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6 things every sailor should know how to do

2018 May 1

Don’t head out to sea without knowing what to do when emergencies—both small and large—arise

3. How to reef a mainsail

Knowing how and when to reef a mainsail will make sailing in strong breeze safer, more pleasant and more efficient.
RORC/Tim Wright photo


When it comes to reefing, the rule is to do it before you need to. It’s a good plan because reefing becomes infinitely more complicated if the boat is heeled way over and the wind is whistling so loudly you can’t hear your crewmates. The process of reefing, however, is the same no matter when you do it.

Start by easing off the outhaul and the vang, then drop the main halyard down to slightly lower than the level of the reef you intend to put in. Get the new tack set in whatever manner your boat is set up for, then carefully grind the halyard up to get the right amount of luff tension. Then tighten the reef line at the clew so that both corners of the sail are sufficiently taut and the foot is stretched out.

Roll the reefed portion of the sail into itself and tie sail ties through the grommets. Boats with fixed-foot mainsails will have to devise another strategy to control the lower part of the sail. Some sailors use long bungee cords stretched along the boom to hold the sail down.

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