Everything You Need To Know About Sailboat Jibs

Everything You Need To Know About Sailboat Jibs

If you’re considering entering the world of sailing or are a beginner at having your own boat, then there are several terms you will need to know and understand to get the most out of your new pastime.

One of these terms that you may have heard, especially concerning sailboats, is a jib. But what is a jib?

A jib is a type of sail that is found on sailboats (see also ‘Two-Mast Sailboat Types‘) and understanding what they are and what they do is very important. That’s why we’ve taken the time to write this article to tell you everything you need to know about sailboat jibs. 

Let’s get started!

What Is A Sailboat Jib?

A sailboat job is a headsail that is found on sailboats. It’s a triangular sail that is found forward of your mast. It’s typically not as large and has less of a sail area than your mainsail but it is still important to sailing.

Most sailboats that have a single mast will usually have a jib and you’ll find this between the bow and the mast. Jibs are fixed on a stay, which can be a wire, rod (see also ‘Rod (Unit Of Measurement) Length Compared To Fishing Rod‘), or rope, and they run forward from the mast to the deck or bowsprit. 

A jib is just one of many different types of headsails. 

Do Sailboats Need A Jib?

You might be asking yourself that as your sailboat has a mainsail, does it even need a jib? This is a common question asked by many sailors, especially on windy days when the mainsail can get a good force behind it.

The answer is that you probably don’t need the jib to sail and your sailboat will be able to sail without it. However, if you don’t hoist the jib, you will reduce the amount of your sail area by up to 50 percent.

We would recommend that you hoist the jib if you feel you need to. If it’s a windy day and you have the wind at your back, then the mainsail may be all you need and you can leave the jib.

On typical days that have average amounts of wind, most sailors will choose to hoist both the mainsail and the jib and will reef them whenever it is deemed necessary.

We consider this to be the best option and as you become more experienced with sailing, you will find deciding when and where to hoist the jib will become an easier decision to make.

Trimming The Jib

Before we look at trimming the jib, let’s take a little time to define what we mean.

What Is Trimming In Sailing?

When we talk about trimming a jib, or any other sail, we are referring to the process by which sails are controlled.

Sails have lines known as “sheets” attached to them, and when we adjust the tension of these lines to move the sail, this is known as trimming. 

How To Trim A Jib

The jib on a sailboat is usually controlled by using two jib sheets that are positioned on either side of the mast. Using two separate sheets makes moving and manipulating the jib easier as you can adjust it from either side.

If there was only one sheet, you would need to constantly reposition the sheet to the appropriate side.

When the wind is to your port side, you will manipulate your jib by adjusting the tension of the starboard side sheet and vice versa. When you adjust the starboard jib sheet, remember to secure it on the winch and free the port side jib sheet to get the best movement.

Is It Possible For A Sailboat To Have Multiple Jib Sails?

Yes, it’s perfectly possible for a sailboat to have more than one jib sail. However, remember that not all headsails are jibs, so some sailboats might have a jib and other types of headsails as well.

Although multiple jibs aren’t unheard of, it’s more likely that an American sailboat will only have one. The most popular cruising sailboat in the States is the single-mast sloop and these typically only have one jib. 

Next time you’re at a harbor or on the waves and have the opportunity to see other sailboats, it’s more likely that the sailboats around you will only have one jib.

What Material Are Jib Sails Made From?

What Material Are Jib Sails Made From?

Historically, jib sails were made of organic materials that had a canvas feel to them, such as cotton.

Traditionally, they’ve been made from materials such as cotton, hemp, and other plant material that have similar properties. A mix of these materials was usually made to get the best mix of strength and durability. 

In modern times, synthetic fibers and fabrics have become more common and have largely replaced the more traditional canvas materials.

This is largely because synthetic fibers have several advantages over their organic counterparts. They’re often lighter and stronger, for example, as well as being more durable and able to resist water.

Let’s look at some of the most popular materials used for jib sails.


This is one of the most common materials used for sails. Most modern jib sails are made from polyester that is woven into a blend with other synthetic materials.

The most common type of polyester used in sails is Dacron and this is because it has many inherent properties that make it perfect for sailing.

Dacron doesn’t stretch, has excellent UV resistance, and is also cheap to manufacture, making it a low-cost option.

Dacron sails have become popular because they will last for several years without the need for much maintenance, they’re reliable, and they’re cost-effective.


This is another synthetic material that is commonly used for sails. It shares many characteristics with polyester as it is also inexpensive and durable.

It’s more lightweight than polyester and is ideal for sailboats such as spinnakers that work best with lighter sails.

Nylon isn’t perfect, however, and it can be too stretchy for some sail applications. It also reacts to and can be damaged by certain chemicals, so some people prefer to avoid nylon sails. 


Kevlar is an extremely strong and heat-resistant synthetic fiber that has a wide application of uses beyond sailing. Its tightly woven structure means that it is commonly used for personal armor, as well as firefighter uniforms and motorcycle safety clothing. 

When comparing the strength-to-weight ratio of Kevlar and steel, Kevlar is five times stronger. It resists stretching and won’t be damaged by even the worst conditions. 

All of this makes Kevlar a very expensive material compared to polyester and nylon. For many sailboats, this cost is prohibitive and Kevlar sails are usually only used on expensive ships such as luxury yachts and racing sailboats.

What Are The Parts Of A Jib?

What Are The Parts Of A Jib?

Now that we know more about what a jib is, what it’s used for, and what it’s made from, let’s look at a jib in closer detail.

Jibs have many different parts and mounting points, so if you’re going to sail with one it’s important that you know what they all are and what their purposes are.

Thankfully, many of these parts and terms are similar to what you’ll find on a mainsail so you may already know most of them. 


This is the horizontal section that you will see running across the base of the sail. You can usually identify it quite easily because it normally has a reinforced strip of material to prevent it from fraying or becoming damaged.

It’s an easy term to remember because the foot is at the bottom, just as it is with many other items and living things.


You will find the clew at the bottom of the jib. It’s at the aft (back) section of the sail’s foot and is also easy to identify. Most clews will have a metal grommet at the clew.

If you imagine a jib sail in your mind, you should have the image of a triangle that has a straight side and bottom that meet at a right angle. The clew is at this 90-degree angle.


If we keep the image of our triangular jib in our minds, the leech is the long straight section that is placed parallel to the mast. It begins at the clew, found at the 90-degree angle at the bottom, and runs to the very top of the sail.

The orientation of the leech on the jib always follows the direction of the mainsail. The leech is always on the aft part of the sail.


As the foot of the jib is at the bottom, it only follows that the head is at the top. The head of a jib sail is the very top of the triangle and is also usually the smallest of the three angles. This is also easy to identify as, like the clew, it will have a grommet.


We learned that the leech is the part of the jib that is parallel to the mast (see also our article on sailboat masts) and is the aft part of the sail. In contrast, the luff is the forward part of the sail and is also the longest edge.

It’s the slanted edge that runs from the head of the sail down to the forward end.


The clew is at the corner of the jib where the foot and leech meet. The tack is found directly forward of this and is the opposite corner of the foot, where the foot and luff meet. 

The tack, clew, and head, all have provisions so that the jib can be rigged.

Jib Booms

Usually, headsails like jibs are hoisted and rigged without being supported by wood, metal, or carbon poles. Known as spars, these poles are fixed and used to support the mainsail but many sailboats don’t use them for jibs.

Instead, sailboat owners decide to use jib booms to support their jib. These can be used to extend bowsprits or improve off-wind sailing. They’re similar to mainsail booms and work in very similar ways.

A jib boom is mounted to the forward part of a bowsprit and pivots from the pedestal. It can be used when projecting the sail but there are other methods for this too, such as using a spinnaker instead.

Not every sailor is a fan of jib booms, however. Some find that they don’t offer many benefits when it comes to windward sailing and choose to avoid them.

They can also take up additional room on the bow and come with the same hazards as a mainsail boom. Whether you choose to use a jib boom or not will be a matter of personal preference.

Final Thoughts

Jibs are a type of headsail that is often seen on sailboats. We hope this guide to jibs has answered all of your questions. Happy sailing!