How long to sails actually last, on average? This is one question many boat owners, and buyers of second-hand yachts, will probably ask themselves frequently. And is there a simple answer? Unfortunately, not quite.

This depends very much on the amount and type of sailing that the sails are used for. And on the original quality. Modern sail cloths are made to last, not indefinitely but certainly quite long, but different types of fabrics also differ in their resistance against, for example, UV influence or physical damage due to excessive flapping.

However, to keep matters simple, let us stay here with modern, good quality Dacron. In other words, the white sails most commonly seen on cruising boats and yachts of average size.

The cloth itself will probably hold together very long, before it actually physically tears or rips apart due to old age and excessive exposure to UV rays. But long before this, the sail itself will have “blown itself out”, meaning that it will have long lost its original shape. And this is much less easy to detect for the average cruising person, than actual damage to the sail.

If sails are used on a daily basis in the tropics, and not stowed away under cover out of the sun when not in use, the life-span can also be much shorter than the average, due to excessive UV-influence, as can be seen on many charter boats in the Caribbean or Pacific.


As a rough guide for a useful life-span of a modern sail, a time frame of between 5 to 10 years is often given. Again, remember this depends on what is done with the sail. It can last longer if there has not been a lot of sailing with a careful, caring crew, stowing their sails away dry and always protected from the sun. Remember that the Australian record yachtsman Jon Sanders has sailed multiple times around the world, driven by Rolly Tasker Sails.

After his return to Australia from his latest and possibly toughest circumnavigation of the 11 round-the-world voyages he has done so far, he said “Quite a few repairs were necessary here in Bundaberg, but not to the sails. I have a full set of standard Rolly Tasker Sails in Ocean Specification and they once again proved themselves marvellously.

The main and jib are still on the boat, after 19,000 miles in often strong and sometimes very severe weather there was no need to even take them off the boat for servicing. Perfect! With these sails I can simply continue on.”

But these were the Premium Ocean Specification by Rolly Tasker Sails made for extra durability offshore. And Jon Sanders in an expert yachtsman who not only takes care of his sails, but who can also spot the difference between a sail that is, literally, in good shape and another one that isn’t any longer so.


Often, when buying second-hand boats, these come with really old sails. While it might technically be possible to still sail with them, you will never know the difference in speed, pointing ability and general fun in sailing until you have actually tried a new suit of sails. Up to 20 percent or more improvement in speed or VMG to windward can be achieved!

Also, when sails are tired and worn, it becomes a safety issue. UV weakened cloth tends to rip, as do worn out seams. If your sail begins to tear apart when the wind pipes up, you know that you have definitely left it too late to replace it!

Telling signs that the life of a sail is nearing its end are flapping, or curling leeches, wrinkles behind the luff and, as mentioned, failing stitching. What many don’t see is the typical baggy shape of a blown-out sail which slows the boat and makes it heel excessively. Old, worn out sails often have excessive camber (depth of the profile) and this too far aft.

Horizontal stripes that are more or less common on new sails are a great help to see if the profile of the sail is still as it should be. Not too baggy and with the position of the deepest part of the profile, the camber, which is called “draft”, still in the middle of the sail halfway along between luff and leech.


The hull shape, appendages and general design of a boat usually do not change. But if this is being driven by old and inefficient sails, the overall performance will drop way below the real potential of the boat. New sails are the best investment and the easiest way to really improve not only the sailing characteristics of your boat, but also to have a lot more fun out on the water!

With new sails, your boat will heel less, have less weather helm, be safer because the sail does not need to be reefed as early because it will be flatter and in much better shape. As a result of all this and above all else it will be much faster!

The perfect profile and shape of a new sail will convert the wind not into excessive heeling as old and baggy sails do, but into more drive and speed.

New sails can be a real treat – for yourself and your boat. After all, it’s a sailboat!

  • Average useful life-span of sails is 5 to 10 years
  • Baggy profile, creases along luff and a leech that cannot be tensioned in shape anymore are signs that a new sail would be a real improvement
  • If the cloth begins to rip, often along the leech, you have left it too late. Order your new sail now!