Jib Downhaul Project


The purpose of a jib downhaul line is to quickly douse a hanked on jib from the safety of the cockpit. It's an excellent safety and convenience feature when sailing single-handed, especially in rough weather.

There are several designs in use but the really ingenious one permits you to easily change the jib without fiddling with the line by having to run back to the cockpit. The downhaul line is usually fastened to the head of the jib, then leads down along the luff through a turning block mounted at the tack and finally lead aft along the deck where it terminates in the cockpit. Tie it some place where you can easily find it!

CONSTRUCTION - I've seen several designs and tried some of them. Each design works well for the boat they were on. What follows is probably the simplest to construct and use for an SJ23. The beauty of this system is that because it is always in place over the forestay it is basically bullet proof.

  1. 1.Install a 1" diameter swivel block at the TACK fitting, just inside the forestay. Make sure it's fastened in-line with the luff of the jib. Use a swivel block so it's self-aligning. This just might be one of those applications where a ball bearing block instead of a bushing block is the best to use. You want the lowest possible internal resistance because the wind strain on a jib can be tremendous, even if you release the sheet. This block can also be installed in front of the forestay if you have the anchor roller as described in Tech Tip B26.

  2. 2.Use 3/16" nylon line (the line should be soft on the hands and the sail cloth) and tie the line to a 1" diameter stainless steel ring as shown at right. Lift the ring and hank the jib on under it. The ring at right has some scour marks on the inside.

    There are some pros and cons of each method. Slipping the line into the top piston hank is sometimes forgotten which you usually discover after the wind pipes up. Hanking on the jib under the ring is usually never forgotten as the ring is a permanent reminder. 

    If you tie the downhaul line to the halyard then it will always be attached and it becomes one less thing to do. If the halyard breaks free of the jib then it's a simple matter to pull the downhaul line to retrieve the halyard.

  3. 3.Feed the free end of the downhaul line through the swivel block and direct it back to the cockpit, outside the stanchions and inside the toe rail, on the same side as your jib halyards. If all jib control lines are located in the same place in the cockpit you can stand in one place in the cockpit to work a sail without having to flip to the other side of the cockpit for an adjustment. Follow this rule for your mainsail control lines as well. You must look cool when handling the boat!

  4. 4.Back in the cockpit, tie the free end of the line to the toe rail to keep it secure. You want to be able to find it in the dark. Don't leave too much slack because it simply clutters up an already restricted busy area. If you tie it to the back end of the toe rail the line runs along the full length of the cockpit and a crew can find it regardless of where they are in the cockpit.

HOISTING THE JIB - Lift the ring and hank the jib to the forestay. If your down haul line has a small loop tied in the end, then slip the loop inside the top piston hank of the jib as you hank it to the forestay. Hoist the jib to the masthead, ensuring that the cockpit end of the downhaul line is free of snarls. You could let the down haul line slip through your hand to prevent a snag! With the jib hoisted, the downhaul line should be slightly loose. If the line interferes with the luff tell-tales, guide it through a lower hank or one that is forward of each telltale. If you want to make this job easy on yourself, mark those piston hanks with a marker pen.  This way you won't have to figure out which hank to include each time you attach the jib. After all, you have to look cool doing this job. If you have self tailing winches, hoisting the jib is much easier.

DOWSING THE JIB - To douse or lower the jib, point the boat upwind so the clew is over the deck.  Snug up the sheet, release the halyard and pull the downhaul line in from the cockpit. Now your jib should drop in a neat bundle on the foredeck ready for bagging or temporary securing along the lifeline.

One important trick (mentioned above) is to tie a loop in the line about 6" below the halyard shackle and attach the loop to the top hank.  This way when you pull the jib down it pulls on the top hank, not on the head board which can twist the top hank which will bind it on the forestay.

STORING THE JIB - Now that you've successfully doused the jib and reduced the boat drive you still have the problem of a jib covering the foredeck. Dacron lying on a deck can be very slippery, dry or wet. One errant step on the sail and you could be seeing Davy Jones's proverbial locker, not to mention damaging the sail. This is not a big deal in light weather, but in heavy weather you need all the secure footing you can get. To quickly clear the deck and keep the jib in place, snap a bungee cord around it to the lifeline. The deck is now clear for you to do whatever. Still looking cool.

In the photo above, the white diagonal lines are 3/16" nylon tied between the deck and the lifelines with a reef knot. They prevent a sail or a dog from going overboard. The orange lines are the 3/16" bungee cord that secures the jib against the lifeline. No, it won't hold a dog in place! The bungee cords are tied to the toe rail and the vinyl hook is clipped over the life line for easy location. The use of a vinyl hook in the middle of the bungee cord helps to protect the sail. They are available at a camping goods store or chandlery. The bungee cords need not be tight, snug is sufficient. The sail shown above is a 110% jib.

ANCHORING CONSIDERATIONS - The one last thing I might suggest is to snap a loose bungee cord around the forward end of the jib and the top of the pulpit to keep the jib up off the deck for anchor work. The foredeck of  most sailboats are pretty tight with a loose jib lying there and it can be pretty hairy securing mooring lines if the bow is bouncing up as well.

Another neat jib downhaul system is found here.

Good downhaul discussion here.


Jib Downhaul and Deck Storage

This idea was borrowed from the J23 tips web site.  You can see the original page (and other great tips) here.