rest. However, they climb to the surface of the water as they begin to move faster. Unlike the round bottom displacement hulls, these planing hulls will often have flat or v-shaped bottoms. These are very common with motor-driven water vessels, such as pontoon boats, but they can also be found on smaller sailboats which allow them to glide quickly over the water.

Finally, sailboats can differ depending on the number of hulls that they have. There are three options: monohulls (one hull), catamarans (two hulls), and trimarans (three hulls).

Monohulls , which have only a single hull, will usually be the typical round bottom displacement hull or occasionally the flat bottomed or v-shaped planning hull. Catamarans have two hulls with a deck or a trampoline in between, with the extra hulls providing increased stability. Finally, trimarans have three hulls — a main hull in the middle and two side hulls used for stability. These trimarans have gained popularity because of their excellent stability and ability to go at high speeds.

When evaluating a sailboat , it is important to pay attention to the type of hull that the boat has because the type of hull a sailboat has can drastically change the sailing experience, especially when it comes to stability and speed.

boat keel

All sailboats have a keel, a flat blade sticking down into the water from the sailboat’s hull bottom. It has several functions: it provides counterbalance, life, controls sideways movement, holds the boat’s ballast , and helps prevent the boat from capsizing. When a boat leans from one side to the other, the keel and its ballast counteract the movement and prevent the boat from completely tipping over.

As with hulls, there are a number of different types of keels, though the two most common types of keels on recreational sailboats are the full keel or the fin keel. A full keel is larger than a fin keel and is much more stable. The full keel is generally half or more of the length of the sailboat. However, it is much slower than the fin keel. A fin keel, which is smaller than the full keel, offers less water resistance and therefore affords higher speeds.

A more recent feature on sailboats is the “winged keel,” which is short and shallow but carries a lot of weight in two “wings” that run sideways from the keel’s main part. Another more recent invention in sailing is the concept of the canting keels, which are designed to move the weight at the bottom of the sailboat to the upwind side. This invention allows the boat to carry more sails.

The Rudder 

Boat rudder

A rudder is the primary control surface used to steer a sailboat. A rudder is a vertical blade that is either attached to the flat surface of the boat’s stern (the back of the boat) or under the boat. The rudder works by deflecting water flow. When the person steering the boat turns the rudder, the water strikes it with increased force on one side and decreased force on the other, turning the boat in the direction of lower pressure.

On most smaller sailboats, the helmsman — the person steering the boat — uses a “ tiller ” to turn the rudder. The “tiller” is a stick made of wood or some type of metal attached to the top of the rudder. However, larger boats will generally use a wheel to steer the rudder since it provides greater leverage for turning the rudder, necessary for larger boats’ weight and water resistance.

Boat mast

The mast of a sailboat is a tall vertical pole that supports the sails. Larger ships often have multiple masts. The different types of masts are as follows:

(1)  The Foremast  — This is the first mast near the bow (front) of the boat, and it is the mast that is before the mainmast.

(2)  The Mainmast  — This is the tallest mast, usually located near the ship’s center.

(3)  The Mizzen mast —  This is the third mast closest to the stern (back), immediately in the back of the mainmast. It is always shorter than the mainmast and is typically shorter than the foremast.

The Main Sail

Main Sail

The mainsail is the principal sail on a sailboat, and it is set on the backside of the mainmast. It is the main source that propels the boat windward.

boat boom

A boom is a spar (a pole made of wood or some other type of lightweight metal) along the bottom of a fore-and-aft rigged sail, which greatly improves the control of the angle and the shape of the sail, making it an indispensable tool for the navigation of the boat by controlling the sailes. The boom’s primary action is to keep the foot (bottom) of the sail flatter when the sail angle is away from the centerline of the sailboat.

The Kicking Strap (Boom Vang)

The boom vang is the line or piston system on a sailboat used to exert a downward force on the boom, enabling one to control the sail’s shape. The vang typically runs from the base of the mast to a point about a third of the way out the boom. It holds the boom down, enabling it to flatten the mainsail.

