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When talking to an experienced friend of ours, he told me that because it’s often so windy in the Caribbean, he rarely sails with anything larger than a number 2 jib. I know what he was getting at, the number 2 headsail being smaller than a big genoa, but I’ve never been super clear on the whole number thing. So, because of that, I decided to do a bit of research.


Clear as mud.

We’ve been carrying around a whole selection of headsails, but have only ever used the furling genoa that was on the boat when we purchased it. As our friend was implying, the wind is often up around here, so many times when sailing, we’ve been forced to reef the big genoa, rolling it partially up on the furler. As most people will tell you, reducing sail area like that doesn’t do a lot for sail shape, but what can you do? Well, in our case, we could use one of the hank-on jibs that we have, on our removable inner stay.


The smaller of our two hank-on jibs.
What would you call this? A number 3?

So, how exactly do you deal with these sails?

Like many things sailing-related, we don’t have much experience with hank-on sails. Part of the reason why we’ve never used the ones that we have, apart from the time we raised one of the jibs at anchor, is that we weren’t entirely sure what the procedure should be. For example, when it comes time to douse the sail, what do you do with it? My assumption is that someone would go forward and attempt to gather it up as best as they can while it is being lowered, and then secure it along the rail with a couple of sail ties until the boat is safely at anchor, and we’re able to devote more time to storing it properly. That’s my guess anyway. For the record, we don’t have one of the special bags that are designed for the sails to drop in to.

Read what the folks at Attainable Adventure Cruising have to say about hank-on sails.

Like most boat things, I suspect we’ll just have to get out there and figure it out on our own. Does your boat have hank-on sails? If so, feel free to share your tips, procedures. Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. I usually just pull back the clew and drop the sail inside the life-lines. There I can flake it usually quite neatly even alone. If you’re going to need it again soon, a few sail-ties do it nicely or you can get those long sail-bags racers use.

    Removing or hanking on my inner staysail is usually quite quick, so I have no trouble putting it away. As an alternative for bigger sails there are jib-bags that work for sails even hanked on. Like these:

    A very nice setup that reefs well is the cutter rig. The geometry of the Yankee stays more balanced when rolled up on a furler than those of a low-cut genoa at the cost of needing the inner staysail more often. Depending on where and how you sail, that setup might work better.

  2. We have three different size hank-on genoas / jibs on our 25ft sloop. Not for long! Will definitely be getting a roller furler for next summer’s sailing season. Sailing with a crew of two it can be a hassle to lower the sail in windy conditions and choppy seas, especially on a small boat. We sail in the Baltic where the archipelago makes the wind sometimes act unpredictably. Our boat also has a very pointy bow, hence going forward means crawling on all fours!

    Thanks for an interesting blog, I’ve been following you for a while but this was my first comment ever.

    • Thanks for breaking your silence!

      I understand completely about the roller furling. I wouldn’t give it up either. Perhaps a cutter rig, with a big genoa on the outer stay, and a nice yankee cut jib on the inner stay, would be ideal? 🙂

  3. I use 2 techniques, one similar to Popsi above uses. Momentarily turn into the wind the let go the halyard, then tie it to the deck with shock cord. I normally quick tie the halyard to the pulpit at the sail head so the wind doesn’t then raise the sail up. My sail will come down in less than10 seconds.
    The other method is better for high winds single handed. I heave to, lower the main and tie it up. Then with the jib still backed let go the jib halyard, it will stay on the deck easily.
    for my boat, #1 jib is 155%, #2 is 135%, #3 is 95%, #4 is 68% and then a storm sail.

  4. I suggest that your hank on headsails will be of use to you for sailing gull-winged down wind. But nothing else.

    If you use them to windward instead of the roller genoa then you will be tempted to imagine you are racing and be fiddling about putting them up and down. The foredeck is never a good place to be when at sea. If you are there when the wind has got up and you are trying to drop a sail it can get dangerous. A large area of canvas flapping in a strong wind can/will flip you about all too easily. Yes you can tie it to the lifelines eventually, if the flogging clue has not injured you too much – they tend to be heavy and bad for knees etc. (I used to use a length of line tied to one stanchion, the wrapped round the sail several times then tied off again by the clew – and I often got hurt as well as soaked in bad weather. If you have to do it on your knees to try and remain on board then it gets more dangerous as you head is the same height as the clew.). You then have to decide whether to leave it hanked on or unhank it so that you can set another smaller sail. If so, what are you going to do with the luff of the dropped sail because the wind will get into it and cause trouble.

    If you are cruising, not racing, then the loss of efficiency by using a partly rolled up sail is unimportant. The extra safety is very important.

    Just my opinion of course.


