How to Store Sails for The Winter: The Ultimate Guide

According to the NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association), Nearly 1 in 10 homes own sailboats in the United States. Maintenance of the boat is important to prolong the life of the vessel and the sails. I was curious to know about the maintenance of the sails in particular, so I researched and came up with a guide to prolong the life of your boat sails.

How do you store sails for the winter? When storing sails for the winter, a dry temperate location is the best, but there are many other ways to take care of the costly equipment as well.

Reading and researching sailboats made me very curious to know how seasoned veterans choose to maintain their investment. After all, a sailboat is no small purchase, and maintenance is very important to ensure the longevity of your investment. The number one maintenance involves the sails of the boat. When researching, I went directly to the source… you guessed it, sailors! Below you will find a list of the top methods used by these sea legs to store their sails.

Containers to Store Your Sails

When removing the sails from your boat, you need to have a safe place to store the sails that will keep them safe for the next sailing season. The top method mentioned by veterans was using a sail bag or box. Both will help keep the sails compact, protected, and easily stored.

1. Sail bag

This is by far the most simplistic way to store your sails. Sail bags are typically made of a durable nylon material and have a drawstring, much like a sleeping bag storage option.

Most sail bags also have a handle on the bottom or side of the bag. This handle not only makes it easy to move from one location to the next, but it also provides a way to attach it to your boat, if necessary. A sail bag is the most economical option for storage and also the most easily placed in limited space.

2. Dock Box

this is a very secure method of storing your sails, but it is much more costly and space prohibitive. This method involves the use of a box that is typically made of fiberglass.

The positive thing about this method is that it can also be used on the boat. There is a locking mechanism on most boxes, which provides an added level of security. This box is air and watertight, so no excess moisture or pests will impact the sail during storage.

The downside to this storage compartment will be the availability of space in which to place the compartment. It is rather large and not as compact as a sail bag.

Hanging Them Up

If you are fortunate enough to have a large, protected, and temperate area in your home or a building, you can go with the method of hanging your sails. The easiest way to do this is to attach a 2×4 to the wall and hang the luff from it. This will allow the sail to hang freely and will prevent any wrinkles from forming in the fabric. Again, this is only if you have the gift of extra space with a moderated temperature.

Leave The Sails on The Boat

This is not the favored method of storing sails, however there are many sailors that prefer to keep the sails with the boat for various reasons. When storing the sails on the boat, you need to make sure you are protecting the sails from the elements the best you can. It is also important that the sails stay secure. The last think you want to do is set yourself up for costly sail repairs in the spring.

Some top sailors have never had a problem leaving their sails on the boat. They recommend keeping them in the main saloon with a dehumidifier running to lower the humidity below 50%. Also making sure the port and hatches are closed tightly with vents sealed. These steps will ensure no mildew.

Preparing Your Sails for Storage

When storing sails for the winter, it is critical that you follow the proper protocol for preparing the sails. If you skip steps or speed through the process, you will be paying a lot of money to repair the sails or even replace them in the spring.

The following steps were recommended by every veteran sailor I polled:

  1. Wash the sails to remove the salt and debris that built up over the sailing season. Remember, you may not be able to physically see or feel a build up on the sails, but trust me, it’s there. If you don’t get the sails clean before storing, the debris can start to break down the fabric the sails are made of.
  2. Allow the sails to dry completely before storing them. DO NOT SKIP this step. If you don’t allow the sails to fully dry, you are providing the perfect setting for mold and mildew to begin growing. Mold and mildew won’t impact the strength or usability of the sail, but they will definitely impact the appearance.
  3. Flake the sail. This is the process of accordion folding the sail in on itself before rolling. Some sailors swear by this step while others say it isn’t completely necessary.
  4. Roll or fold the sails. Rolling the sails will ensure limited creases to the material and it is often recommended by many sailors. The more unconventional way of storing the sails is by lightly folding them to place them into their storage container.
  5. Place the sails into an appropriately sized bag or dock box for the winter. When placing the sails into their storage location, you may wish to include a few moth balls to keep pests away.

Where Should I Store My Sails?

When choosing a storage location for your sails, the number one issue will be the space you have to use. If you are blessed with a large temperate area for storage, you may be able to use the option of hanging your sails. Not only is this much easier, you eliminate the risk of mold and mildew building up or pests making a home in the sails.

Let’s face it, not everyone has the amount of space needed to hang sails for storage. If you are not in the group that can hang their sails, you are going to be using either a dock box or specially made sail storage bag.

Once you have the sail loaded into the proper storage vessel, you must find a safe and temperate place to store the sail. Typically this location will be in a basement or storage facility with a climate controlled environment. Some even choose to store their sails inside their temperature controlled boat.

Why Does the Temperature Matter?

When storing sails, the temperature is critical to maintain the condition of the sails and to help avoid costly repairs or the necessity of replacement. The absolute best storage condition is in a climate-controlled atmosphere. Local boat storage facilities often offer this service for a nominal fee if you don’t have a proper location at home.