The Topping Lift

The topping lift is a line that is a part of the rigging on a sailboat, which applies an upward force on a spar (a pole) or a boom. Topping lifts are also used to hold a boom up when it’s sail is lowered. This line runs from the free end of the boom forward to the top of the mast. The line may run over a block at the top of the mast and down the deck to allow it to be adjusted.

boat jib

A jib is a triangular staysail set ahead of the foremost mast of a sailboat. Its tack is fixed to the bowsprit, the bow, or the deck between the bowsprit and the foremost mast. Jibs and spinnakers are the two main types of headsails on modern boats.

The Spinnaker

Boat Spinnaker

A spinnaker is a type of sail designed specifically for sailing off the wind from a reaching downwind course. The spinnaker fills up with wind and balloons out in front of the sailboat when it is deployed. This maneuver is called “flying.” The spinnaker is constructed of very lightweight material, such a nylon fabric and on many sailing vessels, it is very brightly colored.

Another name for the spinnaker is the “chute” because it often resembles a parachute, both in the material it is constructed from and its appearance when it is full of wind.

People often use the term genoa and jib as if they were the same thing, but there is a marked difference between these two types of sails. A job is no larger than a foretriangle, the triangular area formed by the mast, the deck or bowsprit, and the forestay. On the other hand, a genoa is larger than the jib, with part of the sail going past the mast and overlapping the mainsail. These two sails, however, serve very similar purposes.

The Backstay

Boat Backstay 

The backstay is a standing rigging that runs from the mast to the transom (the vertical section at the back of the boat), counteracting the forestay and the jib. The backstay is an important sail trip, control and directly affects the mainsail’s shape and the headsail.

There are two general categories of backstays:

1) A permanent backstay is attached to the top of the mast and may or may not be readily adjustable.

2) A running backstay is attached about two-thirds up the mast and sometimes at multiple locations along the mast. Most modern sailboats will have a permanent backstay, and some will have permanent backstays combined with a running backstay.

The Forestay

Boat Forestay 

A forestay is a piece of standing rigging that keeps the mast from falling backward. It is attached at the very top of the mast, or at certain points near the top of the mast, with the other end of the forestay being attached to the bow (the front of the boat). Often a sail, such as a jib or a genoa, is attached to the forestay.

A forestay might be made from stainless steel wire, stainless steel rod or carbon rod, or galvanized wire or natural fibers.

Parts of a sail

Sails are vital for sailboats, made up of complex parts that improve performance and maneuverability. In this section, we’ll  take a closer look at the different parts of that make up the sails. 

Luff – The luff is a vertical sail part that maintains its shape and generates lift by interacting with the wind. It attaches securely with a bolt rope or luff tape for easy hoisting.

Leech – The leech controls air flow and reduces turbulence. Battens or leech lines are used to maintain shape and prevent fluttering.

Foot – The foot of a sail connects the luff and leech at the bottom edge. It helps define the sail’s shape and area. The outhaul is used to adjust its tension and shape.

Head – The sail’s head is where the luff and leech meet. It has a reinforced section for attaching the halyard to raise the sail.

Battens -The b attens are placed horizontally in sail pockets to maintain shape and optimize performance in varying wind conditions. They provide structural support from luff to leech.

Telltales – Sailors use telltales to adjust sail trim and ensure optimal performance.

Clew – The clew is important for shaping the sail and connecting the sheet, which regulates the angle and tension, producing energy. It’s located at the lower back corner of the sail.

Sailing is a favorite pastime for millions of Americans across the country. For some, there is nothing better than gliding across the water propelled by nothing more than the natural force of the wind alone. For both experienced and non-experienced sailors alike, Boatsetter is the perfect place to get your ideal sailboat rental from the mouthwatering Florida keys to the  crystal blue waters of the Caribbean .

