Why Are Sails White?


Since decades it has been a given with manufactures to produce sails that are white. However, it is not a deliberate practice to strictly have that color for sail cloths; it is simply the fiber and material that gives an end product, which is a white sail cloth.

Sail cloth is made up of polyester that is basically not a fabric but a fiber. When this fiber is spun, it appears white or slightly translucent in color. This is the reason why sails on most of the boats that we see around are white. Even though these sails can be dyed in different colors, they are usually white because lesser individuals get into the coloring process of sails because keeping it white is simply a cheaper and more durable option.

Sail cloths also come in other materials other than polyester, and they are not always white. Some sails are yellow, red, or black, and that is either because of the material they are of or because of their exposure to the sun. Some sail cloths also appear a different color due to the manufacturing process and treatments they go through before they are fully prepared.

Why Are Most Sails Made Out of Polyester?

The material used for sails has been polyester for decades, and polyester for sailcloth is also known as “Dacron.” There are several reasons why woven polyester is used:

  • It is tough and durable, which is necessary because boats are bound to face strong winds, and light cloth material would be vulnerable to them. Having a strong sail cloth would also help protect from rain, and the cloth would last longer than typical cloth materials.
  • It is not expensive as compared to other types of materials for cloth for sails.
  • Polyester is resistant to sun and UV damage, which is important for a boat that has to sail in the open during day and night for long hours.
  • Polyester shrinks when heated, and that makes the cloth made out of it more stable and durable. Not a lot of additive materials are required to make it sturdier.

Why Are White Sails Better?

Sails made of Dacron (polyester) are naturally white and are better than dyed sail cloths because the white color effectively reflects the UV rays and heat that can be damaging for the sails. Other reasons why white sail cloths are better include:

  • Sails use a lot of cloth so dyeing all of it can get pricey.
  • The performance of Dacron or other materials used for sails can be compromised if additional processing is done.
  • Salts from the sea and wind will be less visible on white sail cloths as compared to dyed ones.
  • The sun can easily fade the color of dyed sail cloths, so white sails would be better because they would be safer from UV degradation and will give a cleaner, non-patchy look.

It is just another step for industries to dye sail cloths, and given the reasons above; it is just another added cost that doesn’t lead to profits. Also, for the consumer, white sails would be a better option than dyed ones.

Why is Dyeing Polyester For Sails Not a Good Idea?

Even though white sails are the most common to see around, some people do have colored sails. However, it is often suggested that dyeing polyester is not a good option to choose because of these reasons:

  1. Dyeing cloth made out of polyester reduces its strength.
  2. Polyester is dyed using a special dye, and the ingredients used to make the dye are not good for the enviroment. They are pollutant chemicals and can harm the surroundings more than typical dyes.
  3. Polyester dyes cost more than usual dyes, and special machines are used to dye polyester.
  4. Polyester dyes require 30% higher temperatures than typical dyes in their manufacture.
  5. Polyester is more difficult to dye because of the tightly knit fibers in it.

Not All Sails Are White

Darcon (woven polyester) sail cloth can be dyed. It is done so by many for their boat sails. Usually, the types of sails that use white Dacron cloth are cruise sails. Some boats do not prefer Dacron sails because they are heavier. These include racing sails.

Black Racing Sails

Racing sails are made with the intent of being lightweight so that they can make the boat move faster and do not add to its weight. Therefore, they are made up of other materials that tend to give them less longevity but more performance.

Racing sails are made up of carbon or Kevlar fibers that give them a black color. Carbon is a black element, and when carbon fibers are used alone to weave sails, they get a deep black color. Sometimes carbon fibers are laminated with mylar or polyester layers, which give a duller black sail.

Red Weather Resistant Sails

Some sails are red or brownish-red in color. They are made up of cotton and treated with tar that is taken from pine trees. This tar gives the red color to the sails. The ropes of the ship or boats are also treated with the tar to make them weather resistant. Some sails are also made red to make them more visible in the water. These are usually storm sails.

Another reason why some sails turn red is because of the sun. Cotton sails are waxed for protection, and the wax turns red due to strong sunlight.

Some Advantages of Dyed Sails

It is true that white sail win over-dyed ones nay day, but some characteristics of dyed sails do have an edge over white sail cloths for instance:

  • White sails reflect sunlight that would mean constant sunglasses to view clearly. Dyed sail cloths go easy on the eyes.
  • Colored or dyed sails can also be useful when boats or cruises travel in a group, and visibility is important to stay close or together. Colored sails would eventually be easier to see from afar.

Different Sails Material and Their Attributes

Sails can be found in different materials, and manufacturers use these materials according to the requirements of sailors. These materials vary in degrees of toughness, durability, resistance to the sun, and ability to stretch.

Polyester

Polyester, also known as Dacron, as discussed, is the most commonly used sail material due to several reasons. Its strength and durability, along with good UV resistance makes it a common choice. It is also not expensive as compared to other sail materials.

PBO

PBO is now a discontinued sail material, but it had excellent strength and ability to stretch without tearing. It was discontinued because it lacked the ability to resist UV radiation and sun damage because of which it was not a long term option for sail makers.

Nylon

Nylon is also used to make sails. It is a cheap choice and it being light weight adds to its characteristics of making a good sail cloth. Nylon has good UV resistance and an ability to stretch. Being stretchable gives it good strength and useful when winds are strong. Nylon is, however, susceptible to damage when it gets into contact with chlorine; therefore, it should be carefully washed.

Aramid

Sail cloth made from aramid fibers is lightweight and also has high stretch. This makes it have a high breaking strength. Aramid sail cloths are used in racing sails because of their resistance to winds. They fall in a moderate category of pricing in sails.

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