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Boat sails: costs and types

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boat sails

After measuring and designing, it’s up to the sailmaker’s hands to transform a sail built with stitched staysails into reality, a type of product in which there is still a strong component of craftsmanship. © Photo Mauro Giuffrè/Giornale della Vela

Autumn is here and with it the list of works to be done on your boat, sails included. Any boat owner will include an engine overhaul in this check list, but how many will include a sail overhaul? Often the engine is considered the propulsion unit that needs the most attention, while the sails, which are the reason for a boat’s existence, fall into oblivion season after season without being serviced or replaced. Yet ours is a sailing boat, our wings cannot be considered a secondary propulsion. During summer cruises, we may find it difficult to sail in certain conditions – we’ll see which ones – and we may have to listen to the annoying noise of the engine, perhaps in the heat. Nothing fun in short.


Autumn is the right season to dedicate yourselves to renewing our sails, also because sailmakers often make interesting offers. But how do we know when it’s time to change your sails? What signs to look for? What kind of sails should we buy and how should we choose? In the report we’ve created we’ll try to answer these questions too, and to do so our Mauro Giuffrè went to take some photos in a sailmaker’s shop, hosted by North Sails Italia in Carasco (Genoa), which made Luna Rossa’s sails, to see up close how a new sail is made and to touch the materials.

north sails

The sailmaker trims the jib “meolo” pocket by hand with the selvedge that will adjust the tension of the leech and prevent it from flapping when the wind increases. © Photo Mauro Giuffrè/Sailing Newspaper.

When sails are worn out

Many boaters think that the criterion for the durability of a sail is the consistency and tightness of the material. When a sail begins to crack or peel due to wear and tear, it is highly likely that its life was already over long before that. The main criterion for deciding whether a wing needs to be changed or not is the shape, i.e. the position of the fullness. What is the fullness? To simplify, we could say that it is the point at which the sail has its maximum curvature.

To find out if the mainsail or jib/genoa is still in shape, you need to stand more or less in the centre of the sail and look at it from bottom to top, drawing a virtual line from the centre of the base to the feather. Some sailmakers apply a sticker, often a camera symbol, at this point to indicate from which point to look towards the pen to check the position of the fat. This, if the sail is in good condition, should be from the centre of the sail forward and evenly spaced. The further towards the bow the better the sail is. If, on the other hand, the fullness is displaced aft of the virtual head/base line or is all in the middle, the sail is close to retirement because it no longer has an optimal aerodynamic profile.



boat sails status

In the two photos above you can see, by looking at the horizontal shape lines, the difference between a ‘healthy’ sail and one whose profile is compromised. In the first photo you can see that the sail is flat in the rear area and has its maximum curvature near the luff, as a new sail should be. In the second photo you can see that the maximum camber is in the centre of the sail, and the part near the forestay is flat: © Foto North Sails.

Simplifying the concept, the fullness positioned in the front area of the sail serves to “capture” the air, which must then “escape” from the sail without encountering obstacles or bends. If the profile is on the contrary, flat in front and curved towards the stern, we will have a poorly efficient sail which will penalise our boat in practically all conditions.


A sewn-in sail will not have the same type of reinforcement as a membrane sail: the way they are constructed and consequently finished changes, North Sails engineer Michele Malandra explains the differences:



sails cost

The ring mounted on a strong wind jib. In the event of a broken channel, the sail can be rigged directly on the forestay thanks to the grommets mounted on these rings. It is also these details that can change the cost of a sail. © Photo Mauro Giuffrè/Sailing Newspaper.

The price of a sail is not something that can be defined by a mere calculation of cost per square metre, as many factors come into play when defining the sail value.

First of all, we need to consider the type of boat, its length and weight. Two boats that are identical in length but weigh different amounts will have different costs per square metre if they choose to buy a sail made of the same material. This is because the heavier boat will need a differently structured sail with a heavier weight to resist over time. A strong-wind jib, even though it has fewer square metres than a light-wind jib, will not necessarily cost much less with the same material chosen. This is because it requires a much stronger structure and construction than a light-wind sail.



the price varies a lot depending on the accessories: how many coats of reefing? What kind of battens? Can the sail be rolled up or not? For these reasons, the simple summary of a price per square metre, per material, is a rather relative indication. We have therefore preferred to identify a more plausible price range, especially for cruising sails and expressed per square metre, divided by the type of technology used. As far as laminated sails are concerned, various racing layouts can also be included in this price range. In this list we have not included quotations for racing membrane tops, as this is a very specific product and is built totally custom to the needs of the boat.

Dacron (from horizontals
to radial): from 70 to 130 euros per sqm

Cruising membranes
150 to 250 euros per sqm

Stitched laminate sails
140 to 230 euros per sqm


30 to 60 euros per square metre

Mauro Giuffrè


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