Smaller sailing boats are perfect for a single day out on the water, either by yourself or with friends and family. In comparison, larger sailing boats and sailing yachts can allow you days of luxury on longer excursions full of adventure and luxury.

Whatever your sailing dreams are, it is always good to know, for both the experienced sailor and the novice, all about the sailboat’s different parts. In this article, we learned all about the boat’s hull, the keel, the rudder, the mast, the mainsail, the boom, the kicking strap (boom vang), the topping lift, the jib, the spinnaker, the genoa, the backstay, and the forestay, which make up the basic parts of any sailboat you might find yourself on.

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Tuning A Sailboat Rig


If your sailboat seems slower, follow our how-to on tuning your rig for optimal performance.

Sailing the deep blue sea

Photo: Bigstock

Spring is a time of prepping your boat for the coming season. While powerboaters fine-tune their engines, sailors should consider fine-tuning their rigs. Doing it yourself may seem intimidating, but it shouldn't be. Anyone reasonably handy can do it in a few hours. The reward is easier and faster sailing throughout the coming season.

Let's start with the basics for new sailors. With a few exceptions, a sailboat mast is held up by a series of stainless-steel wires. But those wires also perform several other equally important functions. When a sailboat is at rest and there is no wind blowing, the stress on these wires is very light with almost all the load downward toward the keel. However, when the boat is sailing and heeled over in a fresh breeze, more stress is placed on the wires and they have to work harder to hold the mast upright and stop it from bending.

The wires that prevent the mast from moving from side to side are called shrouds, and the ones that prevent fore and aft movement are called stays. The larger and taller the mast, the greater the load, and the number of shrouds and stays required. On a typical cruiser, say up to about 35 feet, there will generally be one forestay, one backstay, and two shrouds on each side.

To get the best performance from your boat and sails, the rigging needs to be set up correctly — often called "tuning the rig." The rig should be tuned with the boat in the water on a day with little to no wind. You'll also want to be away from wakes and other boats that can rock your boat. To start, the turnbuckles for the stays and shrouds should be hand-tight only. This is sufficient to hold up the rig but places no strain on anything — yet. Lay on your back on the boat's foredeck and sight up the front of the mast. It should be perfectly straight with no bends or kinks. Next, tighten the lower shrouds — these are the ones that do not go all the way to the top of the mast and often attach to the mast at the base of the crosstrees (the two horizontal spars at the upper ends of the topmasts).

You'll need a large screwdriver to rotate the turnbuckle, and a wrench to hold the shroud fitting and prevent it turning as you tighten. Give a couple of complete turns on either side. Have a helper release the main halyard and keep a little tension while you pull down the end that normally attaches to the mainsail until it just touches the top of the toerail adjacent to the chain plate. Have your helper cleat off the halyard, then swing the halyard over the boom and check the measurement on the other side. They should be the same. If not, adjust the turnbuckles until they the measurement is equal on port and starboard.

Tuning a sailboat rig

Adjusting and tuning a sailboat rig will often bring benefits such as easier handling and better performance.

Next do the same for the cap shrouds, these are the ones that go to the top of the mast, but note that due to the length of the shrouds, it is easy to bend the mast to either port or starboard. With the shrouds adjusted, sight up the mast one more time to ensure that it is still straight.

Next comes the fore and aft adjustment, which is made with the backstay and forestay. Masts should be plumb or lie back slightly. It should never rake forward. A good starting point is to tighten up the forestay and backstay a little over hand-tight. Use the main halyard as a plumb bob. Cleat off the halyard so the free end is just clear of the top of the boom and let it hang. If the shackle on the end of the halyard hits the mast, the mast is likely too far forward, so slacken off the forestay and tighten the backstay. Adjust a little at a time until the end of the halyard hangs free — 4 or 5 inches is a good starting point.

