How Do You Raise Sails on a Sailboat (High & Wide!)

How Do You Raise Sails on a Sailboat

Do you want to embark on a brand-new adventure? Sailing is one of the best ways to enjoy nature while avoiding close contact. With stretches of sea between you and another person, you can relax and enjoy the moment without having to worry about masks or alcohol. 

However, before you set sail, you should first understand how sailboats work and how to navigate one. But be warned: navigating a boat necessitates learning an entirely new vocabulary. But once you get the hang of it, it should be a lot of fun!

Before You Begin Sailing

Yes, it’s exciting to hop on a boat, untie the ropes, raise your sail, and just let the water take you on an adventure. Unfortunately, just letting the sea and wind navigate your boat can be dangerous. This is why before you go on a sailing trip, you should have an idea about the different parts of a sail. Now, I’m assuming that you’re already familiar with some parts of the sailboat but just in case, here are the parts you should be able to identify:

Main Sail

The mainsail is the largest one that’s attached to the mast. It’s the one that’s always raised first and tends to move around depending on the direction of the wind. Other sails can be found on the boat – the common one being the jib. This is an additional sail that basically functions to provide the sail slot effect to help the boat move faster regardless of the wind.


Don’t be confused – the mainsheet is not another name for the mainsail. The term “sheet” when it comes to sailing actually refers to ropes. Hence, you use the mainsheet to pull the main halyard. Other sheets or ropes are also present to pull other existing sails. The mainsheet is often pulled manually but it can also be attached to a winch.

Mast and Boom

The mast and boom aren’t hard to spot in a boat. The mast is basically that vertical pole where you raise the sails. You want to make sure that the sails reach the top corner of the mast before you tie it down. What about the boom? Well,the boom is the horizontal pole where the mainsail is attached. You have to be careful when moving around the boom because it tends to rotate depending on the direction of the wind. Stay close to the front after you hoist the mainsail so you don’t get hit.

Bow and Stern

Sailing is a language on its own which is why a lot of things have their own technical terms. Sheets are ropes and poles are called masts. So what do they call the front and back of the boat? Well, the front is typically called the bow. This is the edgy part and typically sits opposite the mainsail. The stern is at the back of the boat. It’s important to know this because when you’re out with a crew, there’s a good chance they will be referring to the boat by bow or stern.

Boat Deck

The deck is basically the point of the boat where you sit back and observe everything. From this area, you can check if there’s a luff in the sail or if there are problems underway. Once you master sailing however, the deck is really just the point where you relax and enjoy the quiet moment. Perhaps you can drop a bait and wait for a bite, just for sport?

How do you Hoist a Sail?

How do you Hoist a Sail

Many sailors start by hoisting the mainsail – even before they move off the dock. Of course, some sailboats have a motor that lets them guide the boat out of the pier. Once they’re a bit far from the dock, the mainsail is hoisted up and the wind takes over. But how do you do this?

Attaching the Shackle

The first step is to attach the shackle to the clew, making sure it’s nice and tight. Keeping a pair of pliers nearby or specialized shackle knife would make it easier to reinforce the connection. This is important because the strong counter current can easily whip the sail off the clew. You want to make sure that the mainsail will hold its position even for extended periods of time on the sailboat.

Loosening the Mainsheet

Before you loosen the mainsheet, the leading edge must naturally face the wind. This will limit exposure to the wind blowing and therefore avoid damage caused by too much resistance. The sail is obviously built to withstand the impact of wind but this is only possible if the mainsail is set up exactly right. The sail slugs or boltrope should be set up at the sail’s luff before you start pulling onto the halyard.

Pulling the Halyard

Once you’re confident that the mainsail is attached tight, it’s time to hoist the halyard downwards until the luff is tight. The mainsail should be completely up by this point. If the halyard jams or becomes tight before the sail is completely up, check that the sail slugs or bolt rope aren’t jammed. Don’t worry, this isn’t a huge problem. A snagged halyard can be easily fixed by slightly lowering the rope and then raising it again in one smooth straight pull.

Using a Winch

Here’s the difference between a small sailboat and a larger boat: the heaviness of the mainsail. If you’re carrying a bigger boat, raising the mainsail can be problematic because it’s too heavy for one person. Winch power works by helping you raise the sail more efficiently. It’s completely optional – depending on the size of your mainsail. If you want to get things up and down faster however, the winch is definitely helpful.

Cleat the Halyard

Once the mainsail is completely up, it’s time to cleat the halyard and keep that mast fitting in place. This basically means tying the halyard so that it’s nice and taut. Be very careful in doing this – making sure you create a standard knot for sailing. Also be careful where you stand. A defining feature of the mainsail is that it turns around depending on the direction of the wind. This is why you can use it for both downwind and upwind seasons.

Which Sail do you Raise First?

