Un-stepping the Mast

When un-stepping the mast there are several things that need to happen in preparation for the actual mast removal. The following tips and procedures are in line with the methods we use for boats up to 55′. Small boats or big boats alike, first things must come first. All of the sails and sail covers should be disconnected, flaked, folded, or rolled and stowed. When doing this, any battens should be labeled and removed. Also, sparing any sail pendants or strops, tack shackles, head shackles or clew shackles should stay with the boat’s rigging not the sails. Neatly coil and label any associated sheets.

Un-stepping the mast

Stow the lines: Next, uncoil all remaining halyards and un-cleat the associated cleat, jammer, or clutch. Now take the working end (shackle end) of the line to the mast to be stowed near or around the boom’s gooseneck area or anywhere clever (but on the mast, not the boat). Make sure to look up at the entirety of the line and make sure it is running cleanly to the top of the mast. Take forward any foresail furling lines, mark the drum with an arrow that indicates which way the furling line is to be spooled-on (i.e. clockwise or counter clockwise) and un-spool the drum completely. It is up to you whether or not you wish to remove the entire line, coil and label it, or leave it neatly coiled hanging from the head shackle on the swivel. Either way, un-spooling the furling line before you unstep is always recommended in case you need to work on the furler after it is down. It is much harder to do with the furler laying on the ground. Lastly, tidy up any remaining lines (i.e. runner block and tackles, cunningham, in mast furling lines, lazy jacks, etc…).

TIP: Leave one of the shorter tailed lines available (uncoiled) for tying up the furlers and rigging once the mast is being lifted off of the boat.

Remove the boom: Remove the main sheet and vang tackle. Tie a stopper knot or leave the shackle in the working end of the reef lines and outhaul and suck them tight into the end of the boom. If any of these lines are rigged and run externally, remove, coil and label them neatly. Temporarily tie off the boom to keep it from swinging side to side. Remove or stow the boom end of any lazy jacks (if present). With the boom resting in the boom’s topping lift only (or Boom Gallows if present) remove the cotter pin or locking nut of the boom toggle’s horizontal pin. With someone (or several someone’s) supporting the outboard end of the boom, loosen and remove the boom’s lift and take it to the mast to be stowed with the rest of the lines. Then maybe with the assistance of yet another person (bigger boats) remove the inboard end’s horizontal pin (or pins) and lift the boom off. Many times you can stow the boom forward on the side-deck on some fenders or cushions, or take the boom off of the boat entirely (if you plan on doing work to the boom). If leaving the boom aboard make sure that it is securely lashed to the boats toe-rail.

Prepare and mark the rigging: Now go around, remove any tape or turnbuckle coverings and straighten/remove all of the cotter pins. Leave the cotter pins in the clevis pins at the chain plates for safety, but make sure they are straight and ready to be pulled out. While doing this, before loosening the stays, make a mark where the turnbuckle body and the threads intersect. You can use tape or a Sharpie. This will be important if any of the stays need to be replaced, serviced, repaired. It can also be handy if you simply want to duplicate the rigging tension once re-stepped.

Disconnecting the electrical items: Next you will need to find the electrical junction. This can be tricky sometimes, just follow the wires out of the base of the mast to their junction. If no wires are visible, they can be hiding in various places. Some have electrical access panels in the mast near the butt (typically when deck stepped). Occasionally, the connections are inside of the mast and you will need to wait until the mast gets slightly lifted (this is again typical with deck stepped masts). Some deck stepped masts will utilize a ‘plug’ style connection (called a deck gland) which goes directly into the deck. The wires can also be located at head level just below decks for keel stepped masts, so keep an eye for that. Either way, make sure you do a thorough job looking for these mast junctions, it can take a little effort to find where they are hiding.

Note: It is almost never the case that there are no junctions at all.

Never have I seen it that all of the wires run through the boat and to the associated panels, displays or radios. However, it is possible that some of the wires run directly (without junction) to their instruments. Sometimes digital wind instruments, TV antennas, VHF antennas, and radar’s are known to do this. If this is the case find a good spot to cut the cable, one that leaves you some service length on either the boat or the mast end depending on which part of the cable you are likely to replace the soonest. If you are not planning on replacing either end anytime soon, take your time to ensure that you make a smart cut somewhere near the other cable junctions. Most manufacturers of these radars, digital wind instruments, and antennas, offer product specific junction boxes, couplers or splice links. Once you have located the junction, make sure all of the wires are either color coded, make labels, maps, and/or take pictures of the wires so that you know where everything goes.

