Please select your home edition
Lennon Thermalite 728x90 3

How and when to reef

by American Sailing Association 10 Apr 2021 09:11 PDT
How and when to reef © American Sailing Association

The sailing season is upon us! Air temps are coming up, the water is warming up and you haven't put on a pair of long-pants for at least six weeks. Well, some of us have not.

Sailing is part of your weekly routine now and sometimes your face actually gets sore from the constant smiling. This is all great - we endorse this of course, but sometimes it's this very euphoria that can lead to a complacency that could end in problems. We don't want that. We're talking about reefing - a foreign concept for some, a tried and failed practice for others, a studied and untried theory for the academics in the house and an important and often used skill for real sailors.

The truth is, weather reports can be inaccurate or not consulted at all. It's a beautiful day and that's all some need to go on. But one of the fun things about sailing is the surprise the weather God can supply. For the skilled and knowledgeable, it's an adjustment. For everyone else it can be, at the least, upsetting and at the worst, tragic. Let's get you in the club of the former.

How to reef

Most boats are equipped with the ability to subtract sail area from the rig (reef) for when the wind pipes up. Since this system is built into the design of the boat, once reefed, she'll sail on quite happily in this added amount of breeze. So many people don't know how to reef their boats and enter into an ugly battle once the boat becomes overpowered. It heels way over and is very difficult to steer. The loads are stacked up everywhere and things don't feel nice at all.

So let's not go through all that - let us be reefing people. To begin, look at the boat while she's sitting peacefully at the dock, head up into the wind and peruse the boom. Identify where everything leads and specifically where the reefing mechanisms and/or lines reside. If it looks too confusing, find someone with a big brain or hit up the Internet until you know how to put a reef in, there at the dock. Typically it involves lowering the sail a few feet and tying up the extra material in some fashion onto the boom, thereby establishing a new tack and clew. Figure it out and put in a reef, then shake it out. Do this a few more times until you get used to the mechanics because the real-life version will be a little less stable and predictable an environment.

When to reef

Once you've familiarized yourself with the how-to's of your particular reefing set-up, now understand when it needs to be employed. There's an old sailor saying that says, "Once you've realized it's time to reef, it's too late." Another one is: "The time to reef is when you first think about it." You get the idea...Wind comes up fast and reefing in a gale (or close to it) is a recipe for disaster.

All boats are different so it's hard to say exactly what exact wind-speed deserves a reef, but many agree that 15-knots is certainly a point where many boats are either reefed or thinking about it. Another factor is what point of sail you happen to be on. It's important to understand that sailing downwind in 15-knots of wind will be pretty comfy, but if you have to turn upwind, the apparent wind is going to change the dynamic drastically.

In this age of roller furling jibs and mains, particularly jibs, many sailors have the benefit of first rolling in some of the headsail to depower as the wind increases. If you've done that, know that reefing the main may very well be the next step. It's a good idea to speak with someone familiar with the boat's design and get good information on how your particular boat and rig likes to be reefed - where the balance is. Finding that sweet spot and being unfazed by the idea of reefing is the difference between continuing on with a great day of sailing and being terrified. Be the continuing-on-with-a-great-day sailing person...

For more details refer to Coastal Cruising Made Easy textbook.

Related Articles

Setting up your electronics for the season
This electronics setup webinar is free for members - reserve your spot today The online class covers different aspects of sailing electronics setup with the goal of helping sailors get their boats ready to get back out on the water. Posted on 19 Mar
Intro to Marine Diesel Online Class
Designed for both the professional and recreational users of small diesel engines This class is designed for both the professional and recreational users of small diesel engines. Posted on 31 Jan
13 unlucky sailing situations you can avoid
Register for this two session course on how to prepare and prevail The most important part of your sailing education is knowing what to do when things go wrong to protect yourself, your crew, and your vessel. Posted on 27 Dec 2021
Webinar: Newport Bermuda Race weather & navigation
Raise your Newport-Bermuda weather IQ with Chris Bedford and Peter Isler Raise your Newport-Bermuda weather IQ with Chris Bedford and Peter Isler, founders of Marine Weather University. Posted on 17 Nov 2021
Docking & Maneuvering webinar series
Taking place October 5-7 This course is suitable for sailors of all levels who wish to improve maneuvering skills and docking techniques. Discover how a boat's individual characteristics affect maneuverability under power, and how you can use those features to your advantage. Posted on 4 Oct 2021
Bite size lessons: MOB first response
The importance of "Man Overboard" first response We know that learning to sail can be overwhelming and there is a lot to take in. In an effort to help we've created a series of “Bite Sized Lessons” taken straight out or our textbooks – Sailing Made Easy and Coastal Cruising Made Easy. Posted on 24 Aug 2021
The benefits of a Summer Sailing Program
Summer programs often help teenagers earn college credits My son was 13 years old when I put him on a flight to St. Martin, alone. He was off to discover the world of sailing without his family. He had already logged plenty of time on the family boat but this experience was different. Posted on 17 May 2020
Attend a sail trim seminar near you!
Covering Upwind/Downwind Sail Trim and Helming The American Sailing Association is partnering with North U and our schools to offer full day sail trim seminars at various locations across the country. Posted on 5 Mar 2020
ASA's Veterans Sailing Education Program
ASA and Affiliate Schools join forces in year-long Program starting on Veterans Day American Sailing Association ASA, in partnership with its national network of affiliate sailing schools, announced a special initiative exclusively for active and retired military to thank them for their sacrifices Posted on 8 Nov 2018
Changing lives with hands across the sea
117 schools in the Eastern Caribbean will benefit from 90,050 books The kids will most likely never meet the throngs of volunteers who sorted, packed, donated and helped along the way to make this happen. They will know that Hands Across The Sea was behind the generosity Posted on 3 Oct 2018
Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW FOOTERArmstrong-A-Wing-728x90 gif BOTTOMRooster 2020 - Impact BA - FOOTER