The Most Common–and Preventable–Sail Issues

It’s par for the course: As sails age, they need attention and repair. But, there are also sail issues that regularly come across our loft floors that could have easily been prevented. Quantum Seabrook’s Alan Woodyard details some common problems and how to prevent them.

Just as your car needs regular oil changes, your sails need regular maintenance and inspection. Unfortunately, severely damaged sails that could have been saved with a little maintenance, education, or simple tweak are not an uncommon sight for sail service teams around the world. We repair thousands of sails a year and have put together a list of the four most common – and preventable – failures we see. Follow this advice, and your sails will be off our loft floors and on the water with you.

Chafing/Rubbing Damage

While we all do our best to tape up any potential trouble spots on the deck and rigging, conditions and sail trim can often create chafing issues that may not have been identified during your cruising or racing preparations. The most common location of chafing, both on cruising and racing boats, is along the leech of your jib or genoa, where the sail may impact the mast, radar, spreaders, or shrouds repeatedly when tacking or luffing during a race start. Other areas to keep an eye on are:

  • The leech of your mainsail where it touches the backstay.
  • The foot of your genoa or jib where it sits on the pulpit or contacts your lifeline stanchions while reaching.
  • The lower edges of your spinnakers where the sail contacts any number of things while hoisting, dousing, and jibing.

Vigilance on the part of both crew and skipper can catch signs of damage early, and the professionals at your Quantum Sails loft can provide both advice on how to avoid damage and repair or reinforce those areas that will continue to see some chafing as a matter of normal usage. These repairs and reinforcements protect the sail where it is most vulnerable and extend its useful life.

UV Exposure

If your sail can see the sun, then the sun can kill your sail. The speed with which the sun can ruin your sail varies by location, time of year, and type of sailcloth. Remember, any amount of time you can keep your sail out of the sun will be returned in the form of a longer useful sail life. 

  • Roller-furling headsails that live on the headstay need a sacrificial UV cover along the leech and foot of the sail. The sail needs to be furled correctly so that the sacrificial cover is on the outside, and tension should be kept on the sheets while furling to avoid the “candy cane” striping that occurs due to sailcloth still being visible once the sail is fully furled.
  • In-mast or In-boom furling mainsails are a great convenience but must be treated with care when furling.
    • In-mast furling sails need to have a sacrificial UV cover on the exposed portion of the clew and absolutely must be furled to the point where this is the only part of the sail outside of the mast.
      • Pro tip: Using a color other than white for the UV cover on a white sail can help make it easier to see when the sail is furled the proper amount.
    • In-boom furling sails may have a cover that slides along tracks on the top of the boom after the sail is furled. If the head of the sail stays in the track on the mast when the sail is furled, we highly recommend installing a sacrificial UV cover fabric on this portion of the sail. The cover can be added to an existing sail that has had sailcloth perpetually exposed at the head.
      • Pro tip: If you are having trouble with the sliding cover on your furling boom, you can always swap over to a “horse blanket” style boom cover that will go over the boom and head of the sail just like a traditional sail cover.
    • Both in-mast and in-boom furling mainsails can eventually suffer from a strip of UV damage along the leech of the sail. It can develop because the cover was not installed on a furling boom or the gap in the furling mast allowed a small, but consistent amount of UV exposure over the years. Keep an eye out for a band of darker fabric developing along the leech of the sail after a few years. Your local Quantum Sails loft can address this area of exposure either with some coverage or a recut of the sail that would remove the worst of the damage while retaining most of your sail area.


Failed Stitching

UV-treated polyester thread works great outside, but the sun will eventually wreak havoc, so be aware of the stitching on your sails. Stitching typically becomes an issue on sacrificial UV covers since they are meant to be left out in the sun to shield the sailcloth from abuse. We recommend annual sail inspections by a sailmaker, but a quick inspection of the stitching on your UV covers is an easy thing for you to do on a more regular basis. If you notice broken or frayed threads, just pluck at a few stitches with your fingernail or the cap off a ballpoint pen. If the thread breaks easily, it’s time for a restitch or replacement of the UV cover.

  • Restitching a Sunbrella UV cover can usually be done twice prior to replacement of the cover, unless the Sunbrella fabric seems to have passed the point of providing a good UV barrier for the sail. Your local Quantum Sails service professional can make a judgement on this.
  • The frequency of restitching can be based on your local UV levels, the amount of time the sail spends installed on the forestay, and your upcoming plans for your boat.
    • Pro-Tip: Failing thread may seem like more of an aesthetic, rather than functional, problem at first, but this can change quickly. Having your UV cover re-stitched can avoid the catastrophic failure of the seams and a complete UV cover replacement. Taking care of your thread is a small investment in maintenance that will save you from having to make a larger investment sooner than necessary.

Loss of Sail Performance 

A sail’s shape changes over time and with use as the fibers stretch and wear. These changes can cause your boat to heel more than it should, thereby reducing the efficiency of your entire rig. The best way to remedy this aging is creating a photo log.

  • When your sails are new, take a few pictures of the flying shape. Take it from the angle of looking up at the sail from about the middle of the foot while trimmed on. This will be your “before” record.
  • If you are feeling that your sail is less efficient than it used to be, it’s time to get the camera back out. Take the photo of the new shape from the same angle as before.
  • Share your photos with your Quantum Sails loft. We will assess the changes and provide you with your best options for a re-cut or replacement.

Mildew, mold, or Running Colors

Letting your wet sails stay furled or flaked in a sail bag creates the perfect environment for mold and mildew growth as well as ink and dye transfer. Here are a few tips to help you avoid these common problems:

  • Dry your sails.
    • Spread them out below deck and turn on the air conditioner or spread them out on your lawn. The little bit of effort will be well worth it.
  • Store your sails in a cool area.
    • Keep your sails cool when they’re not in use. This helps avoid early delamination that can promote mold and mildew growth.
  • Talk to your local Quantum service representative about options such as:
    • Sail drying. Let us dry that soaked kite after the regatta. We can also check it over for damage while we have it in the loft.
    • Sail wash. Not all staining from mold will come out, but we can head off the growth and minimize discoloration by cleaning the entire sail.
    • Try other products and services such as Sailkote (prevention) or Vacu-Wash (treatment).


“A Stitch In Time Saves Nine”

As with all things related to sailing, addressing a problem early will save time, money, and headaches down the line. We are here to keep you on the water, so don’t hesitate to call your local Quantum Sails loft if you have a question about the condition of your sail or feel it’s time for some of that routine maintenance we keep mentioning. We would love to help you through this one and on to your next challenge!

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