    • I respect your opinion, but tend to disagree, which is not to say that I would give up my furling headsail to only have hank-on sails. There are many things that are dangerous on a boat. Hiding out in the cockpit doesn’t protect you from that. Sailors need to be comfortable moving about on deck. Our main reefs at the mast and I prefer it that way. Sure, oftentimes my movement on deck resembles crawling, but that’s OK.

      In addition to having having the ability to set smaller sails, these smaller jibs could be trimmed in flatter. We don’t have an inside jib track, which would make it even better, but it would still give better sail shape when sailing to windward. Also, I don’t believe it’s good for the sail to leave it furled for hours (days) on end. My 2 cents.

  5. I’m inexperienced, but I’ve heard about how roller furling flattens out the sail shape. My question is “why does that matter”? The whole point of rolling the headsail up is to reef (i.e. reduce power), so isn’t the fact that the sail is producing less power a good thing?

    • My guess is that this would depend on the boat. In our case, because our genoa sheets are typically run outside the shrouds, we can’t get the sail flat enough when it is furled, certainly not like the sail pictured in this post.

  6. Oversized sail bags. Too often the stock bags require a level of perfection in folding that just aint’ happening underway. I put the #2 in the #1 bag and so forth, and then found one larger bag. That’s my tip.

    My stiletto had a reacher flow from near the bows, 3 hank-on jibs, and a chute. Of course, it also had a nice wide bow. Yes, I’m sure there are issues going forward in a blow, but I liked that I could get any jib down in seconds, in any wind, on any point of sail, every time. That doesn’t happen with a furler. I’m not sure how this translates to your boat, but it is something to think about.

  7. I pull down my hank on jib from the cockpit. I just installed a block with a swivel on the deck below the jib and connected a line to the jib halyard and then ran it through the block and back to the cockpit. It works well enough; point into the wind, release the halyard, center the jib sheets and pull the sail straight down and secure it onto the deck without leaving the cockpit. It was a cheap modification and I have furled and unfurled my jib a few times during a sail with little effort. Leaves the sail a little messy but you can gather it up when you want to. As a bonus I can take the sail off or just put it in a bag and leave the jib halyard nice and tight right there still connected to my new line and ready to use.

  8. OK, this is based on zero actual experience, but I have thought about things like this in great detail for years…

    I imagined that when you need to drop a head sail that you open the hatch and pull it down thru there while it is lowered. With two people, one would be pulling it down from inside or even pulling it from the cockpit with a line tied to the clew. As long as you got the bulk of the sail inside the boat, it seems that dealing with the final disconnection of the sail would be much easier.

    Seeing that this is NOT the way any experienced sailers are doing it, there must be some obvious flaw in my picture that I am not seeing?


    • I haven’t done this either, but I think what you’re describing might be more applicable to a race boat than it is to a cruising boat. In our case, the only way you’re pulling a sail down into the boat is from the V berth, and we certainly wouldn’t want a wet, salt-covered sail in there, on the bed. You’d also run the risk of getting some green water inside the boat in rougher seas if you had the hatch open.

      Our boat does have some large bow lockers though, and I guess, if we didn’t already have them loaded full of crap, that the sail could be stuffed inside one of them.

  9. I only have hanked on jib sails and almost always sail single-handed on Lake Huron. My technique is to point into the wind. I then release the halyard. And move to the bow. I either step or kneel on the halyard (depends on sea conditions) until I reach the bow. I can then drop the jib and remove the hanks in less than a minute. If the conditions are rough, I simply stuff it down the fore hatch until I have time to store it properly. I only use the v berth for sail store as the main bunk is under the cockpit in my boat.

  10. We don’t have a roller-furler on our 35′ Hallberg-Rassy. Dropping the headsail is a snap. Head to wind and trim the sail in tight and then cross the wind and back the jib like one is going to heave-to but right as the sail backs release the clutch on the wire halyard winch on the mast. With wire halyards and not all those blocks running lines aft there is very little friction and the sail just drops down on the deck in 3-4 seconds flat, usually flaking itself quite nicely.

    All we do from there is unhook the snapshackle that holds the clew to the jibsheets and roll the sail up to the tack and throw a sail tie around it. If we want to swap sails then we pop off the hanks and pass the sail back before bending on the new one. If it is rolled up correctly one can just hook the tack onto the snap shackle at the bottom of the forestay and snap on the hanks and the snapshackle on the halyard, roll it out on deck and snap the jibsheets on. Then we hoist it up using the wire halyard winch on the mast. I can have the jib down and a new one up in under 5 minutes.

    • Good description.

      We had a wire halyard on our mainsail but I replaced it with Dyneema. I didn’t like the wire because you were forced to winch it up (it was all wire, not wire to line). Our main is small enough that we can pull it up by hand at least to the spreaders.

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