Prepare the mast step and/or the deck ring: If the boat is deck or keel stepped make sure there is nothing at the step that might keep the mast from lifting up, i.e. cross bolt. If the boat is keel stepped, undo the mast boot at the deck ring and remove any mast chocks(wedges), cross bolts, pins or anything else that might be holding the mast down, i.e. deck tie downs or Spartite. If the wedges or chocks are so tight that they cannot be removed, either from below or above decks, then make sure to stand by with a drift and hammer for when the mast begins to lift.

TIP: make sure all the rigging is very loose and try to shake the rig around by using one of the shrouds, this can help loosen tight chocks.

If your mast uses a Spartite you should score it along its seams at the deck ring and along the mast. Then, as the tip states above, wiggle the mast around by the rigging and see if you can notice it moving ever-so-slightly. This portion of the preparation process can be a bit of a gamble and a lot of the times you just won’t know what it’s going to do until you start lifting. Be sure to think it through and take every precaution necessary to make the lifting go as smoothly as possible (this keeps the crane operator happy ;-0).

Once you have completed all of these steps; the sails are off, the boom is off, the rigging is marked and loosened, the electrical has been disconnected, the mast step and collar (if present) have been prepped and you have double/triple checked everything, you should be ready to connect the lifting gear or the Tabernacle rig.

tabernacle mast step

A Tabernacle Mast Step

For using the tabernacle feature of your boat’s mast (if equipped) please see your users manual or consult an expert for specific instructions on how to lower the mast.

Unstepping the mast Rigging Company Style

Unstepping the mast with a crane: When rigging up the lifting gear via a crane, gin pole, gantry, gaff, or fork lift, it is important to step away form the mast for a view of it in its entirety and guesstimate the balancing point of your specific mast. This is usually somewhere around the halfway point of the mast. Always err towards it being bottom heavy. This will depend on many factors like; are there winches on the mast, or how far below deck does (or doesn’t) the mast go. Ultimately, and especially if you are unsure, you should consult a professional. It is of utmost importance that you establish a lifting point that isunstepping the mast, the rigging company above the balancing point, so that  the mast will remain slightly bottom heavy and cannot upend. This is VERY IMPORTANT! Sometimes (on masts with multiple spreaders) this will require a trip aloft to reach a lifting point that is high enough. Therefore you may need to leave halyard and winch available to go aloft via Bosuns Chair, or have a professional ride the ‘sky-hook’ (pictured left and right), so that you can attach the lifting gear above the spreaders.

The lifting gear is typically comprised of an appropriately rated lifting loop. The Rigging Company uses a 4′ endless lifting loop  most of the time. This is generally long enough for most mast diameters, but for larger masts a 6′ loop may be a good idea. We rig the loop with a ‘single basket hitch‘, making sure not to trap any halyards. Then we have a heavy duty tag line into which we tie a large bowline. The bowline is then slipped over the basket hitch before it is attached to the crane’s hook. Once the lifting gear is in place, at the appropriate lifting point, we tie the tag line down tight and secure it underneath something strong (i.e. winches, strong horn cleats, the boom gooseneck) at/near the deck. We do this using two to three half hitches and a clove hitch back to itself to keep it from spilling.

Stepping a sailboat mast

I re-posted this picture to show the sling, hook and tag line configuration that we use.

Now,  tension the lifting device’s cable. Keep your hand on the tag line, once your feel it become tight (not before!), you can begin to go around the boat and un-pin the various stays. In regards to the order of what is unpinned first and last will be dictated by the wind or the list of the boat.

You should ALWAYS have someone at the deck to bear hug the mast for dear life as an extra precaution…

…This persons job, although boring, is crucial and it is very important that they standby and hang on to the mast, regardless of how helpless they feel. They will want to help otherwise, but don’t let them move, reassure them “you are helping by just holding the mast”.

keel stepped mast

Next, begin by lashing all of the rigging to the mast. Now, with everyone in position: One person down below (keel stepped masts) watching the butt of the mast and wires, one person on deck (keel and deck stepped masts) controlling the mast, along with one (maybe two) person(s) holding the furler(s) off of the side of the boat, direct the crane to begin lifting.If the mast has not been un-stepped in 15+ years it might not come out like a dream (see image below) and you may need to get creative. Take your time, go slowly and make sure everyone keeps checking around to ensure that you haven’t forgotten anything and nothing is keeping the mast from coming up.

un-stepping corroded mas

A corroded mast step that had to be lifted it with the mast (or the mast would not come out), and cut off using a cut off wheel and grinder. NOT IDEAL!!!

