How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail

Written by nancy e. spraker
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How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail
Roller Furling Headsail (Jupiterimages/ Images)

A roller furling headsail is safer, saves space and creates an assortment of sails in one sail. Similar to a window shade, the sail rolls itself around the headstay with the release of a furling line. The components are a headfoil that surrounds the forestay, a top swivel that swivels and slides up and down the headfoil and a fishing reel-like drum at the base of the headfoil with a furling line coiled around it. Ready-made kits with instructions are available for mechanically inclined do-it-yourselfers. With attention to detail and some effort, reducing and stowing the headsail becomes a cockpit operation.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Screwdrivers: 1/8 inch and ¼ inch flat and #2 Phillips
  • Tape measure
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Crescent wrenches
  • Large adjustable wrench
  • Vise-Grip
  • Bucket
  • Drill/rivet gun
  • Paper towels, rags
  • File or sandpaper
  • Hacksaw
  • Tube of polysulfide marine sealant for fittings

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  1. 1

    Measure the headstay and cut a wire to that length using wire cutters or a hacksaw with a fresh blade.

    How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail
    Measure the Headstay (Chris Graythen/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Lay out all parts on a grit-free surface such as a dock. Slide all elements onto the wire (halyard) starting with the top swivel, headfoil, then drum with all associated parts.

    How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail
    Assemble Parts (Jupiterimages/ Images)
  3. 3

    Attach the furler at the base to a bow chain plate, raise the unit to the top of the mast using a halyard, then attach the top of the furler to the mast while in a suspended boatswain's chair. The top swivel should be at the base to avert crashing.

    How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail
    Attach the Assembled Furler to the Boat (David Cannon/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images)
  4. 4

    Thread the furling line from the base drum through blocks to the cockpit. To avoid unnecessary wear and tear, the line should lead out perpendicular to the headstay. Secure the furling line on a cleat.

    How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail
    Rig the Furling Line (Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
  5. 5

    With the furler totally unwound, feed the sail into the foil groove and attach the sail's top corner (head) and bottom corner (tack) to the headsail halyard and chain plate respectively. Attach the left (port) and right (starboard) sheets (ropes) to the remaining corner (clew) and feed them through blocks to the cockpit and commence to sail in short order.

    How to Set Up a Roller Furling Headsail
    Setting Sail (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images)

Tips and warnings

  • If the existing sail is older, it may be time to buy a new one and have a sailmaker customise it to the new furling rig. Make sure that fasteners on the mast and chain plate match those with the furling rig. Loosen the turnbuckle on the chain plate to its fullest extent when attaching the furling rig. When the furler is fully attached, tighten the turnbuckle snugly. Always keep slight tension on sheets or furling line when furling and unfurling sail. Protect the outer edge of the sail from sun with Sunbrella edging.
  • This is not a project for the novice or the acrophobic. It may be worth spending the extra money to have a professional install the furler and provide stress-free sailing for years to come.

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