Sailing Tips: Rigging

Whatever the advances in modern technology, the art of sailing depends on some of the most ancient mechanical devices: levers, block and tackle.

Consider rigging as the workings of a birds wings – the wires are its tendons, lines are the muscles and spars are like hollow bones.


Cordage refers to the ropes that connect and control the sails, and is attached to the spars or sails by metal pulleys and clips. Cordage is divided into two types: running rigging and standing rigging.

Running rigging

Running rigging is the cordage used to control the shape and position of the sails. Running rigging must be flexible enough to allow smooth movement of the sails, but also strong. A halyard, used to hoist heavy yards up and down, must also be very strong and durable.

Running rigging hoists sails and controls their movement. The halyards and sheets are essential, and all boats have them. Other pieces of running rigging – including boom vangs, cunninghams and preventers – enhance sail control and improve performance. Halyards raise and lower sail, and provide tension to keep a sail’s leading edge straight. This is important for the jib, which has no mast to support its luff.

Standing rigging

Standing rigging is cordage fixed in position. The purpose of standing rigging is to support the mast. The two main categories are shrouds and stays. Shrouds and stays are attached to the mast by metal strips called tangs, and joined to the hull by chainplates. The rig is usually tensioned by turn buckles or adjusters with moveable pins. On some racing boats, tension can be changed by using hydraulic or mechanical adjusters to adjust angle and bend, known as ‘rake’.

A boat’s rig is often named for its forestay. Larger boats often have masthead rigs, with the forestay attached to the top of the mast. Smaller craft, or those wanting more control, use fractional rigs with the forestay attached partway up the mast.

Tuning the rig

Rigging needs to be turned to allow proper support for the mast, tension for the stays and balanced sail positioning. High performance boats have masts which bend to alter the mainsail’s shape for differing wind conditions. With most boats, the mast should be as straight as possible.


If you grab a sheet while sailing, it’s obvious that a great amount of power is transferred through these lines. To cope with the strain, and make them easier to grip, sheets should be no less than half an inch for boats around 40 feet. The mainsheet controls boom swing and lift. When a boom lifts it allows the sail to twist. To control lift, a downward pull can be added by attaching the mainsheet near the centre of the boom.

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