What Is A Furler On A Sailboat?

What Is A Furler On A Sailboat? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 22, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Sailing furlers are common in a variety of different types of sailboats
  • These are used to make life easier when sailing or racing to roll the sails in or out
  • They are an extremely convenient tool that provides efficiency if used appropriately
  • Furler sails can come in many shapes and sizes depending on the boat
  • Your sailing goals may go hand in hand with the type of furler you have on board

Furler sailing is a convenient way to make life easier on your sailboat. But what is a furling system on sailboats?

Roller furling systems are unique mechanisms that allow you to effortlessly roll up the sail or unfurl. A roller furling system features a central location for a drum or spool for storing the sail and a furling line to give sailors the ability to operate the sail.

In my experience, furling systems are comparable to reefing systems, but are arguably best for moderate conditions while sailing. Depending on what setup you have will likely make a difference while sailing.


Table of contents

How Does a Roller Furling System Work?

A roller furling setup will vary depending on what type you have on your boat. Most boats today have some type of system already on board, especially racing boats.

Sailors can adjust their sail area or store their sails efficiently by pulling on the furling line. This line can be controlled from the boat's cockpit and allow solo sailing to be more manageable and eliminating the need for crew members to handle bulky sails manually.


There are a variety of positives with furlers that most sailors find useful. Below are the pros for these systems.

Ease of Use

They are convenient and make for a quick setup while adjusting to the wind in various conditions. This allows an easy transfer without having to take the sails down or changing them out completely.

Peace of Mind

This makes it safer while sailing since you will have better response times and control from the cockpit. This helps limit the likelihood of any dangers out on deck or due to weather.


You have the power in your hands to adjust for sailing power. This gives you total control of when to optimize the best sailing conditions.

Longevity in Mind

A furling system allows you to roll up the sail neatly to avoid exposure to harmful UV rays and other issues obtained if you were to leave it out. This is crucial for long term use and for protecting your investment.


There are some negatives to keep in mind for these systems as it may interfere with your sailing goals. Below are the cons to consider.

Strong Conditions

These may not operate the best in windy conditions. A furled sail could decrease upwind performance if the conditions are not the best.

Rope Could Weaken

The rope that is used to control the furler is susceptible to chaffing. This must be checked each time you are going out on the water in addition to other safety guidelines.

Location of Drum

The drum is usually installed on the deck. This means the sail area is slightly reduced and the luff is shortened.

Needs Routine Maintenance

You should always look over and keep records of maintenance on board. The bearings are one example of something you should keep an eye on as the saltwater and sand will cause wear and tear.

Different Types of Roller Furling Systems

There are different types of furling systems that you might have already or might be interested in getting. Some are easy to use while others might be difficult depending on the setup. Below are the three system setups that you will likely need to learn more about.


If you enjoy manual labor to roll the sail in or out, then this means you have a manual one. These are usually cheaper because it is more physically demanding.


You simply need to be able to push a button to get an electric furler to operate. This provides a much smoother sailing experience if you are unable to roll the furlers out by hand.


If you have a larger yacht then you might have a hydraulic furler. These are definitely smoother and offer excellent power.

Which Roller Furling is Best for You?

Now that you know some differences between manual, electric, and hydraulic, you can take a step further and see which system is best for your sailing goals. There are specific names used in the marine industry to categorize these furling systems.

Wire Luff

This is the most basic setup for a furling system. This system includes a deck swivel drum, wire luff headsail, and head swivel. This also means you do not need hanks or the use of luff tape.

Internal Halyard

The internal halyard runs alongside the forestay without using the jib halyard. It employs an internal halyard for one groove, while the sail's luff slides up another groove, and prevents the halyard from getting tangled.

Head Swivel

The head swivel is one of the most popular systems and most expensive since it operates the smoothest out of them all. It features a lower drum, equipped with metal cross-sections, and a ball bearing head swivel. It is excellent for racing and for changing headsail easily.

Bottom or Top Down Furler

All systems back in the day were once bottom-up furlers. As engineering improved over the years, more headsails were designed for lighter wind.

The bottom is a standard roller furler where the base of the drum unrolls to release the sail. When rolled back, the sail wraps from the base and is common for jib and genoa sails.

The top down furler is for Code 0 and asymmetric spinnakers. These roll the sail from the top to the base, leaving the base free-floating and improving sail handling.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Furler

Proper routine maintenance is crucial for keeping your boat in the best shape. This means you cannot afford to skip checking or repairing your furler.

Failure to spend a solid 15 to 30 minutes taking the time to properly clean and maintain your furler will cost you more time and money down the road. Below are a few tips to get started for most furlers.

Reading the Manual

It is imperative that you read and understand the manufacturers manual that came with the furler. This will have the basics and everything else you need to know about safe operation or properly maintaining the furler.

If you do not have one after buying a boat, then you can look for it online or contact the manufacturer to send you one. In addition, you could always look online and read forums that talk about similar issues with their furlers.

Get the Furler Ready

The first thing you should do is to remove the genoa sail and mark the furling line for easy removal of the drum during year-end maintenance or before the season starts. Check the bolts, drum, and remove any debris that could be lodged with a degreaser (your manual might recommend one).

Lube All Required Locations

If any parts move then there needs to be some kind of lubrication. This is especially true if you have metal on metal.

Your manual will likely tell you what type of grease to use and where to apply it. Once that is completed you can assemble the drum and clean everything you touched.

What Is A Furler On A Sailboat?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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