The Most Important Parts of a Sail


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Sailors are a resourceful bunch. Many of us have been known to jury-rig a rig or bodge something together when we need it. But there’s an order to the universe, and if you want your boat to sail properly, you need to know what sails are supposed to do and how they should be put together. The following sections will help you understand the basic parts of a sail so that you can tell if yours is missing any or has some components that aren’t working properly:

Sail Materials

  • Canvas – This is the most traditional material for sails. It’s made from a woven fabric that’s often treated with oil or wax to make it more weather-resistant, and then coated with a UV-resistant finish to protect it from sun damage.
  • Synthetic – A relatively new type of sail cloth, synthetic materials are made from fibers derived from either polyester or nylon, which can be woven into durable fabrics that have similar properties to natural fibers.
  • Carbon – Carbon fiber is extremely lightweight (and therefore stiff) but also very strong. It’s used in many high-end racing sails because it allows sailors who are trying to trim their boats as light as possible while still having enough strength to stand up against strong winds and ocean waves.

Carbon fiber doesn’t require much maintenance at all; however, if you store your boat indoors during periods when you’re not sailing on it regularly (such as during the winter months), be sure not just leave them out in direct sunlight where they could get damaged by UV rays!


The mast is the main structure of a sailboat. It runs from its base on the deck to its top, where it attaches to your sail. The mast varies in shape and size depending on the kind of boat you have, but all masts are made with either wood or fiberglass.

The most important part of any sailing vessel is its mast, which acts as both a structural support for your sails and an indication of how far up (and thus how much wind) your boat can go.


The clew is the lowest corner of a sail. It’s typically attached to a boom, or another spar that holds the lower edge of the sail. The other corners are called head and tack, and they’re usually connected to the mast via shrouds.


The luff is the forward edge of the sail, and it gets its name from being the part that’s closest to your body when you’re holding on. It’s also the part that attaches to the mast and boom, creating pressure on the sail so it can catch wind.

When you have a jib out, you want your luff to be in front of your main. If you accidentally set up with a genoa under your main instead of over it, this could cause problems because there will be conflicting pressure points: one where both sails are trying to force their luffs downwind (which would defeat their purpose), and another where they’re both trying to rise up into the wind (which would break off).


The tack is the part of the sail that is attached to the boom. The tack is also referred to as a clew. The sheeting in-board can help you make adjustments to this part of your sail in order to control its shape.

The luff is another term used for tacking, referring specifically to this type of adjustment when moving your boat across its course (an “across wind” angle).


The leech is the edge of the sail furthest from the mast. It’s also known as the foot, or simply “the leech.” The leech is opposite of another seam on a sail, called luff.

The leech lines up with bowline and clew (or tack) on a jib or mainsail, while it lines up with shrouds and headboard on a mainstay.

If a sail is missing some parts, it won’t work.

You can’t set sail without any of these parts. If you have all the parts, but they’re missing one or more lines, your sail will not work correctly. The clew is where the boom attaches to a boat. The luff is where the head of the sail connects with its spar (or mast). The leech is how far out in front of a boat’s stem it extends when raised on its tack line. Finally, there’s a tack line that runs from one side of your boat to another point above and below where it’s attached to your mast—this keeps everything balanced while you’re sailing around!

Now that we’ve covered how sails work in general terms, let’s get into specifics about what different types look like and what they do!


So, to sum it up: A sail is an important part of a boat, and every part has a job to do. If any of the parts are missing from your sail, then it won’t work as well.


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