You'll need to install cotter pins into the turnbuckles to prevent them loosening over time, but before doing that, take the boat for a sail when the wind is blowing about 10 knots and see how everything works. With the boat on a beam reach, note the tightness of the windward shrouds. If they appear slack, they will need to be adjusted up. If the boat is hard on the tiller or wheel and tries to turn into wind, the mast has too much aft rake, so you'll want to slacken the backstay and tighten up on the forestay a little. If the bow wants to turn away from the wind, the mast is too far forward, so you'll need to move the mast back a little.

If you are at all unsure about tackling this task, play it safe and smart — seek out the services of a qualified rigger who has access to rig tension gauges and other specialized tools.

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A marine surveyor and holder of RYA Yachtmaster Ocean certification, BoatUS Magazine contributing editor Mark Corke is one of our DIY gurus, creating easy-to-follow how-to articles and videos. Mark has built five boats himself (both power and sail), has been an experienced editor at several top boating magazines (including former associate editor of BoatUS Magazine), worked for the BBC, written four DIY books, skippered two round-the-world yachts, and holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest there-and-back crossing of the English Channel — in a kayak! He and his wife have a Grand Banks 32.

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Replacing a Sailboat Headstay

  • By Green Brett
  • Updated: September 10, 2020

Keep the rig up. These four words mean everything to a sailor. Over Lyra ’s winter layup, I spent many hours working on her rig to ensure that we do just that. A big part of that came in the form of replacing the forestay, as well as a comprehensive overhaul and inspection of the ProFurl furling system.

Lyra is our 1980 Reliance 44, and has a nine-year circumnavigation and several trans-Atlantic crossings under her belt. Additionally, we’ve been racking up an average of 2,000 nautical miles annually for the past 10 years on a rig that was last seriously serviced in the early 1990s while the boat was in New Zealand. It is a testament to her overbuilt design and uncompromising owners that it has held up well. With the rig out for the first time since we put the boat together after purchasing her 10 years ago, I wanted to address any issues before they occurred.

The furler’s aluminum-foil extrusion had to be removed from the headstay in order to inspect the actual wire; and in order to remove it, the ­Sta-Lok fitting on the bottom of the stay needed to be disassembled. Even though the existing stay passed a visual inspection perfectly, it proved to be a relatively simple and inexpensive process to simply replace the wire for future peace of mind.

Headstay and Foil Removal

Headstay and foil removal

Removing the furling assembly and turnbuckle allowed me to see the Sta-Lok terminator on the bottom of the stay. The two tangs on the outside of the fittings slid down after removing the two Allen bolts in the bottom of the titanium furler base (photo 1) . Now the turnbuckle could be spun off.

I next removed the two large Allen set screws that keep the drum assembly attached to the foil and slid it off as well (photo 2) .

Using two wrenches to take apart the Sta-Lok fitting, the lower terminator could now be removed. I had to use some heat in the form of a propane torch to break the Loctite in the threads, which was fine because all of the parts that will be reused needed to be cleaned before reassembly.

The foils were now ready to be disassembled. Four Allen set screws kept each connector insert in place inside the foil (photo 3) . Mine were sealed with silicone sealant, which popped right out when a sharp screw was turned into it. Once removed, the sections slid apart and off the end of the stay where I had removed the Sta-Lok. Be careful using heat to free the set screws, so as not to melt the plastic bearings that allow the foil to rotate around the wire. I had to drill out a few.

Replacing the Headstay

With some attention to detail and the following items, I found that replacing the wire using the existing Sta-Lok ­fittings was well within the skill set of the average DIY sailor. The tools needed are a tape measure, hacksaw, masking tape, drill, Scotch Brite pad, wire coat hanger, a couple of wrenches, Loctite, silicone sealant, and new cones for the Sta-Lok fitting.