Once the furlers have cleared the lifelines slightly, the furler(s) can be taken to the mast and secured. Then continue to lift until the butt is clear of the deck and lifelines. This should be the last step before the mast can be removed from the boat entirely and set down in the desired location.

Thanks for the read and good luck! Don’t forget to ask us if you need anything or have any questions.

Posted in Annapolis Sailing, Around the World, Baltimore Sailing, Classic Yachts, Cruisers, Modern Yachts, Multihulls, Racers, Rigging, Tech Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

How to Tune a Sailboat Mast

How to adjust a turnbuckle. Tuning the mastHere are some general guidelines for tuning your mast’s standing rigging. Please see our blog on how to properly adjust a turnbuckle before you begin. As always we recommend seeking the advice of a professional rigger for more specific tips and tricks regarding tuning your boat’s rigging.

Your boat must be in the water. Begin by just slacking off all of the side shrouds as evenly as possible, so that all stays can be adjusted by hand. Once loose, try and adjust all turnbuckles so that they are pretty much equally open (or closed) from port to starboard respectfully. Also go ahead and line up the cotter pin holes (if present) in the studs so that they are in a pin-able position. Now is also the time to balance out the threads, between the upper and lower studs of the turnbuckle, IF they are not even. Do this by unpinning the turnbuckle from the chainplate – BE CAREFUL HERE –  to ensure the mast is secure before unpinning any one stay. Lastly, loosen all halyards or anything that may pull the mast to port, starboard, forward or aft.

1. Check by sighting up the backside of the mast to see how straight your spar is side to side. You can take a masthead halyard from side to side to ensure that the masthead is on center. Do this by placing a wrap of tape 3′ up from the upper chainplate pin hole on each upper shroud. Cleat the halyard and pull it to the tape mark on one side, mark the halyard where it intersects the tape on the shroud. Now do this to the other side, the mark on the halyard should also intersect the tape similarly. Please note: when the mast is equipped with port and starboard sheaves, instead of just one center-line sheave, it will appear slightly off to one side. Just keep this in mind……

2. Using the upper shrouds as controls, center the masthead as much as possible using hand tension only. Some masts are just crooked. If yours is(are) crooked, it will reveal itself when you loosen all of the stays and halyards initially and sight up the mast. Although you should use hand tension only, you can use a wrench to hold the standing portion (the stay portion) of the turnbuckle. If for some reason the shroud is totally slack and you still can’t turn the turnbuckle by hand then the turnbuckle may need to be serviced, inspected, and maybe replaced.

3. Tune the mast from the top shroud on-down, making sure the mast is in column. Remember: as you tension one shroud by adjusting the turnbuckle, to loosen the opposing shroud the same amount.

How to tune a sailboat mast

Image courtesy of Berthon Marina, UK. Click image to link to their site.

4. Once the mast is fairly straight from side to side, tighten the shrouds all evenly using tools for tensioning. Typically, for proper tension, the shrouds should be tightened using these guidelines; uppers are the tightest, and then fwd. lowers, then the aft lowers and intermediates should be hand tight plus just a turn or two. ~With an in-mast furler it is recommended to tension the aft lower a bit more to promote a straighter spar (fore and aft) for better furling. 

5. Now you can tension the aft most backstay (s). If the backstay has an adjuster it should be set at a base setting (500-1000 lbs). If the backstay simply has a turnbuckle then it should be tightened well. After this has been done, in either situation (adjustable or static backstay), one should site up the mast from a-beam and notice that the masthead has a ‘slight’ aft bias. If there is no aft bias, too much, or the mast is inverted (leaning forward), than the forward most forestay (s) will most likely need to be adjusted to correct this. If a furler is present then seek the council of a professional rigger or refer to your furler’s manual for instructions on how to access the turnbuckle if there is one present.

Image courtesy of UK Sailmakers. Click image to link to their site.

Image courtesy of UK Sailmakers. Click image to link to their site.

6.  Finally, sight up the mast one last time and make any necessary adjustments. 


Read HERE for how to use a LOOS & Co. Tension Gauge!

Here is a little vid from our friend Scott at Selden Masts (click the link then hints and advice for more info) on rig tune…..

Is your mast fractionally rigged, only has a single set of lowers or is just plain different? Be sure to leave any questions or comments below.

Posted in Classic Yachts, Cruisers, Modern Yachts, Racers, Rigging, Tech Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Which Boom Furler is the Best?

