Furling systems have been widely used on sailboats since the early 1980s. Despite a tentative debut in the early years, when they were reserved for off shore racing, they are now an essential.
The term commonly used is "furler", but there are several types of product families, including manual furlers, flying sail furlers, stayfurlers and even swivel locks. So how can you tell them apart and select the right ones for your needs? Many boaters still need clarification. So here's an article that should answer all your questions.
The different types of furling system
As mentioned above, there are several families of products on the market designed to manage the headsails on a sailboat. A distinction must therefore be made between:
- Manual and motorized furlers
- Flying sail furlers
- The structural flying sail furlers
- Headsail swivel locks
What the different types of furling systems have in common
All these product families have several elements in common:
- On the one hand, they are all designed to help boaters manage their headsails. In other words, they are there to optimise and adapt the sail area by furling or unfurling the various sails. These manoeuvres are carried out according to the weather conditions encountered. Furling systems therefore also are part of the vessel safety system by allowing the sail area to be reduced quickly.
- All these products can also be used to furl and unfurl from the cockpit. So the crew is completely safe.
- Finally, these products complement each other. This means that different systems can be combined on the same boat. For example, on a sea cruiser, a manual furling system can be combined with a flying sail furler. Each product will be designed to furl or unfurl its own sail.
Questions to ask when choosing a furler
While these different furlers have a number of points in common, they do not meet the same needs. Here are the questions we suggest you ask yourself to help you choose your furling system without making a mistake.
Do I need to partially furl my sail ?
The concept of partial furling is essential aboard a sailboat, as it actually refers to the furler's ability to partially reduce the sail, particularly if the weather conditions deteriorate. Of all the products available, only the manual genoa furler or the motorized genoa furler can be used to partially reduce the sail. The other product families (flying sail furler and stayfurler systems) operate on an all-or-nothing basis. In other words, the sail can only be used fully unfurled.
Do I need a structural system ?
A system is said to be structural when it contributes to the strength of the mast. In other words, if the product you have selected is not structural, you will still need to have a stay on board to hold the mast in place.
Of all the products listed, only the stayfurler and the structural flying sail furler enable the mast to be held in place.
Contrary to popular belief, manual (or motorized) furlers are not structural. This is fitted to your boat's stay, which passes through the furler's profiles. It's the forestay that holds the mast in place.
Flying sail furlers use an anti-torsion cable installed between the spool and the swivel. Under no circumstances does this cable contribute to the strength of the mast.
In summary, Profurl's nEX STR stayfurler systems and the Pro Am range are structural.
Which sail do I need to furl ?
The number of sails on board a sailboat can be high. Depending on their characteristics (size, shape, surface), they are intended to be used at certain times or under certain conditions. Here's a quick overview.
- The genoa is a luff-footed sail that can be inserted into the manual or motorized furling system. It should therefore be used with this type of product
- Jibs and solents fitted with snap shackles (or on sheaths) should be used with Pro Am structural flying sail furlers
- Solents or staysails are breeze sails that can be used either with a manual (or motorized) furler or with a NEX flying sail furler (or even a stayfurler)
- Gennakers, light genoas, code 0s and asymmetric spinnakers are flying sails that are fitted with an anti-torsion cable linking the spool and the swivel. They can only be used with a NEX or SPINEX flying sail furler (in the case of an asymmetric spinnaker)
Do I need to lower my sail ?
All the product families except the stayfurler can be used to lower the sail. In the case of the Pro Am structural furlers, the sail can be lowered using the swivel, which also allows the sail to be hoisted.
Lowering the sail has a number of advantages, such as reducing the amount of dunnage and avoiding wear and tear on the sail. Once lowered, the sail is stored under cover in the sail locker.
If the sail is used as a staysail, lowering it after use makes it easier to tack and pass the genoa sheets at the front of the boat.
What is my sailing plan ?
Your sailing plan will also have an impact on your choice of products. If you're planning a cruising program, you can choose between a manual or motorized furling system for the genoa or staysail. You can also choose a NEX flying sail furler (very useful in light winds).
If you're a day boater or coastal regatta boater with a boat under 10m, the Pro Am structural furler is just what you need.
And if you're planning to go offshore racing, NEX furlers, NEX STR stayfurler systems and headsail swivel locks will be your best allies in boosting performance.
The special case of headsail swivel locks
The headsail swivel lock was originally developed for offshore racing boats such as IMOCAs and Class 40s. It occupies a special place in the range of products designed for furling sails, as it must be combined with a NEX Profurl furling spool. It can also be used to furl flying sails and, once the sail is furled, to lower it by unhooking the swivel lock. Following its success in the Vendée Globe, the headsail swivel lock is increasingly in demand on fast cruising yachts.
In a nutshell
To choose the right roller system, you need to consider the following points:
- What kind of sail do I want to furl? A flying sail will mean you need a flying sail furler
- What is my sailing plan? You can choose from a wide range as a cruiser
- Do I want to partially roll up? You must choose a manual or motorized furling system
- Do I need a structural system? If so, choose a stayfurler system