Furling the Mainsail

After all of the conveniences that technology has afforded us sailors, there is still one luxury that has eluded us. Although more popular than ever, a furling mainsail is still not 100% standard equipment on today’s boats. The reason for this is that it has always presented some negatives that leave many people unsure about whether or not to take the big plunge. Let’s explore some mainsail furling options and the pluses and minuses associated with these systems.

Hood in-mast furler

     In-Mast Furlers: The benefits list of the in-mast furler compared to that of the in-boom furler is relatively short. A vertically furling mainsail has less sail to furl due to the foot of the sail being a lot shorter than the luff. The boom with an in-mast unit is similar to that of a conventional mast and therefore weighs less than that of typical in-boom furling units. The last part of the in-mast furler ‘benefits list’ is, reduced cost in replacing the sail, which is a good thing considering these sails require regular replacement for efficient furling.

Behind-the-Mast Furlers: In the case of the behind-the-mast furler, there is the additional advantage over the in-mast furler and that is, there is no little slot to try and squeeze the sail in between (Facnor behind the mast furler excluded). Behind-the-mast units are externally mounted (aft of the mast) and therefore allow us to diagnose, repair, and service the furler a lot easier than one that is inside the mast.

Leisure Furl

    Boom Furlers: Let’s move on to the in-boom furler benefits list. Here you have the ability to reduce weight aloft over in-mast or behind-the-mast units, this is a big plus in my book. In-boom furlers allow for a fully battened mainsail which promotes a much nicer sail shape with more ‘roach’. Although these sails are more expensive, they offer better performance in regards to power and sail shape, and if nothing else the sail lasts much longer compared to that of a vertically furled sail. The chances of an in-boom system jamming on you are relatively slim and even if it does you can always drop the sail with the main halyard.

Cost: None of these systems are considered inexpensive by any means, but whether we are talking new mast construction or existing mast conversion, in-mast units are the most expensive, followed by in-boom furlers. The least expensive, but also the most unsightly option is the behind-the-mast furler.

So which manufacturers are the best? Well that is a matter of opinion, and in my opinion if you absolutely have to have an in-mast furler choose a Hood system (now branded under the UK spar builder Formula Spars). Based on service experience, newer models of in-mast furling masts are lacking in design, are cheaply made and cause more issues for boat owners than convenience. The runner up however has to be Selden Mast’s in-mast furler. Selden, like the Formula masts, are two of the only in-mast manufacturers that offer a winch handle socket near the drive mechanism so that the system can be overridden manually…a must in my book. To elaborate a bit more on the Hood/Formula and Selden in-mast furling mast, they offer tensioned luff rods, a huge plus as it offers a stiffer furling axis. Also, I believe these two in-mast manufacturers, are the only two current builders offering an electric or hydraulic drive which powers the luff rod itself and makes for a much nicer furling experience. Lastly, the Formula spar itself has a sail housing entry slot that is actually bigger than just the thickness of the sail fabric, as is the case with in-mast furler manufacturers. So, thank you Formula Spars for keeping alive a good product.

In mast furler by Hood at The Rigging Company. IN mast mainsail furler

If you are leaning towards an in-boom furler, I would look at the Scheafer Beta Boom or Leisure Furl system. Why? Well the short answer is both companies have a product that has been ‘tried and trued’. These products achieve safety and functionality through simplicity (our mantra). Not to mention they are both the most serviceable and robust option of their competitors’. For more information regarding boom furlers, read here

Lastly, as for behind the mast units (excluding the Facnor CF Furler), these usually need to be custom retro-fitted and therefore really don’t have a preferred manufacturer, simply find a quality rigger that you trust. They are usually custom made and use headsail furling units of which I might be inclined to recommend Schaefer or Harken (click the links to see why). In the case of the behind the mast furler, you’ll need to talk to your local rigger and ask about what system they might use and how they would go about installing it.

FAQ: Can I convert my in-mast furler to an in-boom furler? The short answer is yes, but read more on that here.

Have a question or comment, drop us a line below. We will reply!

24 thoughts on “Furling the Mainsail

  1. I am looking to buy a CT 54. I am 60 and will be sailing shorthand most of the time and want to be able to handle the boat safely from the cockpit. This boat already has roller furling head sails. I am looking at installing the Facnor mainsail furling system on the main and mizzen sails. What are concerns and issues with the Facnor system that I need to consider, and would you recommend the Facnor system.

    1. Hi Don,

      Thanks for waiting so patiently for a reply. I have met almost the same amount of cruisers who love the Facnor behind-the-mast system and those who don’t like it. I am always a big proponent of boom furlers over in mast or behind-the-mast. The reasons as stated in the article, is that there is a manual override option and also the sail can just be lowered conventionally even if that doesn’t work. I would say that I may even look to a good Lazy Jack and Tides Track system that hoists and douses the sail conventionally, via an electric cabin halyard winch. Any of those in my opinion are better options over vertically furling sails.

      I hope that helps and thanks for the read.


  2. I am considering the purchase of a 1981 Gulfstar Sailmaster 47 with electric in-mast furling. I can not find any information on the mast as to the manufacture. Is it possible this is original to the boat? can it be converted to Manual?

    1. Hi Frank,

      Thanks for asking the first name that comes to mind is Hood (now <a href=”http://formulamasts.co.uk/”>Formula Spars</a>). If you send a picture of it to our email, theiggingco@hotmail.com, we can get a better look. With that, I would say that if it is electric you can likely convert it to manual, but I would just service the electric component and make sure it is up to snuff. The electric drive in-mast furlers work better than the line drive, IMO. Also, they are one of the few in-mast furler manufacturers with a manual override…a great feature.

