When should you reef your sails?  When you first think of it.  It’s always easier to shake out a reef if it’s not necessary, than to try and reef in overpowering conditions.

When it is windy & you start to feel overpowered, you will want to put a reef in the sails for better control.  An increase in weather helm (the boat wanting to head into the wind) is a sign of too much mainsail. Otherwise you should reduce your headsail.  Boats that have roller furling can reduce their headsail by furling in.  Other boats should make sure they rig the jib (not the genoa).

The easiest place to reef your mainsail is at the dock before you head out.  If the wind picks up while you are out, you can Heave-To and do it while underway.  Either way, check out the reefing system BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT.  Every boat is rigged differently.   If you have any questions you’ll be able to address them before you leave.


  1. From a CLOSE HAUL or CLOSE REACH, prepare to tack.  Tack the boat, but don’t release jib sheet.
  2. When the jib sail back-fills and starts to take the bow away from the wind, release the mainsheet and move the tiller all the way in the opposite direction.  
  3. Either lash the tiller down to go reef the main by yourself, or hold it in place while a crew member reefs the sail.

If the boat doesn’t catch, you may need to try again. The key is not shifting the tiller back too soon, and shift it smoothly. The speed with which you do this is the same as the speed that the boom goes out, so follow the boom with the tiller.

NEVER MOVE FORWARD until the boat settles down.  Look downwind & make sure you’ve got room to drift.     To come out of a Heave-To, simply pull in the mainsheet, release the jib and cleat it on the other side, as the boat starts to turn, straighten your tiller and you’re on your way!

NOTE:  If you are going to stay Hove-To for any length of time, trim in your main slightly.  This will take the bow a little towards the weather and you will ride the waves and wind at a better angle.


  1. Release the main halyard and lower the sail just until you can get the reefing grommet secured to the boom (with hook or line).  What you are doing is establishing a new tack.  You may need to move the slug stopper & let out a bottom slug.   Be sure to replace the slug stopper!
  2. Release the boom vang & use the halyard to tighten up the luff of the sail.
  3. Next, establish a new clew.  On the leech of the sail you will see a line passing through another grommet.  It may run inside or outside of the boom.  If the reefing line runs outside the boom you will see a small cleat mounted somewhere on the boom.  If it runs inside the boom, it will come out near the boom vang and run to a cleat.  Pull on the reefing line until the grommet on the leech is tight against the boom and cleat it.  Re-set your boom vang once this is done. Now you have a new tack, a new clew, and less sail area. 

To shake out a reef, heave to and simply reverse the process.

Important Note:  Reefing points along the “new” foot of the sail often have short lines to tie up excess sail.  DO NOT TIE THESE TIGHTLY!!  These points are general not as reinforced and if tied too tightly, the wind pressure can rip the sail.

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