How is a Mast Attached to a Sailboat?


Sailing is an adventurous lifestyle, sport, and hobby for many people. It is very technical and involves a skill set that is unlike other types of boating. Sailing styles and sailboat manufacturing have evolved over the last few decades to bring sailing into the modern world. As many people know, the main distinction of a sailboat is its large mast and sail.

A mast is attached to a sailboat by crane. Using a crane to attach a sailboat mast is the easiest and safest process a sailor can use. A sailboat mast can also be attached or removed with the use of a pulley system and the help of another sailboat when a crane is not available. Local sailing clubs usually have cranes, and some marinas have public cranes available for any boat in the marina.

Sailing is a very complex endeavor. But you do not need to be a professional sailor to enjoy your sailboat and explore the open water. Many people are successful in hoisting their mast with a few friends, and marinas usually have a lot of helpful hands willing to share advice. This article explains the different ways to rig your sailboat’s mast to get you out in the water in no time!

What Holds Up the Mast on a Sailboat?

A sailboat mast can be attached and held up in different ways. Two types of masts can be rigged on a sailboat: a keel-stepped mast and a deck-stepped mast. Both types of masts have advantages and disadvantages. Mast type is an important consideration to make when you are purchasing or outfitting your sailboat.

The following chart quickly compares keel-stepped and deck-stepped masts:

(Source: Mast Steps)

Keel-Stepped Masts

Keel stepped masts are the classic mast design for sailboats. Unfortunately, they can cause deck rot and take up lots of cabin space.

Some things to know about a keel-stepped mast are:

  • Classic design
  • Attachment at the keel of the boat
  • Distributes forces evenly across the boat
  • Can cause deck rot

Deck-Stepped Masts

Deck stepped masts are a modern creation that allows for increased cabin space. However, they can cause the deck to sink if not cared for properly. They are sometimes favored over keel- stepped masts because they can be lowered more easily.

Some things to know about a deck-stepped mast are:

  • Are attached at boat’s deck
  • More cabin space because of the compression post
  • Can cause a deck to sink

Masthead Rigging vs. Fractional Rigging

There are two standard types of rigging for your mast: masthead rigging and fractional rigging. No matter the type of mast, you will rig it depending on the conditions you generally sail in. As a sailor, you must decide what type of boat you want to sail.

Masthead and fractional rigs differ in one significant way:

  • Masthead – Forestay connects the top of the mast to the cabin hull
  • Fractional – Forestay is attached about 75% up the mast and to the cabin hull

As boat racing continues to transform the sailing industry, the traditional attachment sites for masthead and fractional riggings have changed. Today, rigging can be adapted based on a sailor’s needs.

The following chart compares the features of masthead and fractional rigging:

Based on this quick comparison, masthead rigs have more stays than the fractional rig. The additional stays on a masthead allow for easier handling by the sailor. The fractional rig has less control over the amount of tension because it has fewer stays.

(Source: Modern Rigs 101)

How to Attach a Mast Without a Crane

As mentioned previously, there are other ways sailors have rigged their masts when there is no crane available. (However, these are not recommended.) Using a crane is the easiest, most straightforward way to raise a mast on a sailboat.

Even though you can attach a mast without a crane, it can be more dangerous and requires more deckhands. Therefore, it is NOT the optimal way to raise your mast.

A Step-by-Step Guide for Small Boats

If your mast is of manageable size and weight, a crane may not be required to rig your mast.

If you have a small boat, follow these steps to rig your mast without a crane:

  1. Gather a group of trusted friends with good communication skills.
  2. Assign each person a role, so no misunderstandings occur.
  3. After roles have been assigned, lift the mast into place.
  4. Once in place, attach your mast using your shrouds and stays.
  5. Get your boat on the water and raise your sails!

(Source: How to Step a Mast)

A Step-by-Step Guide for Larger Boats

For larger boats, attaching a mast without a crane is much trickier.

If you’re attempting to rig a mast on a larger boat without a crane, follow these steps:

  1. Gather a group of knowledgeable friends and another sailboat.
  2. Using the sailboat’s riggings and additional lines, set up a pulley system.
  3. Once your pulley system is in place, begin hoisting your mast.
  4. Slow and steady is important here. Make sure your group is communicating.
  5. Continue raising the mast until you and your friends can maneuver it into place on the deck.
  6. Once the mast is in place, secure all your riggings.
  7. Check your lines, head out on the water, and hoist your sails.

(Source: How to Raise a Mast Without a Crane)

Sailboat Mast Materials

Masts can be made out of many different materials. The material chosen depends on the manufacturer’s or owner’s preference.

There are three different types of materials that are used by ship makers:

  • Wood – Your classic mast material; early ships were made only out of wood; easily rots.
  • Aluminum – Newer material; most commonly used today; customization is expensive.
  • Composite – AKA carbon fiber; newest material to market; lightweight; very costly.

Though there are upsides and downsides to all three types of mast material, the material you use will depend on the type of adventuring you will be doing with your boat.

(Source: Mast Materials)

Why is the Mast on a Sailboat Important?

The mast is an integral part of a sailboat. It is used to raise the sail on the boat. Boats can have multiple masts and multiple sails. Usually, the larger the boat, the more sails it requires to move at high speeds through the water.

The average sailboat will have a mainsail. The mainsail consists of one large canvas sail. It is the main source of power for the craft. In addition to the mainsail, there is the jib. The jib is a fixed sail; it does not move from its rigging points. This sail helps harness additional power. (Source:
How Sailboats Work)

The stays on a sailboat can also maximize the sail efficiency and allow for ease of travel through the water. A stay is a wire, rope, or rod that supports the masts and sails. Sailboats can have multiple stays; the most common stays are the forestay and backstay. Many sailors have more stays, depending on how they decide to rig their boat. (Source: Parts of a Sailboat)

In Conclusion

Attaching a mast can be a challenging task, but with the right knowledge and help from your friends, it can be done in a day. The type of mast you have will largely impact how your mast is attached and how you will rig your mast. Using a crane for attachment is, by far, the simplest way to attach a mast.

Each mast type can be used recreationally or competitively, with most of the specifications customizable to your exact needs. The customization of the sailing experience lends to the sense of adventure and wonder you find on the open water. Attach your mast and get sailing!

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