      Last note, when I hear GulfStar, I think chainplates. Make sure they’ve been dealt with or budget to replace them.

      Thanks for the note.


  3. I own a 1990 Moody Eciplse 33 with a manufacturer supplied inmast main roller. I believe it is Kempston (now selden?). On my system the out haul rope goes into the mast onto a drum but it often jams due to overrides etc. I have seen a gadget on other boats where the inhaul/out haul line is a continuous loop of rope round a winch fitted behind the mast which turns by a screw mechanism the inside tube that the mainsail wraps round. Is there a way of having such a winch retrofitted to my existing system or do I need a complete new system?

    1. It’s doubtful that you can just make this upgrade without a whole lot of fuss. Can you send me a picture of what you have to jimmie@theriggingco.com.There may be some other solutions available to you.

      Thanks for Choosing…

      1. Hi

        Please find attached photo of our mainsail furling mechanism, as requested.


        Ian Currie 07836270166

    1. Hi Les,

      It depends on the furler manufacturer. Likely you will need to add extrusions. So the furler will still need to be in production or readily have parts available.

      Then there will need to be custom attachments made; for the mast head and at the boom. The mast will need to come down for this type of work.

      Let us know if we can help further.


  4. I am having major jamming issues with my in mast furling main (2009 36′ Hunter, Selden Mast) have come to the conclusion that a new sail is needed. Any recommendations as to which sailmaker to go to? OEM is Doyle.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for asking us! I would give <a href=”http://www.chesapeake-sailmakers.com/”>Chuck O’malley at Chesapeake Sailmakers</a> a call. He used to be Chesapeake Doyle many years ago, but has since quit them and started his own outfit. As a second option, try <a href=”https://www.quantumsails.com/lofts/quantum-annapolis”>Jason Currie at Quantum Sails Annapolis</a>. Both are very good sailmakers. I would give both a call and see who gives you the best feeling.

      Cheers and Good Luck,

  5. Is it possible to replace/repair the in mast furling foil without unstepping the mast?

    I am looking at a 2003 Jeanneau 54ds.



    1. It very likely that the answer is no. Find out who the spar manufacturer is and give them a call on this. Look for a manufacturers badge on the spar.


      1. Thanks for your reply. Just to update you.

        The spar manufacturer was Z-Spar. They have made many of the masts and rigging supplied to Jeanneau.

        The foil, as you suggest, is typically installed when the mast is un-stepped. After speaking with the factory, however, we discovered that their way of dealing with my issue is to remove the furling gear at the bottom of the mast, lower the foil, cutting it into removable 2 metre lengths as it is lowered. We noted that the 22m foil already had 9 riveted joints in it from when it left the Jeanneau factory and was not made from a single length of foil profile. Z-Spar shipped a, correctly sized, new foil, in sections, along with the appropriate rivets for about 800eur. Removing the old foil and replacing the new took about 3 hours in total. We also took the opportunity of replacing the rest of the furling gear for about a further 700eur.

        Hope this is of use to someone.


  6. I regularly sail on a 48 foot yacht (Contest) which has Whitlock In-boom Furling, which most of the time works well. There is a problem, though, that the sail will occasionally jam (in the boom) after being rolled away, following a period of sailing reefed down. The jam is caused by the sail “riding up” on the mandrel, towards the mast. The concentration of wrinkled sail, towards the mast end of the boom, causes a jam when the sail is next deployed.
    Is this a common experience? And, if so, is there an easy solution?
    Stewart H. Kinsman.

    1. Hi Stewart! Thanks for taking the time here. Try this… I would adjust the boom’s topping lift and the rigid vang to fix how the sail stacks/ rolls. If the luff stack is walking forward on the mandrel the boom needs to be lowered at the outboard end. It’s the reverse if the sail’s luff is walking aft as it rolls onto the mandrel; the O.B. end of the boom needs to go up.

      I have to say I am unfamiliar with a Whitlock In-boom furling system. Either way, it should have a hard vang, no? If so, and the vang is a fixed/non-adjustable vang, then try suspending the boom from the topping lift, remove the vang, and adjust the topping lift, while furling the sail down, until the desired furl stack is achieved using the methods above. Then adjust the vang to fit this boom setting (HEADS UP! you may need to move the boom and mast vang brackets/lugs (i.e.-attachment hardware). If there is no boom topping lift or spare main halyard (we are firm believers that there should always be a topping lift) you will need to figure out how to adjust the vang to move the boom up or down for the same result.

      Let us know if that helps…

    1. Great info there. Any idea if they still make a version of their in-mast furler? That thing was great!…… Best design yet

  7. In-mast furling works off the wind. How about in-boom? Do you need to come into wind to reef?

    1. Definetley a good question, I should have addressed this in the write up. The problem was not so much in reducing sail but in the hoist. Older systems have had issues with this, especially the systems with a solidly mounted track instead of hinged one. The problem was that the sail would fill prematurely and it would try and push it out of the track some times and cause the luff to bind. Newer systems have resolved this issue with hinged tracks (Schaefer) and as for the fixed track systems, by adding a flexible lower portion of the track (Leisure Furl). As a general rule of thumb you should always luff the sail slightly for hoisting or reefing.
      Thanks for the Comment,

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