I sourced 54 feet of 10 mm high-end Loos wire rope from RigPro in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. With the replacement set screws for the foil, the bill came to $545.46. I was fortunate enough to have a spare Sta-Lok terminal, which I installed on the new wire. By anchoring the terminals in the ground with a screwdriver, I could pull the old and new wire side by side to get an accurate measurement of length (photo 4) .

Headstay replacement

I wrapped the new wire in masking tape for ease of marking and to keep the strands together as I cut them (photo 5) . The old stay was a half-inch too long, so I cut the new one a half-inch shorter. Using a sharp hacksaw blade to cut the new wire saves time; any burrs need to be filed smooth.

A wire coat hanger ­doubled around a piece of brown Scotch Brite pad and twisted back to the drill’s chuck is an easy way to clean out the inside of the old Sta-Lok fittings without damaging the threads (photo 6) .

There is an insert buried in the fitting that should be removed for inspection and replaced if it is scored. I replaced the cones that slide over the wire and are captured in the Sta-Lok fitting. I had to keep in mind that the lower terminal installation would need to wait until the wire was back on the mast and the foil was reinstalled.

I had to pre-fit the lower terminal (photo 7) . On the wire rope, I slid the top nut onto the wire. Then, I gently unlaid the outside layer of wire strands until the new cone would go in, leaving about an eighth-inch of the core strands sticking out the bottom.

Photo 8 shows the top ­terminal all gooped up and ready to thread together. The fitting was gently dry-fitted first, so the cone has moved down to its home and the outer strands are bent into place. Last, I added blue Loctite to the threads and put it together (photo 9) . Sta-Lok says not to use too much force when tightening, so I went with a very firm feel. Sealant should (and did) ooze out the top. Wipe it clean (photo 10) , and it’s all done!

Servicing The Profurl

Servicing the ProFurl

The ProFurl furler was in decent shape. There are bearings in the furler unit and top swivel that moved freely and had no play, so I opted to leave them as they were. There was some wear on some of the connector’s plastic bearing inserts, so I bought four sets of them and replaced as needed. The biggest job was to replace all of the original set screws with longer set screws with a post below the threads, an upgrade recommended by RigPro. The idea is that the stud would keep the connectors in place more effectively than the original friction-reliant, cupped set screws did (photo 11) .

In order to accurately drill a hole in the connector to receive the stud on the new set screws, I had to make a guide. This was done by drilling out the center of an original set screw with a bit sized to the post on the new set screws. This allowed me to screw in the guide using an Allen wrench, perfectly centering the bit without damaging the foil’s existing set screw threads. The center measurements between holes drilled by the factory are not all the same, so it was important to keep each insert in place and oriented—easily done by dry-fitting the new set screws as I drilled. Once the project was completed, the foil was ready for a cleaning and reinstallation.

Before installing the lower Sta-Lok terminal, I slid each section onto the new stay and assembled the foil after screwing in the foil connector’s set screws with some blue Loctite on the threads. A dab of silicon sealant on top of each screw completed the process. Last but not least was installing the new halyard wrap stop on the new wire (photo 12) .

The forestay is one of the most important structural items on your rig, and is subjected to big loads, constant cycling and a corrosive marine environment. Often encased inside a roller furling foil, it is difficult to inspect. While Lyra ’s headstay passed inspection, we wanted to have the peace of mind associated with new wire. Given her Sta-Lok system, the headstay replacement was not a difficult process.

The other piece of the puzzle is the furling system. In our case, we expect our roller furler to work flawlessly, and the ProFurl is robust. By replacing some of the connector bearings and adding set screws with a post inserted into the connector, it should last for many more years.

Lifelong sailor Green Brett is a ­regular contributor to CW. During summers, he’s at the helm of Lyra and offering ­daysailing charters in Newport, Rhode Island, through his company, On Watch Sailing .

