Sailcloth Maintenance: Save the Boss Some Bucks

27 January 2009 By Gary Owen, Superyacht Coordinator, Dimension-Polyant Sailcloth

In these dark and gloomy days of global economic downturn, one thing is for sure: We have to extend the working life of everything aboard, and for sailing yacht crew, that includes the sails.

The sailmakers should have provided a short summary of how to properly care for your sails, along with a maintenance schedule. If not, ask for one. We all understand the real-world limitations and some recommendations are not always feasible due to the position of the yacht, etc. However, the closer you follow the sailmakers’ advice, the longer the sailing life of your sails.

1. When you first receive your new sails, whether they are constructed from woven polyester/dyneema, laminated fabric or utilize membrane technology, please don’t try them out in anger! The fabric and construction need to “bed in”, so a breeze of 8- to 15-knots would be perfect. Try to make sure that all points of contact with the rig, stanchions, etc., are noted and are sufficiently protected (ie: with PSA aramid/dyneema patches).

2. If the sails are not in use, please store them as dry as possible (not always practical advice on a yacht). This limits the possibility of mildew growth in all types of sailcloth (some fabrics are easier to rid of mildew than others). While sailcloth manufacturers try to prevent the growth of fungi within the laminate, no one can guarantee it 100 percent, as health and safety concerns prevent the use of poisons in fabrics. However, mildew can be minimized by having the sails coated with a silicone/anti-fungicidal treatment on an annual basis. This should be part of your warranty maintenance schedule.

3. Direct sunlight can severely damage the construction of sailcloth. It can cause polyester taffetas to disintegrate, internal yarns to break and films to discolor. Make sure that roller furl genoas have a sacrificial leech and foot fabric applied (keep a check on how this wears), and that stackaway mainsails have a full cover to protect them from harmful rays. Even in-mast and in-boom sails should be inspected to ensure they are not affected when rolled away – again, it’s best to have a sacrificial strip in the sail.

4. Excessive hydraulic loading can result in damaged sails. In some cases, it completely destroys the fabric. When reefing the mainsail, careful attention has to be paid to the reef lines and halyard, so that one is not fully applied against the other, resulting in high loads in non-primary directions. With sails utilizing membrane technology such as D4, make sure that the sail is reefed to the appropriate position defined by internal reef yarns or patching.

5. Follow the advice of your sailmaker and take the sails off the rig for an annual inspection.

If all these points are covered to the best of your ability, then your sails will have a longer sailing life, saving you time and hassle and the owner money.

Good Sailing!

Gary Owen is part of the Global Superyacht Team at Dimension-Polyant Sailcloth (, which supplies fabrics for everything from Olympic dinghies to superyachts. Please feel free to e-mail him any questions relating to sailcloth at