There are many reasons to have a roller furling system for your headsail and convenience is the big one. Sometimes referred to as a jib reefing system the ability to set the sail and furl it away and without having to leave the cockpit is huge. Storage is another, you do not have to put the sail in a locker, saving space. To leave the sail on the furler year round you should make sure the sail has a UV cover.
Whatever your reason for wanting a roller furler this article attempts to help your decision, by presenting each furler and their features.
We take a look at some of the most popular manufacturers of reefing systems and roller furling equipment, such as Harken, ProFurl, Schaefer, Reckmann etc.
We looked around and there is not much in the way of Roller Furler reviews, so we have attempt to give you an idea of how each one is different, what you should look for when choosing a furler and a price comparison.
Apart from issues in deciding which furler unit you need, we also discuss other aspects. Roller furlers are like any piece of mechanical equipment, they do come with issues that should be addressed. Then you know that its going to work, and not jam up when you least need it to. Also when using roller furling there are some considerations for your sail to get the best shape and life out of it.
Foil Furlers or Rope Luff Furlers
There are two types of furling system, solid foil luff or soft luff.
Most traditional furlers use solid extrusions for the luff of the sail. The Foil sections can be aluminum, carbon or plastic. Simply pull the line on the furling drum and the foil turns. The sail attached to the foil is wrapped around the foil as it turns and is wrapped evenly from top to bottom.
Other versions of the furler are the Code Zero furler or Soft Luff Furler and the Top down furler. The advantage of the these rop luff systems is that they do not need Rigid Foils but a Anti-torsion rope so the whole furler can be lowered down to the deck while under way. Soft Luff furlers have two distinct types;
The Code Zero Furler is for a Code Zero or Gennaker
The code zero is a cross between a Genoa and asymmetrical spinnaker. The Code Zero has a rope luff built into the sail, which is a torsion rope. This torsion (anti twist) rope transmits the furling of the lower drum to the top swivel. As the furling drum turns the top swivel turns almost at the same time. The Code Zero requires very high luff tension. You need to work with the sailmaker to get the torsion rope built into the luff.
The Top Down furler
is intended for Asymmetrical spinnakers. The reason for the name is the furling process. Because the sail is only attached to the top furler, (floats loosely on the bottom drum) it is only this part which gets wrapped when the furler line is pulled. As the furler turns, more and more of the sail gets wrapped around the rope luff and does so from the top down, hence the term, “Top Down furler”. This furler works well for spinnakers and sails that are set with a loose luff. The top down furler is an alternative to the Snuffer. No modification to the spinnaker is needed.
Another difference comparing a continuous line furler to a conventional drum; is a longer luff is available. Because the drum only needs one wrap of line the drum can be lower to the deck. Facnor help us understand this with this diagram right.
Solid Foil Furlers
For cruisers a Jib or Genoa works best with the solid luff extrusion furler, which we are discussing below.
Things to look for when choosing a Solid Foil Furler system
Find out what type what arrangement and how many bearings there are with a system. Torlon is preferred Schaefer, Hood, and Harken use Torlon bearings.
Furlex Rondal and Reckmann use stainless steel bearings. Profurl uses carbon steel bearings which are housed in a lip seal. The issue here is if the seal gets worn through or damaged corrosion will occur.
There are various shapes of extrusion round or airfoil. Round is better for furling as it rolls the sail evenly. Airfoil or oval shapes are best for racing.
Airfoils sections are usually lighter with thin wall. Round sections like Schaefer are very thick walled and heavy. You also have twin groove for racing.
Some are plastic lined, others use screws or rivets. Its important that the extrusions do not come apart, as furlers are subjected to years of rattling which can undo even well seated screws. Screwed systems need to use Locktite to stop them coming out.
Harken MkIV, Schaefer and Profurl use your existing headstay so you can use them with a turnbuckle or not. Harken MKIII uses a turnbuckle body built into the furler drum and so some modification is necessary. With Furlex you get a new headstay w choice of (turnbuckle) rigging screw or not.
Independent tack swivel
A fully rotating tack swivel allows the sail to Furl from the middle first, which results in taking shape out of the sail. Furled sails tend to be quite baggy and so flattening helps. See also the section on sail shapes below.
