Caring For Your New Windsurf Sail

Given proper care, your new windsurfing sail will provide years upon years of trustworthy and enjoyable service.  So, what is proper care?  Here are a few things that you can do (and a few things to avoid) in order to prolong the life of your sail!

1) Keep the sun off!

UV damage is the #1 biggest killer of a recreational windsurfer's sail.  Popular stats among sail builders is to suggest that most films can withstand about 200 hours of direct UV exposure before they start to become dried out and brittle.  Once the materials get cooked by the sun, the panels will rip/tear/pop more easily, and your sail will start to have trouble standing up to the rigors of normal usage.

Obviously, we aren't going to sail only at night to avoid sun exposure... So here are a few easy things that you can do to help keep sun exposure to a minimum:

  • Store your sail in its bag.  The bag will take the UV hit, leaving the sensitive sail panels protected inside.
  • Rig and rest in the shade.  Try not to leave your sail laying out on the beach in direct sunlight for too long.  If you take a lunch break, take the time to find a shady place to store your kit.
  • No shade available?  Some people will use staked down tarps to cover their sails.  There are also a few windsurfing brands that sell bags that are large enough to hold two or three (nested) rigged sails, so that you can store your gear rigged up at water's edge for a few days without worrying about sun damage. 
  • Otherwise, if you aren't using your sail, just de-rig it and put it away.  Rigging should only take 5-10 minutes, so it isn't that big of a deal to re-rig if you want to head back out.

2)  Avoid folding, creasing, and crushing your sail

Most windsurfing sails are made of plastic materials which will crease if they get folded and pressure is applied.  Creases aren't a huge deal initially, but over time they will turn into cracks and generally act as "weak points" in your sail's skin.  This kind of damage can occur during storage and while rigging.

The main panel of your sail is quite susceptible to creases while rigging. This usually happens while threading the mast into the sail, before downhaul tension is applied.  It is basically impossible to avoid making a few small creases while rigging, so don't go crazy trying to keep your sail in perfect condition, but the following technique will keep the creases to a minimum, and protect other parts of the sail from damage, too, like the luff sleeve.  Every sail is different, so you should always follow the manufacturer's rigging suggestions, but here are a few ways to avoid creasing your sail while rigging:

  • Be careful when rolling out your sail.  Hold the foot (bottom) of the sail with your back to the wind, keep the sail low, and roll out the sail so that the foot stays upwind and the head (top) ends up downwind.  You may want to put something heavy (like a large round rock, or a sand bag) on the foot of the sail during this process to avoid having the sail fly away in the wind.
  • While threading the mast into the sail, keep everything low, but lift the foot of the sail off of the ground until there is moderate downhaul tension on the sail. 
  • While threading the mast into the sail, make sure that the batten tips all end up on the same side of the mast, preferably with battens closer to the ground and the mast above them.
  • You'll want to start at the bottom of the sail and thread the mast into the sleeve.  After you get past the boom cutout, it will get tougher to push the mast up the sleeve.  At this point, stop pushing from the bottom of the sail and re-position yourself.
  • If you keep pushing from the bottom of the sail, you can wear down the inside of the luff sleeve with the mast's tip, pulling apart stitching, and even putting holes into the luff sleeve if you do it frequently enough.
  • Keep the foot of the sail up off the ground.  Keep one hand on the mast where it is entering the sail at the foot.  Move around the side of the sail and reach your other hand up to the top of the sail's boom cutout.  Hold the sail firmly from that spot above the boom.
  • At this point, you will want to allow the sail to LOOSELY bunch up into LOOSE and open/straight "waves" of sail material as you push the mast up from the bottom and hold the sail firmly from above the boom cutout.  Use this method to slowly push the mast in until it seats in the top cap of the sail.  Keep the mast/sail up off the ground while doing this, DO NOT PUT IT DOWN.  The very tippy top of the sail/mast can stay touching the ground, but not the foot or the main panel area where it is loosely bunched.  If it touches the ground or flaps around too much, those loose bunches will quickly turn into little creases, so be careful, and don't spend too much time with the sail in this position.
  • After the mast tip is securely seated, move back down to the foot of the sail, insert your extension into the bottom of the mast, and feed the downhaul line through the sail's pulleys.  Keep the foot of the sail up off the ground still!
  • Add moderate downhaul tension and pull the sail tautly down the mast.  Once the bunches are pulled out of the sail, you can now gently put it down on the ground and it won't crease.
  • Use a similar process to de-rig, making sure to keep the sail off the ground while it is loosely bunched.

Here are a few ways to avoid creasing your sail during storage:

  • After you're done sailing, roll up your sail from head to foot (top to bottom), aligning the roll with the battens.  Don't fold your sail!  You should end up with a nice tight cylinder that fits easily into the sail bag.  If it won't go easily into the bag, start over and roll it up a bit tighter.  Generally, if you start with a nice tight roll at the very top, everything else will fall into into place.  Avoid crimping and holding too tight with your hands while rolling-  this will put creases into the sail material.
  • Store and transport the sail in its bag.  Sail bags will keep the rolled sail nicely protected.  They also have handles, which make it easy to carry and will help keep the sail from getting creased while moving it around.  You might inadvertently crush/fold your sail if carrying it around by hand while it is out of its bag.
  • While in storage, make sure that your sails stay on top of the pile.  Don't put anything on your sails, as it will crush and crease them.  If storing vertically, make sure that the mast sleeve end of the roll is down and the clew is up.

One way to visualize the effect of crushing a rolled sail is to use a regular old piece of paper.  Roll it up.  Then bend it a bit and see how it looks after you unroll it.  Next, roll it up again and then pinch it between your fingers (simulating a crush) and see what happens.  One little pinch will turn into 5-10 creases in the paper!  Oops!  So, treat your rolled up sail with love :)

3) Rig your sail correctly, to spec, with an appropriate mast

If your sail doesn't have enough downhaul or outhaul tension, it will load up inappropriately and might put too much stress on parts of the sail that aren't designed to withstand those extra pressures.  It might also wear down the tips of the batten sleeves, or even cause your battens to break. So, not only will the sail feel terrible in your hands, it might also actually get damaged!  Rig to spec, finishing by eye since sails tend to stretch a bit, and not all masts and booms are measured in the same way.

4)  Be careful of sharp/rough stuff

Try not to bump or drag your sail on anything rough or sharp, like a fence post, harness hook, barnacle encrusted dock, etc etc.  If you rig on pavement or rocks, try to keep the sail from moving around too much and dragging across hard surfaces.

5)  Keep it clean

Rolling up your sail with dirt, sand, or little rocks in it will cause lots of wear and tear, even just on the drive home.  Try to find a clean-ish place to rig and de-rig so that when you roll it up, it is reasonably clean and debris free.


Of course, there's always more that can be done to prolong the life of your equipment.  Do you have any other tips that you'd like to share?  Let us know and maybe we'll add them in to this article!