When to reef a catamaran

Photo by Jon Fravel.

Many people learn to sail on a monohull and then charter a catamaran because of the additional room and stability they offer for a cruising vacation.

As catamarans do not heel over (until you are in big trouble!), a common question is when to reef?

On my 16 foot hobie cat, I used to watch the downwind aft hull. If it dipped in the water, we were going over. Luckily righting a 16 foot hobie cat is very easy and even fun at times. I never want to try that on a 38-46 foot catamaran!

When I ask the charter company each time I check out, they always tell me to reef when the wind gets to be 20 knots. (They never seem too worried about it either.) I don’t find that particularly helpful since I don’t have an easy way to measure the wind at any given time.

From Annapolis Catamaran Charters comes this more practical advice for when to reef on catamaran:

You are going very fast, say 10-12 knots. You can’t hear what people are saying because the wind is howling […] The horizon is not completely horizontal anymore. The jibsheets are very hard to winch in, even in low gear.

Also remember that on a catamaran, you want to reef or take down the main sail first. Unlike a monohull, it’s providing most of the power.

To see what it looks like when you are close to flipping a catamaran? Check out this guy’s story.

Any other advice on when to reef when sailing on a catamaran?

1 comment for “When to reef a catamaran

  1. January 10, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    We have a great little chart that came with out Mahe 36 which I have laminated to keep on the nav station or even up at the helm:
    (I’ve abbreviated U=sailing upwind, & close reaching, D=sailing downwind & broad reaching – speed ranges are in knots)

    Mainsail-full, Jib-full: U0-18, D0-15
    Mainsail-1 reef, Jib-1/2: U18-24, D15-20
    Mainsail-1 reef, Jib-1/3: U24-30, D20-25
    Mainsail-2 reef, Jib-1/4: U30-34, D25-30
    Mainsail-2 reef, Jib-1/10: D30-35
    Mainsail down, Jib-1/5 – or find a safe haven out of the winds if they’re higher.

    Obviously this is not for all boats but I find it a handy reminder to put that reef in!

    Great info in this blog – thanks for all the great tips and thanks for sharing.

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