The temperature in the location you choose your sails must be kept at a constant without humidity. When a sail is housed in a location with humidity, it is an invitation for mold and mildew to begin breeding. The most controlled atmosphere in a house is typically a basement. If your basement is prone to high humidity levels, you may need to enlist the help of a dehumidifier.

Another thing to consider when storing your sails in the basement is the location of water pipes. Hot water pipes in particular. There have been instances when sails have been stained yellow because they were in close proximity to a hot water pipe. Staining is very difficult to remove from sails, so you want to be sure to avoid this also.

Can I Lay the Sails on a Shelf?

You can easily store nylon sail bags on shelves in a climate-controlled environment, but there are some rules to be aware of. Most are common sense, but I’ll go ahead a share them anyway. When laying your sail bags on the shelves, make sure there is nothing on top of them.

It may not seem like a big deal at the time, but the weight on top of the sail bags can cause irreparable damage to the sails. When laying the sail bags on the shelf, be sure to place mothballs close by to help detract any pests that may want to take up residence in your sails.

Can I Store Sails in Plastic Bins or Containers?

The short answer is yes, but there are some considerations that need to be made when you choose to use a plastic storage container, such as those you can purchase at a home improvement store. While great for all the things we keep in our home, they may not be the best for sails.

Remember, sails need to be kept in a temperate environment where they are sure to stay dry. If there is any moisture in the sails at all when you place them into the sealed plastic container, you are inviting mildew to begin growing in the dampness and warmth. This will be a mess that you won’t want to deal with come spring.

If you choose to store the sails in plastic containers, take special care to ensure the sails are completely dry and protected with mothballs. It would also probably be a good idea to leave the top of the container a little bit loose to encourage air flow into the bin.

How Can I Wash My Sails?

Sails are not the easiest items to wash, but it can be accomplished with a little elbow grease and time. If you are choosing to wash your own sails, be sure to use a very gentle detergent and do not scrub the sails with anything abrasive. Although they are made with material to withstand the weather that comes along with sailing, they are not formed to withstand aggressive scrubbing.

If you are choosing to clean the sails yourself, it would be advantageous to purchase a specific sail cleaner. Not only does this ensure you are not chemically damaging your sail, but it is likely going to much more effectively clean the sail than a homemade mixture.

When you have found a cleaning solution or made a homemade mixture that has been specifically recommended by a sailmaker, you are ready to clean the sails. Remember, you aren’t going to use anything abrasive to clean the sail. A soft brush is going to be your best friend for this process.

After washing the sails with your chosen cleaning solution, be sure to rinse the sails thoroughly with fresh water. The last thing you want to do is leave a chemical residue behind that can cause the integrity of the sail fabric to be compromised.

How do I Make Homemade Cleaning Solution?

A homemade solution can easily be made at home with mild detergent and water. Whenever you are using a homemade detergent, understand that you are taking a risk in cleaning your sails. The recommendation from sailors polled with this question was to use a mild detergent such as ivory or Oxyclean stain remover diluted in water. NEVER add bleach or other chemicals. They will damage your sails and you will be spending a lot of money to replace them.

Steps to wash sails.

  1. Either lay the sail flat on the ground and scrub with detergent or submerge the sail in a clean garbage can with the cleaning solution to soak for no longer than 24 hours.
  2. If you choose to soak the sail, be sure to lightly scrub the problem areas when removing it from the solution.
  3. Clean ALL of the solution off the sail by using clean, fresh water.
  4. Hang the sail to dry completely

What if I Have Mildew?

I’m not going to sugar coat it. Mildew is a BIG problem. If you happen to catch it early in the growing process, you have a better chance of eliminating it. If you don’t notice until you pull your sails out in the spring, well, good luck restoring them to their natural beauty. Although it will be a task to restore the sails to their vibrancy, you may be able to get close by following the steps below.

  1. Determine the type of fabric your sails are made of. There are some fabrics that will not allow you to treat them with harsh fungicides, such as bleach. If your sails are made from Kevlar or Nylon DO NOT USE any solution containing bleach.
  2. Once you have determined the type of fabric your sails are made from, prepare your solution. If you are looking at sails that allow you to use a bleach-based product, be sure to dilute it. Bleach is very powerful, and it will still work even after being diluted.
  3. After diluting the bleach product in a large plastic container, submerge the sail into the solution. You can safely leave the sail in the solution for up to 12 hours. (be aware of how this may affect colors on the sail as well).
  4. Remove the sail from the solution and gently scrub with a soft brush.
  5. Rinse all the bleach solution out of the sail and allow it to dry completely before using or storing.

What if My Sails Cannot Have Bleach on Them?

If you have sails that are made with nylon or Kevlar, you are going to want to look at a commercial mildew cleaner to help you. Here is a list of several that may be useful. As with any cleaner, be sure to read the instructions carefully before using.

