Woorabinda Lake - Stirling South Australia

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SAIL MAKING - Choosing and Sourcing Sail Material  
by Ben Morris (last edited 21/07/2013)

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Choices of Sail Material

The type of material used by sails determines the effectiveness of the airfoil shape.  There is a forward force acting on the sail material  attempting to fold the material forward and potentially creasing the sail.  This is balanced by the pressure difference on either side of the sail forcing the material flat.  The problem is compounded where there is a significant roach to support as well.  These issues can be dealt with in three ways.

  • use a  material which is essentially rigid - too stiff and light winds will be unable to force it to the correct shape; too flexible and the folding issues arise

  • reduce the amount of roach in sail - may not be possible as design may define shape e.g.; Marblehead designed with significant roach, IOM define shape even more precisely.

  • use longer battens - even full length battens to support softer material and large roach - may not be legal e.g. Marblehead & IOM define length of batten but 10R yachts have no such restriction.

In addition the sail material should be as smooth as possible, easily worked and cuts easily, holds well with double-sided tape and has no permanent set or curl .  I have used a variety of materials and indicate their properties below.





Code Zero 1.7oz

Mylar film laminated to very light Dacron? cloth with diamond shaped carbon fibre reinforcing between,  Tough as old boots, does not crease readily strong and will not tear readily, sticks well especially Mylar side, fairly smooth, quite stiff but often has a slight curl - need to alternate panels

Radio Yacht Supplies Australia

Radio Sailing Shop

Code Zero 2.1oz, 2.3oz, 2.9oz

Probably overkill for strength - these have some Kevlar between laminations, surface is  not as smooth and not as rigid as 1.7oz

Radio Yacht Supplies Australia

Radio Sailing Shop

Ripstop polyester 0.7 oz

Very light  and difficult to manage but very good for a super light wind situation.  Not to be confused with the nylon (polyamide) Ripstop spinnaker material, unaffected by water and quite stretch resistant

Radio Yacht Supplies Australia

Radio Sailing Shop

Dacron sail cloth 3.3-4.4oz

Not much experience with this but dimensional stability and stretching can be an issue.  Seams probably need stitching to hold

Radio Yacht Supplies Australia

Radio Sailing Shop

Mylar drafting film 25, 35, 50 and 70 micron (1.2, 1.5, 2, 2.2 mil or thousandths of an inch)

This is probably the material of choice.  It is smooth strong, easily cut and stuck with little or no permanent curl - alternate panels anyway to cancel.  However, it creases easily so don't fold it, it can tear readily if a small cut is made on an edge so protect all edges with adhesive Mylar tape

Radio Yacht Supplies Australia
Radio Sailing Shop
Midwest Model Yachting from America
Floataboat in Melbourne.  See website then contact them for catalogue by e-mail

Mylar film from florist

tough and stable but quite difficult to work, very lightweight

florist or florist suppliers

White probably Mylar film described as tracing film

as per thicker Mylar film but is a laminate and can delaminate if resetting seams quite good really

premier art suppliers


There are probably other materials to try but that should get you started.