Carbon Fiber Leisure Furl

When it comes to mainsail management systems, in-mast furlers appear to be losing popularity with cruisers while boom furlers keep popping up on more boats. We are noticing a huge increase in customers upgrading their conventional or even their in-mast units (yes, you read that right, read more below) to in-boom furling. I may even go as far as to say that in-boom furling will soon become standard equipment for the production boat market.

Oyster 880 with carbon boom furler and mast

in-boom furling on the royal huismann






Like many other things in sailing, boom furlers owe their origins to custom designed solutions for mega and super sailing yacht customers, where pricing is of little significance. While I wouldn’t call the current production systems down right affordable to the cost conscious cruiser, there are now plenty of choices for furling your mainsail horizontally. However, most of these furling boom manufacturers only have a carbon fiber option for their spar material, which makes for one very expensive boom. So what are some more cost effective alternatives?

Carbon fiber boom furlers the rigging company

Aluminum extrusions seem to be the answer here. So, for the sake of cost and to narrow down our discussion a bit, let us take a look at who’s building aluminum boom furlers:

As each of us here at TRC has had experience with all of these systems at one point or another, allow us to give you our thoughts on these seemingly similar, but yet ‘oh so’ different boom furlers. For more carbon fiber options please take a look at the links provided at the bottom of the article.



Pro Furl In-Boom The Rigging Company

Pro Furl In-Boom

Coming in at a tie for 3rd place is the Pro Furl MKR. Pro Furl boasts of a very sturdy double gooseneck assembly, and it does appear quite sturdy. This is a good feature when considering the concerns of boom weight with these systems, especially while gybing.

TIP: TRC always recommends the addition of a good boom brake system to help control the effects of an unruly gybe.

Pro Furl’s overall spar design is sleek and attractive. They also have the furling drum mounted on the inboard end, which we like because it keeps the weight inboard. The Pro Furl in-boom furling system is only available in painted aluminum. The system uses a proprietary vang which is a must, as it is with most of the manufacturers. Pro Furl’s vang is essentially a hard vang (with no adjustment) that kicks the boom up to its ideal furling position. This is a very good concept, the user just eases the main sheet, the sail flogs, and the boom returns to its proper position for furling. There have been problems reported with the vang however, users have stated issues about vang leaks and parts failure.


If you look at Pro Furl’s behind the mast track, it is very far stood-off behind the mast. This is likely for a clean lead into the sail track as the drum occupies the front of the boom and requires the sail roll to start pretty far aft. This, if nothing else makes for a very unsightly track system. The only real plus I see to this track system is it makes climbing the mast very convenient, it offers almost a ladder of sorts to the top of the mast ;-0). How does this system do in off wind hoisting and dousing situations?? Pro Furl In-Boom customers are encouraged to leave us a few thoughts below.



Furlboom by The Rigging Company. In-boom furler


This brings me to the other tie for 3rd (a close 2nd). Furlboom has changed hands recently to a new owner and hopefully they can take this seemingly promising design to the next level of refinement. Available in anodized or painted aluminum only, Furlboom’s spar is a square/rectangular style section that is tapered and can look at home on almost any modern day sailboat. Their biggest niche within the market, IMO, is pricing. Furlboom comes in as the least expensive of all of the options. This is a very appealing perk as these systems are known to cost a small fortune. Furlboom does not offer a manufacturer specific vang, instead recommends the use of Selden’s Rodkicker Vangs. Selden’s vangs are perhaps not the top of the heap when it comes to rigid vangs, but it is already a better option than what Pro Furl attempted. Leave the vangs to the guys that make…vangs. Furlboom has a lot going for it: low weight (relative to boom furlers), a manual override feature,  a solidly mounted behind the mast track, a low profile tapered spar design, and it is very well priced (comparatively).


Some of the downsides of this system are found at the top of the track; they utilize a sheave to extend the halyard out to the aft face of the track. This in conjunction with a non-hinging track, can make for some pretty severe halyard chafe, especially when off the wind or when the halyard is just sitting static for long periods of time in the stowed position. Although the boom material and construction seem to be a very nice quality, it seems that some of the track parts were cheaply cast and painted, instead of extruded/machined and anodized. The last part that is questionable is the chain drive which links the furling drum (mounted below the gooseneck on the aft side of the mast) to the mandrel. Regular maintenance and inspection of this chain is highly recommended. If the chain drive fails, the manual override feature cannot be used. When considering a boom furler for a smaller boat, the Furlboom is and has been always our first choice due to weight, size, and price.

