What is a Sailboat Jib?

What is a Sailboat Jib? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

A sailboat jib is a triangular headsail located forward of the mast. The jib typically has less sail area than the mainsail.

Typical single-masted sailboats usually have a jib, which is located between the bow and the mast. The jib takes advantage of the forward part of the boat. The jib is not the only kind of headsail, but it is the most common.


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Do Sailboats Need a Jib?

Many sailors often wonder if it's even worth hoisting the jib, especially on a windy day. The truth is that you typically don't need the jib to sail, though you're losing up to 50% of your sail area if you don't.

Under typical conditions, most sailors hoist the mainsail and the jib and reef them as necessary. On windy days, you may get on fine with just the mainsail. Whether or not to hoist the jib is entirely up to your judgment.

Trimming the Jib

The trim of the jib is usually controlled using two jib sheets, one on either side of the mast. This makes sense, as it would be hazardous and time-consuming to unwind a single sheet each time you turn, walk along the deck, and wrap it around the other side of the mast.

If you're sailing with the wind to your port side, you'll manipulate the jib using the starboard jib sheet. The opposite also applies when the wind is to your starboard side. Make sure to secure the correct sheet on the winch and free up the opposite sheet.

Can a Sailboat have Multiple Jib Sails?

Yes, sailboats sometimes have multiple jib sails. That said, not all headsails are jibs. Schooners often use two or three headsails. These include the jib, a smaller jib topsail, and sometimes a fore staysail.

The most common kind of American cruising sailboat is the single-mast sloop, which typically employs a single jib. That's why the vast majority of sailboats you see will only have one headsail.

What are Jib Sails Made Of?

Early jib sails were made of organic canvas-like cotton or a mix of organic fibers. Traditional jib sail material usually contains a mix of cotton, hemp, and other fibrous plant material.

Today, synthetic fabrics have largely replaced traditional canvas materials in sailmaking. Synthetic sails are lighter and stronger than their organic counterparts, and they resist water and weather better as well.

Polyester Jib Sails

Modern jib sails are made of a woven blend of polyester and other synthetic material. A material called Dacron is one of the most common sail fabrics due to its low cost, excellent UV resistance, and its tendency not to stretch. Dacron jib sails can be expected to last many years with minimal attention and few failures.


Nylon is another common sail material. Like polyester, nylon is an inexpensive and robust synthetic material that's great for sailmaking. Nylon is extremely lightweight, making it ideal for spinnakers. However, nylon stretches too easily for some applications, and it's prone to damage by some chemicals.

Kevlar Jib Sails

Kevlar is a relatively common sail material. It's considered a 'premium' fabric due to its cost and spectacular qualities. Kevlar has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and resists stretching better than Nylon or Polyester. Due to its high cost, Kevlar sails are usually only found on racing sailboats and luxury yachts.

Parts of the Jib

The jib on a sailboat has many parts and mounting points, and it's important to understand where they are, what they do, and what they're called. The parts of the jib are similar to the mainsail, and you'll likely recognize them easily.


The foot is the horizontal section that runs across the base of the sail. It's usually a strip of reinforced sail material which keeps it from fraying. Think of the foot as the bottom of the jib.


The clew is the bottom corner of the jib, and it's located on the aft section of the foot. It usually contains a grommet. Since the jib is a triangular sail, the clew is the corner of its base 90-degree angle.


The leech is the long straight section of the jib that runs parallel with the mast. The leech runs from the clew at the foot of the sail to the very top.

Note that the orientation of the leech on the jib follows the direction of the mainsail and not the shape. In both cases, the leech is located on the aft part of the canvas.


The head of the jib is located at the very top and usually forms the smallest angle of this triangular sail. The head also contains a grommet similar to the clew.


Like the mainsail, the luff is located on the forward part of the jib. The luff is the longest section of the sail, stretching from the tip of the sail to the very bottom and forward end.


The tack is located directly forward of the clew on the opposite (forward) end of the foot. The tack, like the clew and the head, has provisions for rigging.

Jib Booms

Traditionally, headsails like the jib are entirely unsupported by spars. However, many sailboat owners opt to install a jib boom to extend their bowsprits or improve off-wind sailing. A jib boom operates much like a traditional mainsail boom.

The jib boom mounts to the forward part of the bowsprit and pivots from its pedestal. A jib boom is useful when projecting the sail, but a spinnaker can typically be used to achieve the same result.

Some sailors caution against the use of jib booms, as they offer few benefits for windward sailing. Additionally, they take up space on the bow and pose the same hazards as a mainsail boom.

Jib vs. Genoa: What's the Difference?

The jib is often confused with the genoa: another common kind of headsail. The jib and the genoa look similar and perform the same function, but the genoa is larger.

A working jib typically makes up less than half of the total sail area, though it's sometimes around the 50% mark. The genoa, on the other hand, is usually equal to or larger than the mainsail.

The Genoa-type headsail is wider than the jib at the base. As a result, it doesn't fit between the tip of the bowsprit and the mast. Genoa sails stretch around the mast and extend far past it. This gives the genoa a distinct oversized look.

Reefing the Jib

Reefing is how you reduce the area of the sail. Reefing is necessary for windy conditions or when reducing speed. Jib reefing is a bit more complicated than mainsail reefing, as the jib doesn't always have a boom.

One way to reef the jib is to wind it around a roller furling starting with the luff. You can also reef the jib vertically using its reefing points and a few pieces of rope.

Roller Furlings

Roller furlings are an increasingly popular way to reef and stow headsails. Roller furling systems work for jibs and genoas and streamline the process significantly.

How a Roller Furling Works

A roller furling begins with a drum mounted at the base of the headstay and a swivel at the top, allowing the whole stay to rotate. The jib feeds through a groove in the headstay, which allows you to wind it up around the stay whenever necessary.

Roller furlings allow you to easily reduce sail area from the cockpit. Simply loosen the sheets and wind the furling using a line, and watch the jib shrink right in front of you. Roller furlings eliminate most haphazard trips across the deck to the bow and eliminate the need to hoist and lower the jib.

Electric Roller Furlings

Today there are numerous electrically-controlled roller furlings available. These devices are almost as easy to install as manual roller furlings, and they offer an additional level of convenience.

Electric roller furlings reduce deck clutter and decrease the labor required to sail your boat. However, electric furling systems are costlier than the majority of manual roller furling.

What is a Sailboat Jib?
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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