What Are Sailing Lazy Jacks?

What Are Sailing Lazy Jacks? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

If you ever find yourself struggling with hauling down the mainsail, do not reinvent the wheel since people already have sailing lazy jacks!

Lazy jacks are simply rigs that are put into your boom and mast to make raising and lowering the mainsail easier in any condition or with limited manpower. They work through a simple series of lines and come in multiple varieties depending on ship construction and budget.

No matter what kind of construction you choose, getting a sailing lazy jack will surely make your outings that much more enjoyable. In fact, even if you have a full crew, using them can help you save time and navigate better without having to worry about reefing or fighting with your mainsail. However, there is a lot of confusion over the different types of lazy jack systems out there, and this article hopes to conglomerate into one place all the questions you might have ever had that you cannot find in one place.

After combing through and reviewing dozens of first-hand accounts from people who have used lazy jack systems across a wide range of rigs and brands, we have compiled a list of common questions, problems, solutions, and background to make this the best beginner’s guide for lazy jacks possible. While not all-encompassing, this should serve well as a springboard for further questions on lazy jacks once you start looking into them.


Table of contents

Why Get a Lazy Jack?

Lazy jacks are great for a wide range of sailors and sailboats. While lazy jacks save the most time and hassle with larger sailboats or single sailors, that is not to say every sailboat would not get an advantage out of them. After all, every sailboat has the same problem of having to lower and raise a mainsail, and every boat does not have the luxury of favorable weather conditions. By getting a lazy jack system, you can save time and frustration that this task normally brings and be able to focus on more important things like the safety of navigation.

This is probably the single most important reason to get one of these systems, especially for solo sailors, because trying to fight the wind, the sail, and keep a steady course in a dense traffic environment, like entering or leaving port, is an inherently dangerous evolution. By being able to cut out some of the required manpower and focus more time on safely navigating, you can save yourself a lot of headaches in the future.

What Does a Lazy Jack System Consist Of?

One of the best parts about lazy jacks is that they can be as simple or as advanced as you want them to be depending on your individual circumstances. In its most basic form, lazy jacks will need at a minimum line, several pad eyes, blocks or rope thimbles, and possibly a bag. That is it!

Of course, you will also need tools and material to help install a lazy jack such as a hammer, drill, tape measure, center punch, screwdriver, and rivets. However, this kind of logistics is only for the more advanced commercial systems which brings us to our next question: commercial or do-it-yourself?

Commercial or DIY Lazy Jacks?

The first major decision you will have to make before getting a lazy jack is going to the commercial or DIY options. One of the main disadvantages of commercial lazy jacks is the cost. For larger sailboats, these kits can run up into the hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the size of the sailboat you have. Additionally, these kits only come with instructions and you would still have to pay someone else for installation if you did not want to do it.

For do-it-yourself kits, there is a plethora of information and guides online that explain in detail what materials you will need, where to put them, and how to install them. In fact, most of the major marine companies even publish their manuals like this one for free online on how to install the lazy jack system and these are chock full of useful information.

When done correctly, a DIY lazy jack system is the better option for sailboats less than 50 feet and for usually less than 50 dollars. In fact, you can usually repurpose most of the materials you probably already have like lines, rope thimbles, and cleats. Even larger sailboats would see the limited utility in getting a commercial kit since they would be geared more towards a specific brand of the boat that you might not have.

What Kinds of Lines to Use?

Choosing the kind of line you will use is probably the last big decision you will make since this will directly affect the performance of your lazy jack system. When choosing lines, you need to focus on strength and durability. The key here is to strike a balance between having enough strength to handle your mainsail while also not being too tough or gritty to damage your sail when underway.

For most people, using 1/8” or 3/16” is plenty enough strength. Additionally, synthetic lines like nylon or polyester work best since they are durable, lightweight, and can be easily spliced, which are all qualities that you will need when setting up your rig. The main reason why you want to use the right size line is not only to ensure that you have enough strength to hold in the mainsail and that the system functions properly but if the lines are too large this may also cause unnecessary chaffing to your mainsail. While this is surely not an exhaustive list by any means, since you could probably write an entire article on lines alone, these are a few things to consider when starting to look at lines if you have absolutely no idea where to start.

What Options Are Available?

For lazy jack systems, both DIY and commercial, there are three main systems to choose from:

  • Two-line system
  • Three or four line system
  • Dutchman system

Determining which system to get largely depends on the size of your mainsail. For those with smaller or medium-sized boats, a two-line system should be just fine. For those with larger sails, a three or four-line system would provide better support to fight against a larger sail. For the Dutchman system, this is better suited for those with battens

Two-Line System vs. Three and four-line systems

There is really no right or wrong answer for what kind of system you need to get for your sailboat. After all, the whole purpose of the lazy jacks is to help guide your mainsail back onto the boom to help stow it. However, before you go out and get a whole bunch of line and start connect lines to your boom and mast, consider a few pros for a two-line system:

  • Easier to set up
  • Less material to use
  • Less opportunity to catch on your sail

However, despite a two-line system’s simplicity, there are a few drawbacks:

  • Provides less support
  • Not suitable for larger sails  
  • Loss of redundancy if a line parts

Three and four-line systems are obviously needed for those with larger sails and help those who want to have greater support and redundancy. However, they too have a few cons:

  • More difficult to rig
  • Usually has blocks that need to be secured
  • Less novice-friendly

Dutchmen System

One of the main problems with sailboats with lazy jacks is that if you have battens installed they frequently get caught when hoisting the mainsail. For those sailboats, it is recommended to use the Dutchmen system. The Dutchmen system prevents battens from getting caught in the lazy jack lines by having lines interwoven into the mainsail every few feet through fairleads. These leads help raise and lower the sail like a window shade.

While this system is great for those with battens, unless you have sail-making experience, you would not be able to make this system on your own. Additionally, this system requires the use of a topping lift line. Since not all sailboats come equipped with this line you would have to add it on.

How Does a Lazy Jack Work?

Operating a lazy jack is rather simple. After all, if it was not it would not be as popular as it is today. In its most basic form, the pilot can operate the lazy jack by pulling the lazy jack off its cleat and then attaching the hooks to the boom where it is anchored. You then raise the mainsail and get underway.

No matter whether you have a two, three, or four-line system, the lines act as a guide when you are ready to retrieve the mainsail. To keep the rig anchored, you will usually have two pad eyes drilled into the mast and then the lines will be fastened to the boom. The lines should ideally cover three-quarters of the surface area of the sail and wherever there is a junction a rope thimble or block should be used.

When retrieving a mainsail, you simply hook the lazy jack back together and then let the sail flake itself down onto the boom. While this might be easier for sails with battens on them, for those without this extra process it might be kind of a pain and take some of the utility out of having a lazy jack.

What Are Sailing Lazy Jacks?
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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