NOTE: Only Furlboom and Leisure Furl offer manual override features!!!



Schaefer Boom Furler The Rigging Company

Schaefer Boom Furler

Schaefer makes the podium at 2nd place, living up to their reputation for being robust and high quality. This boom is rock solid. It is made of high quality machined and extruded aluminum with a deep anodized finish. The Schaefer system lacks only in four departments: looks (no taper and just plain big), a loosely mounted behind-the-mast main sail track (must be noisy and is not attractive), the vang is a fixed length rod, and lastly Schaefer utilizes a furling drum that is mounted at the very outboard end of the boom; not an ideal place for added weight especially when considering the already big size of this boom. This can make gybing an already heavy boom even more interesting, especially if it is accidental. Although I am not in love the with their behind the mast track, it does seem to offer very good off the wind hoisting and furling due to the hinged design of the track. Schaefer’s proprietary vang is mandatory. The vang is really more of a strut as it is set at a fixed length. Although this guarantees an optimal boom height for furling and hoisting at all times, it restricts the users sail trim options.



Leisure Furl The Rigging Company

Leisure Furl}

This leads us to the winner………the Forespar Leisure Furl {LF} System. This system has been around a long time. LF has had many years of R & D which usually means they have worked out most of the kinks. Leisure Furls are available in many sizes, configurations, and finishes: anodized, painted, as well as carbon fiber. There are also two smaller, entry level, models called the Leisure Furl Coastal and the ALL NEW LF Coastal Plus; which focus more on the small to medium size boat market. Here are some of the big pluses of the LF system:

  • A sleek solidly mounted behind the mast track
  • A fully functional (and required) Forespar Yacht Rod (one of the best rigid vangs on the market)
  • A tapered attractive spar design
  • An inboard mounted furling drum
  • A manual override (excluding coastal and coastal plus)

Over the years Forespar has only simplified, instead of adding to, or over-complicating their original design. We like that concept as it is in line with our company motto. They have also eliminated most of the plastic pieces except for the bottom feeder track, they call this the ‘Flexy Feeder’. This piece, which has been duplicated by many in-boom furling manufacturers, is crucial for better off the wind furling and hoisting. Another great feature of the boom is that it keeps a majority of the weight inboard by mounting the furling drum on the forward face of the mast. Initially, I was a bit skeptical (as I am sure most of you are) not just of the drum hanging off of the front of the mast, but also of the 1″+ hole that needs to be drilled at the gooseneck for the furling mandrel to connect to the drum.  It turns out that by putting a solid stainless steel rod through it, along with the massive gooseneck bracket that accompanies it, this typically weak and highly loaded area of the mast, is actually strengthened.  Keep up the good work Leisure Furl!


Looking to Ditch Your In-Mast Furler for an In-Boom Furler???

Forespar, who have been building masts for many years, and is one of the most respected names in the industry, has developed and tested a custom made kit for converting in-mast furling masts, to conventional masts. The long and the short of it is, they have a specially designed tool which bends aluminum plates to the exact shape of your mast section. These plates are then installed so that the two mast walls, port and starboard, are tied together and the long slot that once served as the entrance for the sail housing is eliminated. Once this is installed the existing mast can be used to facilitate the Leisure Furl In-Boom Furling System. Want to know more? Please ask our experienced sales staff about details and pricing.

leisure furl

To wrap things up (pun intended)…

…. these booms are all priced very comparably and offer similar but different design features. I recommend checking each one out in detail for yourself by clicking on the images to link to the manufacturers website and find out for yourself. Keep in mind, all furling systems are convenience items and thus can become the opposite of convenient (a problem) if not properly installed, used, and maintained.  The big plus with horizontal furling systems is the halyard can always be released and the sail just comes down….just like in the old days.

Additionally, before you pull the trigger, keep in mind that there are some other final cost considerations that are required but not included…all of these manufacturers will most likely require replacing the mainsail, a specific vang, an electric winch, and something to ‘snub’ with (i.e. snubber winch or polished stainless cleat).


Wondering who else makes in-boom furling systems?

The companies mentioned below only offer carbon fiber (even possibly only powered drive units). Here is a list of all of the ones that we know of, that we did not discuss, but are worth checking out:

Be sure to ask us about any of these products or manufacturers. We’d be glad to help.

Thanks for the read and see you on the water.


Posted in Classic Yachts, Cruisers, Modern Yachts, Multihulls, Product Review, Rigging, Sailing, Solo Sailing, Tech Tips, Yachting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments