What is a Spinnaker Sail?

Introduction to Spinnakers

To answer the question of what is a spinnaker sail, here is a short intro to provide the bigger picture. Sailing downwind provides the sailor with several options of different sails to use so they can utilize the wind best, so we look to some of the different sails and their own uses, starting with Spinnaker sails.

Spinnaker sails are used a lot in sailing regattas so that when the boats are on a downwind leg of the race, a big balloon can be lofted to drag the boat along. If you are on a long sailing leg with light wind from behind, you may also decide to hoist a spinnaker to save using the engine and bring a locked in irons sailing trip springing back to life.

We’ll discuss the different spinnakers out there and their best uses and techniques on a sailing trip .


What is a spinnaker sail?

These are usually stored in the light weight bags in the bow cabin or some other locker onboard that can be eyed with distrust and occasionally fear. These sails are three times the size of an ordinary genoa, so they can be used to increase speed on downwind sailing journeys.

Types of spinnaker

There are 2 types of spinnaker sail. The first is an asymmetric spinnaker which is flown off the front of the boat from a bowsprit or fore stay with the genoa being stored down below. The second is a symmetric spinnaker that is used by connecting a bottom corner of this huge and mainly colourful sail by means of a pole that is connected to the mast.

Symmetric and Asymmetric Sails

The Asymmetric Spinnaker

Otherwise known as a cruising chute, the clew (the bottom corner a sheet is attached to) is higher than that of the ‘tack’ (the fixed bottom corner to the forestay or bowsprit on the centreline of the boat). These sails are slightly smaller than the symmetric spinnaker but easier to use as you don’t need 2 or 3 trained crew to operate them well or bring them down. Although it does mean quite a few gybes, speed can be kept up by sailing on a broad reach rather than dead downwind, If dead downwind sailing is wanted it maybe best to goosewing the main sail to the opposite side so that the bigger sail at the front isn’t blanketed by the main smaller main sail. Without using a pole this sail is more easily employed by single handed sailors.

The Symmetric Spinnaker

As the name refers, this sail is evenly shaped on both sides. It’s the biggest sail in the wardrobe and is the fastest for dead downwind sailing. However this does take a little experience to be totally comfortable sailing with, because if the wind gusts and you’re on a running sea, you could be in for a big roll with rails under the water line. Courses and education can be found on the RYA website before jumping into spinnaker sailing. The setting up of the symmetric spinnaker requires more on flat water preferably. There are 6 sheets needed to fly this sail which is a lot of work and setting up. Whilst hoisting this sail, care must have been taken in the previous packing of the sail so that it comes out nicely and not twisted around the forestay. Flying a sail of this size and potential power can make a big deal of difference to what you thought was going to be a relaxed downwind sailing trip.

Tips and Reminders for Spinnaker Sailing

  • make a choice based on how many crew there will be and their everyones levels of experience and training
  • check your required course alongside wind condition, because you may not need to gybe so much with a symmetric spinnaker
  • how fast do you actually need to be in comparison with how much hassle you would like onboard

This content is to give a basic introduction to 2 of the biggest sails that we see decorate the seas on light wind days.

To discuss anything further on this topic or subject, or to find out if the local conditions here in Barcelona will be suitable for spinnaker sailing whilst you’re here, simply drop us a note.


What is a Spinnaker Sail