What is a Spinnaker?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

The spinnaker is essentially a sail that is both lightweight in material and also rather large. Often, the sail is somewhat balloon shaped, and is easily stored away when not in use. The underlying purpose for the spinnaker is for making the most use of any downwind air currents when the vessel is running in that direction. Here is more about the function of the spinnaker, as well as the proper care and maintenance of the sail.

Spinnakers are common on sailboats and yachts.
Spinnakers are common on sailboats and yachts.

As an important component of the equipment included with most sailboats and yachts, the spinnaker is an example of a sail that can be attached in a very short period of time, with very little effort. Sails of this type are usually attached to the front of the main mast of the sailboat, or in the case of as yacht, may be attached to the front side of the vessel. While it is not uncommon for a spinnaker to be more or less permanently in use on any type of sailing vessel, it is also easily folded and kept in storage on the boat. As with all sails, it only takes a few moments to unfold the sale and secure it into place.

A spinnaker can be easily folded and kept in storage on the boat.
A spinnaker can be easily folded and kept in storage on the boat.

There is not a clear-cut answer about the origin of the name for sails of this type. One urban legend has it that the spinnaker received its name after being used for the first time on a yacht. The unusual design of the spinnaker inspired the name. In another legend, the movement generated by the spinnaker was the source of the appellation. Purportedly, a sailor, in seeing the spinnaker in use, remarked that the spinnaker had all the qualities to really make the boat spin. From here, the spin maker of a sail gradually became known as the spinnaker.

Whatever the origin of the name, there is no doubt that spinnakers are in common usage today. As with all lightweight sails, it is important to check the spinnaker from time to time for any small tears in the fabric, as well as to ensure the sail does not suffer from mildew and other forms of decay that could weaken the integrity of the sail itself. Proper storage will help to increase the life span of the spinnaker, as well as regular cleanings to remove airborne contaminants that could over time cause problems. With a steady regimen of care for the spinnaker, the sail has the capacity to last for a number of years.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Spinnakers are so much more colorful than the original ones! I love going out to the lake on a nice day and seeing all the sailboats with the different spinnakers attached! There are really some eye-popping colors and designs that make sailboats all the more beautiful and majestic!

I think they should have like a parade of sailboats one time a year to show off all the sailboat's and the unique spinnakers. We have an annual balloon glow in my city, and it is breath-taking, and I think this would be equally as breath-taking and beautiful.


There is nothing like spending time on our sail boat on a hot summer day. We try to take advantage of as many of those days as we can. Even though we get out there most weekends, it never seems to be enough.

I don't know as much about the boat as my husband does, but do know that we have an asymmetrical spinnaker. He keeps this stored in a spinnaker sock when it is not being used. I am getting better at helping him hoist the spinnaker and getting it back down on the boat.

I have been trying to familiarize myself with all the sailing terms and how to do everything. I don't know how confident I would feel doing it all myself, but certainly know a lot more about it than I did when we started sailing.


I have never been on a yacht, but have some friends who own a sailboat. We have been able to go sailing with them a few times and I always look forward to being on the water.

I know very little about sailing, so was fascinated watching my friend as he took care of everything.

He will use a spinnaker when he wants to really take advantage of a certain wind direction. Most of them are really colorful, and it can be quite a sight just seeing all the different spinnakers people have on their boats.

When he brought the spinnaker down, he stored it in a special spinnaker sleeve which made it very easy to store so it would be ready to use the next time he needed it.

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