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  1. Staying Power

    forestay sailboat

  2. Staying Power

    forestay sailboat

  3. What is the forestay on a sailboat?

    forestay sailboat

  4. Forestay is up… the rig is complete!

    forestay sailboat

  5. Forestay is up… the rig is complete!

    forestay sailboat

  6. Staying Power

    forestay sailboat


  1. The Rigging Company's RIFS Pt2

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  1. Forestay

    Forestay. On a sailing vessel, a forestay, sometimes just called a stay, is a piece of standing rigging which keeps a mast from falling backwards. It is attached either at the very top of the mast, or in fractional rigs between about 1/8 and 1/4 from the top of the mast. The other end of the forestay is attached to the bow of the boat.

  2. Standing Rigging (or 'Name That Stay')

    A sailboat's standing rigging is generally built from wire rope, rod, or occasionally a super-strong synthetic fibered rope such as Dyneema ®, carbon fiber, kevlar or PBO. 1×19 316 grade stainless steel Wire Rope (1 group of 19 wires, very stiff with low stretch) is standard on most sailboats. Wire rope is sized/priced by its diameter which ...

  3. Explaining The Standing Rigging On A Sailboat

    The forestay is a wire that runs from the bow to the top of the mast. Some boats, like the Cutter rig, can have several additional inner forestays in different configurations. The backstay is the wire that runs from the back of the boat to the top of the mast. Backstays have a tensioner, often hydraulic, to increase the tension when sailing upwind.

  4. Staying Power

    Adding an inner forestay expands sail plan options and can make for better boathandling. W hen my wife, Ellen, and I began our search for an ocean-going cruising boat, high on our list of requirements was that it be a cutter—a simple, single-mast rig with one mainsail and two headsails and a mast set further aft than on a sloop.. The cutter has several benefits.

  5. Sailboat Parts Explained: Illustrated Guide (with Diagrams)

    Forestay or Headstay - Line or cable that supports the mast and is attached to the bow of the boat. This is often a steel cable. ... lower, shape and manipulate the sails on a sailboat. Rigging varies for different rig types, but since most sailboats are use a sloop rig, nearly all sailboats use the following running rigging:

  6. Fractional Rig: Everything You Need to Know

    A fractional rig refers to the configuration of the mast and stays on a sailboat. Unlike a masthead rig where the forestay attaches at the very top of the mast, a fractional rig has its forestay attached at a point lower on the mast. This design offers increased maneuverability and performance, making it popular among racing sailors.

  7. What is the forestay on a boat?

    The forestay is an essential component of a sailboat's rigging system. It is a wire or cable that runs from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat, securing the mast and supporting the tension of the sail rig. The forestay is typically the longest and strongest wire in the rigging system, as it bears most of the load of the sail when the ...

  8. The DIY Solent Stay or Inner Forestay

    A Solent stay is a stay that sets between the mast and the forestay. It connects to the mast at a point that is only slightly below the existing backstay, and meets on the deck only slightly abaft of the existing forestay. Under such an arrangement, the mast requires no additional support. The existing backstay provides adequate tension to ...

  9. Forestay

    Forestay. Most commonly a stainless steel wire, the forestay is a piece of standing rigging which helps keep the mast upright. It is attached at the bow of the boat, to the top of the mast.

  10. What is a Sailboat Stay?

    Sailboat Forestay. The forestay connects the top of the mast to the bow of the boat. The forestay also serves an additional purpose—the jib sail luff mounts to the forestay. In fact, the jib is hoisted up and down the forestay as if it were a mast. Boats equipped with roller furlings utilize spindles at the top and base of the forestay.

  11. Inspecting, Maintaining and Replacing Standing Rigging

    Aug 14, 2015. It's one of the most important features on a sailboat, but many owners put standing rigging at the back of their minds when it comes time to do their pre-season safety checks. A prudent sailor should inspect his or her standing rig at least once each season and should know when the time comes to replace most or all of it.

