Mastering the Art of Sail Handling: A Comprehensive Guide to Mainsail Furlers and Roller Furling Systems

Unlock the secrets to effortless sailing with our in-depth guide on mainsail furlers and roller furling systems. Discover how these essential tools can transform your sailing experience, enhancing both convenience and performance.

Sailing can be a joy, but managing sails can often be challenging, especially for those new to the sport. One crucial piece of equipment that can make life easier on the water is a mainsail furler. This guide delves into everything you need to know about mainsail furlers and roller furling systems, exploring their benefits, installation, and maintenance.

What is a Mainsail Furler?

A mainsail furler is a device designed to roll up the mainsail into the mast or boom, making it easier to deploy and stow the sail. This mechanism significantly reduces the physical effort required to manage the sail, especially in windy conditions. Sail furling systems are essential for improving the overall sailing experience. They offer convenience, safety, and enhanced performance, making them a must-have for both casual sailors and seasoned mariners.

Types and Mechanisms of Mainsail Furling Systems

Traditional mainsail furling involves manually rolling the sail around the boom or bundling it on the deck. While effective, this method can be labour-intensive and time-consuming. In-mast furling systems roll the sail into the mast itself. This method is popular for its ease of use and the sleek profile it provides, making it a preferred choice for many sailors. In-mast furling systems use a rotating mechanism within the mast to roll the sail.

In-boom furling systems roll the sail into a specially designed boom. This method offers excellent control over sail shape and is ideal for performance-oriented sailors. In-boom furling systems use a similar rotating mechanism, but the sail is rolled into the boom rather than the mast.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mainsail Furlers

Mainsail furlers allow for furling and unfurling the sail from the cockpit, enabling quick adaptation to changing weather conditions without leaving the helm. By reducing the need to go on deck to manage sails, mainsail furlers enhance safety, particularly in rough seas. This feature is invaluable for solo sailors and small crews. Modern furling systems allow for precise control over sail shape, leading to improved sailing performance. Whether racing or cruising, the ability to adjust sail trim easily can make a significant difference.

Like any mechanical system, mainsail furlers can fail. Regular maintenance is essential to ensure reliable operation, and sailors should be prepared for potential issues. Mainsail furlers can be expensive to purchase and install. However, the benefits they offer often outweigh the initial investment for many sailors.

Choosing and Installing the Right Mainsail Furler

When choosing a mainsail furler, consider factors such as the size of your boat, your sailing style, and your budget. It's also essential to choose a system compatible with your existing rigging. Popular brands of mainsail furlers include Selden, Harken, and Furlex. Each brand offers various models tailored to different types of boats and sailing needs.

While some experienced sailors may opt to install a mainsail furler themselves, professional installation is often recommended to ensure proper setup and avoid potential issues. Follow these steps for a smooth installation: gather all necessary tools and equipment, safely remove any existing sail handling equipment, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install the furling system, and test the system thoroughly.

Maintenance of Mainsail Furlers

Regularly inspect your mainsail furler for signs of wear and tear. Look for issues such as frayed lines or damaged components. Keep the moving parts of your furling system well-lubricated and clean. This maintenance will ensure smooth operation and extend the life of the system. Common issues with mainsail furlers include jamming and uneven furling. Regular maintenance and prompt attention to problems can prevent these issues from becoming serious.

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Roller Furling Systems for Headsails

A roller furling system allows the headsail to be rolled around a stay or foil, making it easy to deploy, reef, and stow the sail. While both systems serve similar purposes, headsail furlers are typically simpler and more robust, designed to handle the higher loads placed on headsails.

When selecting a roller furling system, look for features such as a reliable bearing system, ease of operation, and compatibility with your existing rigging. Top brands for roller furling systems include Harken, Furlex, and Profurl. Each offers a range of models suitable for different boat sizes and sailing styles.

Installation and Maintenance of Roller Furling Systems

Follow these steps for a smooth installation process: prepare the stay by ensuring it is clean and free of damage, assemble the foil by following the manufacturer’s instructions, secure the furling drum to the base of the stay, and test the system to ensure smooth operation. While DIY installation is possible, professional help can ensure the system is correctly installed and functioning optimally.

Perform routine checks to ensure the system operates smoothly. Look for wear on the furling line and inspect the drum and bearings. Common problems include difficulty furling or unfurling and uneven rolling. Address these issues promptly to maintain the system's reliability.

Popular Sail Brands: Elvstrom Sails UK

Elvstrom Sails is renowned for producing high-quality sails tailored to various sailing needs. Based in the UK, they offer a range of sails designed for performance and durability. Elvstrom Sails are known for their innovation, quality materials, and excellent craftsmanship. Choosing Elvstrom ensures you're getting a sail that will perform well and last.


Sail furling systems, whether for the mainsail or headsail, offer significant benefits in terms of convenience, safety, and performance. By choosing the right system and maintaining it properly, sailors can enhance their sailing experience and enjoy smoother, more efficient sail handling.

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