Winterizing the Sails!

It's that time of the year again when most folks put their boats into hibernation for the winter months. Most of us wouldn't think of putting our boats away without winterizing the engine to insure it's performance in the next season. The prudent boat owner also extends this winterization to his sails & running rigging also. The winter is the perfect time to get the sails off the boat, checked over, washed, and stored in a dry area. This winterization process also extends to the boats canvas,(i.e. dodgers, biminis, sail covers, etc.). By doing this you can jump-start your season and get out sailing soon as the weather turns good again.

The check over of sails includes the obvious areas:

1. Check over all seams and stitching, especially in the leech area or any area that may be exposed to the sun for long periods of time.

2. Check all grommets and rings to ensure their integrity. This applies especially to the webbing at all the corners. If the sail has been used for a couple of years and has the original webbing I would seriously consider changing out the webbing. This is really important for the boats sailing in tropical areas where the UV damage is likely. I think everyone has probably had a failure of the webbing. Most of us lose our sense of humor when this happens and have to go on the foredeck and lash down a flogging sail. While checking out the sails hardware, also go over all the leech cord cleats, blocks and leech cord.

3. One area that we see a high percentage of problems in are sails with white UV covers. In many cases the sails get furled inside out, with the actual body of the sail being exposed to the sun for a full season or more. This usually occurs when the sail is taken off for the season and the furling line pulled off the drum. The furling line is then installed in the spring with the drum being turned the wrong way. By the time one realizes there is a problem the damage has been done. Generally there are 2 courses of action here; amputate the sun-rotted section of the sail or replace the sail!

4. Depending on where you're sailing (high salinity level) It is a good idea to wash all "primary" sails. ( Genoa & Mainsail usually) Salt and dirt lead to a breakdown of the sailcloth. This should be done every season in high salinity areas, every other season in brackish water. Another prime reason for washing sails is mildew. This is particular prevalent problem, which can be handled if we get the sail before it gets out of hand. When you have a very wet year like we all have had on the East coast every furled sail has mildew to some extent. With the wash process that we have at North Sails we have been very successful in bringing the sails back. The one problem with this is that it sometimes not 100% white but it does stop the mildew from growing in the sail. Another advantage of washing sails is that they simply look better. This also goes back to sail storage. The sails are much better being on a nice warm shelf rather than lying crunched up in a damp boat all winter.

5. Racing sails. The last few races of the season are a perfect time to get some pictures of the tired sails that have seen way to many early starts and just flogged to death, or that crash tack when you didn't quite get the sheet released as well timed as you may have liked. The winter is the perfect time to go over the inventory and do any re-cuts that may help the performance of the sails. If re-cutting is not cost effective, the Off-season and Boat Show season are perfect times to take advantage of the off-season discounts that are available. All racing sails should also get a racers rinse, a good fold job and put away dry.


6. Canvas. These products generally need as much, if not more, care than the sails. There is always re-stitching, reinforcing of hardware, cleaning and waterproofing that that should be attended to on every piece of canvas.

This is just a quick overview of the winterization process. By taking these preventative steps In the fall when you're poutting the boat to bed for the winter you make the sport of sailing more enjoyable by having sails and canvas that don't fail. This also provides the perfect opportunity for a health check on your "wind engines." Perhaps your best opportunity to keep up with the overall state of your sail & canvas inventory.

Jim Cullen
North Sails / Chesapeake

This site was last updated 04/28/09