Frank's Corner: Chapter 5 - Mast care and Use

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    Chapter 5 - Mast care and use

    One of the key parts of a sailboat is the mast. Most sailboats will go, but without the mast, not by wind. Therefore the care of a mast is very important.

    When the mast is stepped, the tuning of the standing rigging (shrouds and stays) is very important to get the most out of the sailboat. Tuning is also important to keep the mast straight while sailing. The shrouds provide windward and leeward bracing and the stays provide fore and aft bracing.

    Shrouds are usually attached to the mast with tangs and if the boat is a fractional rig (the forestay is attached partway up the mast) the forestay is also attached with a tang. A good book on mast tuning is a good asset or at least the specifications for the boat owned to have a good performing boat. One way to check the tuning is when sailing on a beat. When a crew member has the helm, sight up the mast to see if it is straight. If not, adjust the appropriate shrouds and/or stays to straighten it.

    The shrouds and stays generally last a long time if they are cared for and stored properly. A lot of boat owners store their smaller boats on trailers so the stays and shrouds should be keep straight so there are no breaks or kinks in the cables.

    One of the important duties when taking a boat out for a sail when stored on a trailer, is stepping the mast. Some boats are stored with the mast stepped, but if not, these are some things to consider:

    First, if the boat is 20' or larger, get someone to help. Most day sailors mast's can be done by one person, but two make it easier.

    Second is to make sure all shrouds and stays are clear.

    Third is have a clear path to walk the mast up, no lines, sheets, etc. to trip over.

    Fourth is to pin the back stay loose so there is enough play to pin the forestay. Then both stays can be adjusted as needed. Some boats do not have back stays, the ones I am familiar with are day sailors.

    Care should be taken so the shrouds are not too tight during the raising so undo pressure is not put on the boatfs deck/change plates.

    There are some simple ways to aid in stepping a mast. A mast raising bar is attached to the rudder supports so the mast raising angle is less than 180 degrees. This gives a person better mechanical advantage.

    Another way is to attach a spring to the jib halyard which preloads the raising system. The spring plus using the main sheet attached to the spring/jib halyard and the bow stemhead fitting gives the needed mechanical advantage to raise the mast.

    The critical part of raising a mast is keeping it going straight towards the bow until the shrouds take control.

    Another way is to have a tripod attached to the mast to keep it from tilting to the port or starboard sides. A gin pole may also be attached to the forward base of the mast to give a better angle for raising it.

    There are a number of web sights giving instructions for raising a mast (e.g. Also look on for a way David and Alison raised the mast for their Flying Scot.

    This is not all inclusive - just some ideas to get sailors thinking about their boats and how to get the best performance.

    Please let Frank know what you think about this new section of Sailing Texas. We need feed back!
    Email Frank.

    If you would like to add your thoughts on this or on any sailing topics, please Email Alison at and I will post your sailing experiences on this website.

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