  12. A Look at Forestay Sag

    A Look at Forestay Sag. April 11, 2016 by Sail1Design Editor Leave a Comment. By Andrew Kerr. A key element of upwind performance is forestay sag - how loose the forestay (or head stay on a masthead rig) is for the given set of wind and sea conditions. The setup is crucial to boat speed and pointing as it sets up the entry and power of the ...

  13. Forestay

    On a sailing vessel, a forestay, sometimes just called a stay, is a piece of standing rigging which keeps a mast from falling backwards. It is attached either at the very top of the mast, or in fractional rigs between about 1/8 and 1/4 from the top of the mast. The other end of the forestay is attached to the bow of the boat.

  14. The Parts of Sailboat: A Complete Guide

    A forestay might be made from stainless steel wire, stainless steel rod or carbon rod, or galvanized wire or natural fibers. Parts of a sail. Sails are vital for sailboats, made up of complex parts that improve performance and maneuverability. In this section, we'll take a closer look at the different parts of that make up the sails.

  15. Fractional rig

    The forestay is a wire that secures the mast to the front of the boat. With a fractional rig, the forestay is attached between about 1/8 and 1/4 of the length of the mast lower down, rather than being attached to the top of the mast as in a masthead rig. The foresail (jib or genoa) is then rigged to this stay.

  16. Know-how: Modern Rigs 101

    A boat with a fractional rig, on the other hand, had its forestay attached 3/4 to 7/8 of the distance from the cabintop to masthead, had well-swept spreaders, carried a larger mainsail and smaller jib, and had a spar that was designed to be tweaked with adjustable backstay tension.

  17. Tuning A Sailboat Rig

    On a typical cruiser, say up to about 35 feet, there will generally be one forestay, one backstay, and two shrouds on each side. To get the best performance from your boat and sails, the rigging needs to be set up correctly — often called "tuning the rig." The rig should be tuned with the boat in the water on a day with little to no wind.

  18. Forestay

    The forestay is identified by the number 16. On a sailing vessel, a forestay, sometimes called a jibstay, or a headstay, is a piece of standing rigging. [1] It keeps a mast from falling backwards. [1] It is usually attached to the very top of the mast. [1] [2] The other end of the forestay is attached to the bow of the boat.

  19. Replacing a Sailboat Headstay

    A big part of that came in the form of replacing the forestay, as well as a comprehensive overhaul and inspection of the ProFurl furling system. Lyra is our 1980 Reliance 44, and has a nine-year circumnavigation and several trans-Atlantic crossings under her belt. Additionally, we've been racking up an average of 2,000 nautical miles annually ...

  20. How to: Choosing a Furling System

    Just make sure the jib halyard pulls slightly away from the forestay. Otherwise, if the pull is parallel, it's possible to get the halyard wrapped around the stay, which could stop the sail from furling. "Halyard wraps are the #1 reason systems have to be replaced in the offseason," Seldén's Scott Williman warns.

  21. Standing rigging

    Standing rigging on a fore-and-aft rigged sailboat. Key: 1. Forestay 2. Shroud 3. (Spreaders) 4. Backstay 5. Inner forestay 6. Sidestay 7. (Boom) 8. Running backstays Standing rigging on a square-rigged vessel (illustrated left), which supports a mast comprising three steps: main, top, and topgallant (illustrated right). The shrouds support ...

  22. A Look at Forestay Sag

    A Look at Forestay Sag. A key element of upwind performance is forestay sag - how loose the forestay (or head stay on amasthead rig) is for the given set of wind and sea conditions. The setup is crucial to boat speed and pointing as it sets up the entry and power of the headsail as well as the effectiveness of both sails as one combined foil.

  23. Choosing a Backstay Adjuster

    Whether you're cruising or racing, an adjustable backstay is a helpful device for changing sail shape and controlling forestay tension for improved upwind and downwind performance. By dialing in the right backstay tension you can increase boatspeed. Regardless of whether you have a masthead or fractional rig, using an adjustable backstay is essential to good sail shape.