Understanding, Maintaining and Improving Furling Systems

15 January 2021

With the continuous developments of systems and technology today, sailing activities have become much easier and efficient. One system that sailors take advantage of today is the roller furling systems.

Roller furling is an efficient, easy and convenient way to deploy or store sails on a yacht, it is also recognised to be one of the most important systems on modern sailboats. It most commonly utilises aluminium tubing (sections/extrusions) around a stay (wire or rod) and is operated and controlled by ropes, hydraulics or electrical switches. There are also a few different types of furling, including; in-mast furling (sail furls inside mast), boom furling (sail furls inside boom) or headsail furling (sail furls around aluminium tubing on a stay) to name a few.

Benefits of sail furling includes; being easily operated from the cockpit and can still be managed amidst heavy weather, which maintains crew safety at all times, they can be operated single handed and the sail doesn’t have to be hoisted and lowered each time you go sailing. However, they can only offer full benefits once they are used and set-up properly. Here are some things that you should know about roller furling and how to improve its efficiency.

Understanding Roller Furling Systems

To start off with you must load the furling line onto the furler drum before the sail and halyard is attached by turning the aluminium section by hand (Pro Tip: Load the rope on the opposite way you want the furler to furl the sail in and make sure the UV protection is on the outside). Then you can install the sail to the drum and swivel, and halyard to the swivel. It is important to lock off these shackles with pliers or a spanner, because the sails are commonly left up for extended periods of time, so this prevents the shackles working loose. Halyard tension is critical when hoisting the sail, it needs to be fairly tight once it is fully hoisted, to prevent the halyard getting wrapped around and severely damaging the aluminium section or stay.

When furling the sail in, pull the furling line on a winch and ease the sheet/s as you pull the furling line. It is also a good practice to stop every so often, holding the furling line tight and pulling the sheets to ensure the sail is furled tightly. It is also a good practice to have at least one wrap of sheet line around the furled up sail to prevent the sail from getting out when you’re not on the boat or if it gets windy. The sheets and furling line should be tied off firmly on a winch, cleat or clutch when the sail is furled up. The furler drum should have at least 3-4 turns of the furling line on it when the sail is furled in, this prevents the furling line from pulling out of the drum or putting unnecessary load on (most commonly) plastic drum parts, which are easily broken.

When furling the sail out, ease the furling line in a slow and controlled manner, as you pull the sheet on the winch. The furling line loads onto the drum correctly this way, it prevents the line from catching, coming off the drum or any other issues later when you need to furl the sail back up later. The furler should never free wheel or be pulled out by the wind, it must be controlled smoothly.

The improvements on the roller furling systems, especially with their reliability and longevity, are mostly done on furler bearings, foils, fasteners, drums, and swivels.

Improving and Maintaining Roller Furling Efficiency

There are numerous ways to improve and maintain roller furling efficiency. It is important to grease the bearings in the furler swivel and in the drum, as well as oiling sheaves and blocks used to control the sail and furling operation. Oil and grease prevents bearings or sheaves from corroding or seizing and ensures smooth and reliable furling and sailing. Checking over all cordage occasionally is also important, looking over the entire halyards, sheets and furling lines lengths for chafe or any damage and replacing when necessary.

Another useful trick is marking halyards or lines at optimal tensions for furling, so it can be replicated every time and prevent issues. To do this simply mark the genoa halyard for genoa furling, the main

topping lift and vang line for mainsail furling with tape or permanent market at the clutch, cleat or any other replicable position.

We also recommend maintaining the sail by getting it cleaned and silicon coated every so often to maximise furling efficiency. Not only does it increase the sails longevity but it also helps the sail to slide on itself, the mast or boom better and it allows you to furl the sail up tighter, which is extremely important for in-mast and in-boom furling systems.

Too commonly we see sailors have furling issues with halyard wrap, furler bearings, halyard tensions and line or furling angles. If you have any issues with your roller furling systems, just give us a call at Riggtech. With over 30 years of experience in the yachting industry, we have come across many problems with furlers and are confident in finding a solution to match any client’s budget.

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