Which Sail do you Raise First

There are three types of sails on every boat: there’s the main sail, the jib, and the spinnaker. Raising the mainsail is the first order of business. It doesn’t matter if you’re sailing upwind or downwind – the hoisting the mainsail is always important. What about the jib and the spinnaker? Well, these are the ones that are raised depending on the wind blowing. The spinnaker is a downwind sail – you will often find this in racing vessels. A jib is more commonly found on a sailboat.

How do you Raise a Halyard?

How do you Raise a Halyard

What does a sailboat use to raise a sail? Raising the sail – whether it’s the main one or the smaller triangular sail, necessitates the use of the main halyard.

Raising a halyard can be as simple as pulling onto the rope until the mainsail reaches the top of the mast. Note though that it takes muscle to get this done, especially if you’re sailing on a large boat. If you’ve seen movies, it often takes a crew to raise the mainsail, although of course, that’s usually for passenger vessels or really large ones. Just as important as raising a halyard however, is taking it down the mast. You don’t want it to just drop down from the top as this can cause damage to the sail, the halyard, the shackles, and other parts. Keep it slow and steady. All the problems that could happen while raising the halyard can also happen while underway.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Raise Sails on a Sailboat Frequently Asked Questions

How do you fix jammed sail slugs?

Jammed sail slugs is often due to wear and tear. You want to check the sail slugs often to make sure that it’s still intact inside. In many cases, they’re just dirty and only need to be cleaned. Pay attention to the amount of work you need to do to hoist the halyard. Does it feel like hoisting the halyard is getting harder and rougher each time? That’s probably the sail slugs – have it cleaned right away!

How do you fix a snagged halyard?

If the halyard is snagging on the sheet, chances are it’s too loose. You want to retie it, making sure that there is sufficient halyard tension to prevent snags. This takes practice on your part, making sure that you’re using the right knot for the job. A tight halyard also helps minimize the possibility of the sail flapping or being luff. We don’t want you to confuse this with the leading sail edge which is also called a luff.

What about a frayed halyard?

A frayed halyard might not be a problem at first because it doesn’t cause jamming or snagging of the mainsail. However, over time, you want to make sure that it is replaced with a brand new one. This is because while the trip is underway, a frayed halyard can easily snap in two and quickly halt your sailing trip.

What if the masthead jams?

Let’s say that the block is happening specifically on the masthead. There’s a good chance that this is because of a broken halyard block. If this happens, make sure to replace the halyard block on your next sail, otherwise you could have a problem raising the sail for your next trip. Invest in a good halyard block as they can do so much for the quality of your sail. For example, turning blocks by 90 degrees is completely possible with a good block – giving you complete control after you hoist the sails.

What if there’s a loose shackle?

The shackle keeps the halyard tight and taut as it raises the mainsail. The goal is to get the halyard attached securely to the shackles so that it doesn’t snag on the sail. Note that no matter how good you are with knots, however, a loose shackle can still produce a loose halyard. This is why you should check the shackle from time to time, ideally after every sail. This way, you can secure the shackle or replace it with a new one if nothing can be fixed.

Can I sail alone?

Yes, you can definitely sail alone although obviously, having sailor friends with you is the safer option. For smaller boats however, it’s perfectly possible to do everything yourself from the port all the way to the middle of the sea and then back again. Your first sail is always going to be an exciting moment but make sure you’ve had ample sailing experience with other people.

What other accessories can I use when sailing?

Once you have the basics for sailing, everything else is just for added comfort. For example, not all sailors use lazy jacks but it’s definitely helpful when you’re reefing lines with no other crew member present. With this, you can easily control the sails from the time you leave the shore to mooring it back into place. Of course, don’t forget about the winch which can help with hoisting really large boats.

You might also want to consider buying a sail track to fix shade sails on the bow. While this won’t really help with the hoisting, mooring, or other activities – it will definitely give you shaded free section to enjoy your day while out in the sea.

Do I still need a motor on my boat?

It really depends on you. Being able to raise or hoist the sail and control it according to the direction of the wind should be all you need to get going. However, having a motor as your backup plan in case something bad happens is also a good idea. If you’re moored at a pretty tight spot, having a motor to help you head to a specific direction can definitely be helpful.

What is a tack in sailing?

Tack is a sailing maneuver and unless you’re racing, you don’t really have to learn it yet. It’s a method where the front of the boat is turned to the wind, allowing a difference of wind from each side of the boat. You should know that sailing also requires a lot of technique and these are things you can look forward to once you understand the basics.

Final Word

To wrap it up, sailing takes time and patience to learn. The good news is that it is completely worth it as you open up your life to brand new adventures. Make sure to take the time to learn the different terms, techniques, and safety methods in sailing – starting with how you raise a mainsail all the way to keeping in contact with others while you’re out at sea. Once you get the hang of it, getting from one point to another with just your saiboat will definitely be a wonderful way to head an adventure!

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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