Furlex has what they call turn free. This means the tack swivel turns almost 1 turn and then stops. The reason for this is the Hood Patent on the fully swiveling tack.
larger drum diameters mean more leverage which reduces the load on the furling line. Harken MKIV has a better drum diameter to foil size than the MKIII which is one of its improvements.
Materials used include, injection molded plastic, cast aluminum, machined aluminum, investment cast Stainless Steel. Machined aluminum is best say for the halyard swivel.
Its very important to have toggles at top and bottom end of extrusion to allow for the sag of the headstay.
Things to look for when installing a Solid foil Furler system
For a jib furling system to work properly you, need the top swivel to turn with the foils when you pull on the furling line. If the swivel does not turn then the foils pull the halyard around with them. This is common problem which is called halyard wrap.
To prevent this you should have a 7-10 degree angle between the jib halyard and the headstay. You can see in the bottom picture this angle due to a halyard restrainer installed between the top swivel and the jib halyard sheaves.
Jib Halyard Restrainers are designed to be attached to the Mast under the Jib (or Staysail) Halyard exit to increase Halyard Pullback Angle, and stop the Halyard from wrapping around the Furling System when furling. In this case we are looking at Harkens restrainer. There are also models available from Schaefer.
Furler Cost Comparison
Quality V Cost
Comparing all furlers and cost is difficult if not impossible because there are so many contributing factors. We decided to pick a size of boat, headstay size and pin diameter for our comparison. This way we compare apples to apples, however even with this approach we get into size overlaps. For example we could have chosen the Schaefer 3100 or the 2100, for the 40 foot yacht size we picked. We chose the 2100 but this means we need an extension kit to get the 55ft headstay length we need for our imaginary 40 footer.
For this Quality/Cost comparison we chose a typical 40 foot modern cruising sailboat with 55 f00t (17m) by 3/8 inch wire head stay and 5/8inch pin. This way we can compare apples to apples. Pick another size of boat you will get a different result as each has its own market.
Prices shown are retail for comparison only and you can get substantial discounts on these figures.
Check to see in each package what comes with the furler as you may have to get toggles or extrusion extension kits if the standard length is not long enough, for your headstay.
There are many more furler types that we have not covered here however we included the most popular brands.
|High end||not applicable for 40ft||n/a|
|Mid to high||$3,600|
Resources tips & roller furling maintenance
If you set it up your furling system right in the beginning it will provide years of uninterrupted use. Factors to consider are; halyard wrap, maintaining bearings, tack swivel, check furling line, tighten and locktite screws.
Factors to consider in roller furler setup.
Make sure furler line has as little friction and is in a straight a line as possible. Any friction will make it harder to start the furling process. If line is deflected make sure those deflector blocks are roller bearing or offer as little resistance as possible. Its still best to have a straight line, more than convenience of position.
Headstay tension is important, if you have a floppy headstay its not conducive to furling. The headstay needs to be fairly tight, not slopping around.
If you are leaving your boat and a gale/storm is forecast while you boat is at its mooring, its best to drop the sail or tie a line around the furled sail. This is a precaution incase the furler line comes un-cleated, it happens, you probably have seen shredded jibs unfurled on a boat that has not been maintained in a while.
If you have a sail furled on the headstay for a long time, even years its important to have some sort of UV protection. Sail material degrades like anything else and since its your engine you need to make sure its structurally OK. One common way to protect the sail is with a UV cover that is added onto the exposed leech part of the sail when furled. This cover runs the whole length of the leech normally on one side and is about 2-3ft wide. Make sure that when the sail is furled there is no exposed sail cloth. Another is to get a jib sock which can be hoisted over the sail with a zipper closure. These can be gotten through your sail maker canvas maker or here
The other thing to consider is a foam or rope luff. I do not like these due to the esthetics. However they do help flatten the sail which allows you to partially furl the sail and still have a sail that works.
Installing a roller furler is often best handled by working with your local rigger, as they’ll get the measurements right, inspect the old system for improvements and can handle the whole installation.
However installing a roller furler can be done by any that possess some mechanical know how. Each Roller Furler comes with good instructions and if you take your time a proper installation can be achieved.
It is worth inspecting the headstay as this is the time to replace it if it needs to be.
Other sail handling systems
Main sail Furling and Reefing systems
Roller furling systems (headsails)