  • Spray Nine – Heavy duty marine quality cleaner and degreaser. This spray is able to work quickly to help with the removal of mold and mildew.
  • MDR Mold Away– Biodegradable formulation without chlorine
  • Nautical Ease Boat Cleaner – non-toxic, biodegradable and non-flammable cleaner

There are many more cleaning products that you may be able to find, but these are three top rated products that can easily be found online. Once you have chosen the correct product for your needs, it is important that you follow the exact application instructions.

Failure to follow the instructions with any product is opening the gate for significant damage to occur to your property. You will follow the same steps with these products that you did with the chlorine containing products.

When you are done cleaning the mold and mildew from your sails, it is very important that they are fully rinsed, dried, and folded or rolled properly for storage.

What if I still Have Mildew After Cleaning My Sails?

Unfortunately, mildew is a very difficult thing to treat, and it is easily transferred to items it touches. If you have a sail with mildew, any other sail that comes in contact with the contaminated sail can easily begin growing.

If you have cleaned your sails to no avail and the mildew is still present, all is not lost just yet. You do have the option of sending the sails to an industrial cleaner. Do NOT rely on local cleaners that may say they can wash and care for sails. I am certain there are many people that could do a lovely job cleaning the sails, but there are also many that tout their abilities and end up ruining expensive sails.

Be sure to research the location you choose to send your sails to very carefully. The last thing you want is a set of ruined sails. The best thing to do would be to go to your local marina and ask for recommendations for a reputable sail cleaner.

When sending the sails away for cleaning, you must also be prepared to accept the fact that your sails may have a permanent mildew stain. Although frustrating and not pretty to look at, the strength of the sail is not being impacted. However, if you continually put cleaning solutions on the sails, you will weaken the fabric unnecessarily.

What Is the Cost to Have Someone Else Store My Sails?

The cost for a sail loft to store your sails varies by location, as well as the size of sails you are requesting to be stored. If you also store your boat with the facility, you may receive a better rate when it comes to sail storage.

When looking at the cost of sail storage, an important factor to account for is having yearly maintenance completed on your sails at the end of each season. You may need to spend upwards of $200, but your sails will be cleaned and repaired for the beginning of next season.

If the location that repairs the sails doesn’t offer storage, they will more than likely be able to prepare the sails for you to store at home.

What Are Unconventional Ways to Store Sails?

You have read many ways to store and protect your sails, and I hope you have found the best way for you to go about readying your sails for the winter. As I said earlier, I polled many veteran sailors for their tips and tricks when it comes to sail storage.

Let me tell you, the poll did not disappoint, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of the more unconventional/comical solutions they provided. Before you read these fabulous solutions to sail storage, please know some of these have not been attempted (or at least I hope they haven’t). Sit back and enjoy a few chuckles.

The Best Unconventional Ways to Store Your Sails for Winter

  1. DON’T…head to a tropical location and keep sailing. If you’re sailing, you don’t have a reason to worry about storing the sails.
  2. DON’T…become adept at winter sailing. Be sure to find yourself a nice hot drink and bundle up before enjoying a snow-filled sail in the winter.
  3. Prepare to send your sails up on the next space shuttle. Be sure to hang the sails out in the; moisture, mouse, and fly free environment of space. You won’t have anything to worry about.
  4. Wrap the sail in lettuce leaves and hang it in the pantry.
  5. Open a drink, take a sip, and just think.

As you can see, these unconventional methods are just that. Sometimes when looking at such a daunting task with so many different options, it’s nice to look at the humorous side as well.

This article was full of useful ideas to help you as you begin the task of storing your sails. However, we all know the best way to learn or gain information is from personal experience or experience shared by veteran sailors. If you are wondering where you may be able to find even more sail storage tips, you may want to check out these ideas.

  1. Join a boat club
    1. Americas Boating Club – this club is for all levels of sailing knowledge and offers several courses to teach you more about your boat (like how to store sails)
  2. Take boat classes -There is no shame in taking a boating class. There is a tremendous amount of information that you need to learn about your investment. The classes can range in topics from how to raise the sails to how to remove and store them and everything in between.
  3. Find someone that can mentor you as you begin your sailing hobby. This is a great person to ask questions about your boat too. They will more than likely be able to guide you along as you embrace being a sailor, which includes properly maintaining your equipment.
  4. Read books about sailing – they can be found for any topic, including sail care.
    1. The Complete Guide to Sail Care and Repair – This book takes you through everything you need to know about the sails on your boat…from setting them up, taking them down, cleaning, repairing, and storing them. Although it is a long book, it is sure to be full of helpful information.
    2. Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling, and Gear – just as this book states, it is all about everything you will need to know about owning and maintaining your sailboat. This would be a good starting point when looking at your boating hobby and determining the best method to care for your sails.

As you have read through this article, I hope you have found several things that can help as you prepare to maintain and store your sails for many years to come. Investing in sails for your boat is costly. You owe it to yourself to properly care for and store them in order to get a long life of use out of them. If you are still uncertain about how to care for or store your sails, it would be wise to contact a sail dealer or the location from which you purchased your boat.


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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