Types of Sails

There are many types of sails that are used all around the world on dinghies, yachts and tall ships.

Since this is primarily about my dinghy and yachting sailing experiences, I will be writing about the main sails that can be found on those types of boats.

The sails available on dinghies are not very numerous and these are the main ones used.

The types of sails on tall ships are far more in number, but this is about dinghies and yachts, not old pirate galleons!

The spinnaker is so interesting that I decided to make it its own page! Check out spinnaker sails.


This sail is a beast and of the types of sails is the most important!

It does most of the work on the boat and it is the one that needs to be worked the hardest.

This sail is the reason that boats can move quickly through the water, because it is just so big and has such a large sail area.

This is the most important sail to get trimmed on the boat, because otherwise speed will drop considerably.

On beats, the sail should be all the way in. If you heel and need to let out some sail, let some out, but then pull it all back in when the boat begins to right itself.

On runs, the sail should be all the way out so as to be literally pushed by the wind, instead of using aerodynamics principles to produce lift (this the reason the run is the slowest point of sail).

On all other Points of Sail the mainsail should be worked to find the optimum position for that given moment.

This is done by letting out the mainsail until the front bottom corner where the boom and mast meet starts to flap a little.

Then sheet in a little and you are at the perfect trim.

Of course the moment you change direction or the wind direction changes, you have to retrim the sail, which is hard work, but keeps you going at a constant speed or accelerates the boat, instead of slowing down, because of an untrimmed sail.


This is a large sail and of the types of sails that are usually used, its function is as a secondary sail on most boats.

It is almost bigger than the mainsail in height, but has far less sail area.

The purpose of the genoa is to help turn the boat port or starboard and tack or gybe.

The sail is more curved and can be used like a spinnaker on a run, in a process known as goosewinging (putting the genoa on the opposite side as the mainsail).

The genoa isn't held in a boom, nor does it have an outhaul, which makes it very loose and can collapse in light wind or when the boat is to close to the wind (no-go zone).

It is a great indicator for where the wind is coming and also the trim of the sails.

On the genoa are the tell tales, which on a beat show the lifts and headers, whilst on a reach they show if the genoa has been trimmed correctly (which also shows if the mainsail is trimmed properly).

The genoa nevertheless in important and an untrimmed genoa will slow or stop the boat.


The gennaker is like a spinnaker in the fact it is a large sail, but is very different in most ways.

The gennaker can be sailed on a close haul, beam reach and broad reach, but not a run!

On a run, the gennaker tends to collapse on itself and so it is best to stick to training runs or no runs at all.

The gennaker is more of a sail shape than the spinnaker and looks like a baggy genoa.

The main difference between a spinnaker and gennaker is that on a gennaker the pole is at the bow of the boat (rather than on the mast like a spinnaker).

Gennakers can usually be deployed by simply pulling a rope, which makes it much simpler to use.

Gennakers can also gybe without having to do anything and unlike spinnakers they can be sailed upwind, if they are sheeted in tightly.

Storm Gib

The gib is like a small genoa. The genoa reaches all the way back past the mast, but the gib's sail area is smaller and stays in front of the mast.

It is used in high winds, where genoa's have too much of a sail area to be used (they are like reefed genoas).

They are rarely used except on stormy seas, because they provide so little power in normal winds due to their reduced sail area.

However if there are strong winds, having a gib can help the boat remain upright, be depowering the boat.

So those are the major types of sails found on dinghies and yachts.

On tall ships there are many many more sails that can be used all with their odd nautical names.

These are the most important and easiest to remember as well as the most useful in dinghy and yacht racing or sailing.

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