Learn to Sail for Newbies – Mast, Boom, and Sails

Learn these sailboat mast, boom, and sailboat sailing terms so that you can learn to sail in the shortest time possible. With this new knowledge, you’ll be on your way to become an “old salt” in no time!

Mast, Boom, and Gooseneck

Your mast provides an easy way to attach the forward side (luff) of the mainsail to the boat. Your mast has a slot that runs up the back side. You feed the mainsail into the slot. Next, you attach a halyard–much like a flag halyard–to the top of the mainsail or a headsail (Genoa, jib) and hoist it to the top of the mast.

The horizontal spar used to keep masterracksbd the bottom part of the sail–called the foot–attached to the boat. When you want to attach the mainsail to the boat, you start with the foot of the mainsail. Slide it into the groove on top of the boom. Start nearest the mast and slide the mainsail foot all the way back (aft) to the far side of the boom.

The attachment device used to link the boom to the mast. The gooseneck allows the boom to swivel from side to side or up and down so that you can adjust (trim, or shape), the sail..

Headstay, Backstay, and Shrouds

To keep the mast up on the boat, you need wires, much like those you see that support a telephone pole.

The headstay runs from the forward side of the mast at the top (called the masthead), to the bow, and attaches to a fitting called a stemhead (stem being another name for bow). Your headstay keep the mast from falling backwards.

The backstay runs from the aft side of the mast at the top to the stern, and attaches to a fitting at the stern. Your backstay keeps the mast from falling forward.

Groups of wires that support the sides of the mast. The longest, tallest wires on each side are called upper shrouds, or cap shrouds. The lower wires–and there may be one or more or these–are called lower shrouds. Shrouds attach to a beefy fitting on the side of the boat called a chainplate.

Easy Steps to Attach Your Sails the Right Way

When sailors talk about sails, to “bend” or “bend on” a sail means to attach it to the boat. This could be a headsail, mainsail, or a special sail like a spinnaker (the big, colorful balloon sails).

So, when the skipper asks you to help “bend on the main”, he or she means they want you to help attach the mainsail to the mast and boom. If they say to go forward and “bend on the headsail”, that means you need to go to the bow to help attach a new headsail to the boat.

Bend on Your Mainsail

You attach the mainsail to the mast and boom with line (rope) tied or shackled onto each sail corner. Follow this attachment procedure in the order shown in order to bend the mainsail to the mast and boom.

Attach the lower back corner of the sail–called a clew–first. You slide the foot of the mainsail, clew first into the boom slot. Pull it all the way to the back of the boom. Clip or tie on the outhaul line to the clew. Use the outhaul line to pull the clew all the way to the end of the boom.

Next attach the lower front corner of the sail–called the tack–to the tack pin. Find the tack pin near the intersection of the boom and mast.

Unhook the halyard from where it has been attached on your boat. Sight up the halyard and make sure it lies inside of any shrouds, lazy jacks or obstructions. Attach the mainsail halyard to a hole in the headboard (small, stiff plates at the top corner of a mainsail) at the head of the mainsail.

Bend on Your Headsail (Genoa, Jib)

The sail corners of any headsail are named just like those on the mainsail. Use a different order to attach a headsail to your boat. For this article, we will discuss how to attach a headsail with hanks or snaps to your
sailboat. When you first learn to sail, you will need to know this before you move on to roller furling type headsails. This will make you a better sailor and you will understand how to attach a headsail on any boat you sail aboard.

Use a shackle to attach the tack to a hole in the stemhead fitting (metal reinforced plate near the bow with holes for headsail attachment). Find the hank or snap closest to the tack. Open the hank or snap and attach it to the headstay. Find the next hank up the luff and attach it to the headstay. Repeat this sequence all the way up the luff of the headsail. When done, check the entire luff of the sail again to make sure no hank was missed or attached out of sequence.

Unhook the halyard from where it has been attached on your boat. Sight up the halyard and make sure it lies inside the headstay and clears any obstructions. Attach the headsail halyard to the wire rope eye at the head of the headsail. This eye will have a thimble–a teardrop shaped metal reinforcement piece–inserted inside the eye to stiffen the head and protect the sail and halyard. Double check that the headsail shackle has been closed all the way to secure it to the head of the headsail.

Tie bowline knots to attach each headsail sheet to the headsail clew. Lead the sheets outside of shrouds as required, through the headsail sheet lead blocks and aft to your cockpit sheet winches.

Now you know some of the most important sailing skills to help you learn to sail fast and easy. With these sailing terms and techniques, you are well on your way to sail with confidence wherever in the world you choose to go sailing!

Captain John teaches sailing skippers the skills they need to learn to sail like a pro! Get his popular free report “Ten Top Boat Safety Checks for Cruising Boat Skippers” at Learn to Sail at

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