Lazy Jacks, Topping Lift and Reefing all in one.

I have used Lazy Jacks on all my boats for forty years now and have had nothing but success.
I see online that many people dislike them, say they chafe the sail and that they don't work.
If you purchase Lazy Jack Kits, expect to join that group. I have yet to see a "store bought" kit that works correctly.
So if you are interested, read below and see how I make my own and use them very effectively.
NOTE: this is MY preferred method. Use this info to customize your own.


 It is my understanding that Lazy Jacks were originally used on Gaff rigged boats as a means of catching that heavy gaff on top of the mainsail when furling and or reefing. It was also used by commercial fishing boats as a means of bleeding off headway while the fisherman was tending his nets. A flick of the halyard and the sail/gaff were down and out of the way. The vessel slowly came to a stop. Extremely beneficial when sailing into a slip.

Many of the early cruisers took this idea and modified it to fit the Bermuda rig.
Pioneer cruisers such as Eric Hiscock and Larry Pardey set them up on their vessels and cruised many thousands of trouble free miles.

I may have taken their ideas a step farther by incorporating a topping lift into the system to aid in reefing.
Using the setup I have on Flying Cloud, I can take in a reef in less than a minute and without any fuss what-so-ever.
I never have to tie-in any reef ties unless I'm down to number three reef. Which, by the way, I do not believe in reefing a mainsail that deep. When conditions deteriorate to that point, it's time for a sail that is designed and constructed for that job. The storm trysail. I want to save my mainsail.

Some of the complaints I have read online say that Lazy Jacks chafe the sail. This can be caused by a number of things. Many of the kits use small blocks or rings to attach the various legs or vertical lines to each other. They can really be hard on the sewn seams of a sail.
Another reason is the type of line used. Braid line is not that great for this application. In addition I've seen them drawn so taught that they would actually carve their image into the mainsail while under way. Other short comings are from just poor design.

There are complaints about them being in the way when you decide to reef. Another common issue is the sail cover or Stack Pack. If done correctly, they will streamline the reefing process and the only time I want to take them down is when I set the storm trysail.
Once I install my Lazy Jacks, I never touch them. They are self tending and require no attention what-so-ever.

So let me address some of these issues before I show how I build mine.

By the way, before you read on, this article shows how I do Lazy Jacks on all my boats. I have figured out what works for me and these are my opinions. There are many approaches to doing the same job on a variety of vessels. So use this info to find out what works for you.

Chafe: Any time something such as a metal ring or worse yet a small block is used you are asking for problems. They add weight to the lines and if you leave everything loose (as it should be) they slap against the sail doing damage and making a lot of noise in the process. Even with these rings/blocks covered with leather, the mere weight of them can cause damage eventually.
So, I splice all the lines together and forego the added hardware. I splice lines directly together rather than use rings or blocks. Eye splices contribute to the same issue of having rings or blocks at these points.

Line: The line that I use is Polyester (Dacron) three strand. Not to be confused with Nylon three strand. Three strand is easy to splice and the Polyester has a little bit of stretch but not too much. It's soft on the hand and therefore soft on the sail. If my splice tails get a little fuzzy after a few years of wear, that helps the chafe problem by acting like the old "Baggy wrinkles" used on sailing ships for chafe prevention. Which, by the way, I still use on Flying Cloud.

 On Flying Cloud (41 foot ketch) and on Solita (28 foot Lyle Hess Bristol Channel Cutter) I used 3/8 inch line. It's strong enough to hold the folded sail and light enough to not create chafe or sail slap.
It is also strong enough to support the boom as a topping lift to use when reefing. The small diameter adds very little windage when things start howling.

Sail Cover or Stack Pak:  I am not a believer in the Stack Pak since it really is nothing more than a deep reefed sail. I have seen them in strong winds and they are capable of powering a boat when you don't want to.
In heavy weather when hove-to or running down wind, the added windage can actually drive the boat when you are trying to stop or slow it down. Dockside I have seen them do serious damage to boats in high winds. In any sort of strong wind I want to get rid of anything that creates windage.

Sail covers need a little special attention when using Lazy Jacks. Take a look at the photos in this article for some ideas on cover design. A sail cover stored in a locker offers no windage.
A baggy sail cover catches wind. I prefer mine to wrap the sail tightly to the the boom. It may not look as cool as my neighbors Yacht, but my sail stays in place on the boom.

Reefing:  I use jiffy reefing on all my boats and that system requires a topping lift on the outer end of the boom. My system incorporates the main line of the Lazy Jacks as a topping lift to the boom. It also affords the ability to completely douse the Lazy Jack system if I need to. In the photos and drawings in this article it will be apparent how this works. I'll show the complete reefing system, outhaul and top lift along with a couple tricks to make it all work smoothly.

Be sure to look at all the photos at the bottom of this page for ideas....

The layout of the lines:

 I step back a ways and view the mast from the side and estimate an attachment point for the main line about two-thirds of the way up the mast, or slightly higher. I attach a strap eye to both sides of the mast at that point.
From this point I measure down toward the aft end of the boom at a point about three to four feet above the boom end when the sail is hoisted.
I take a line and double that measurement. On each end I do a small eye splice that the strap eye will use to hold both ends to the mast. One on the Port side and the other on the Starboard side. I then place a small sheet block on this line with a shackle.
Setting up the topping lift I run it from the mast back to a cheek block on the side of the boom, up thru the cheek block and thru the sheet block on the main Lazy Jack line. From there the line runs down to a fixed point on the end of the boom.
Now you should be able to stand at the mast, haul in on the top lift and raise the boom higher than what is required to take in the deepest reef.
You should also leave enough of a tail on the top lift line that when the boom is in it's gallows or cradle you can lower the main Lazy Jack line enough to lay it along the top of the boom and behind the mast.

This is a typical "topping lift" arrangement with one exception; note that the line going thru the shackle and toward the top of the mast is doubled. This is the main leg, or line, supporting the Lazy Jack system

Click the photo  to enlarge

Click photo to enlarge

In this photo of the mainsail system the main line (topping Lift) is depicted as well as how I decided (on this vessel) to arrange the vertical legs of the system.
Also note that the main Lazy Jack line is attached quite high up the mast. If your sail has battens, a higher attachment point will catch the battens before they fold over the main line. Never go all the way to the top of the mast.

 Mizzen mast layout is very similar to the main mast

 Now we need to figure where the three vertical legs 0r lines need to be attached. 
I approach this by folding the sail port and starboard, accordion style, as straight as possible. Fold in the opposite direction with each sail slide. Stretch the leech out and make all the folds as flat as possible.
Once you have started this folding process you will need to fold the sail in the same direction every time from now on. If your first tuck is to Port, be sure that every time you lower the sail that first tuck or fold is to Port. All the others will alternate as they come down.
By being consistent with this folding of the sail, it won't take long for the sail to take a "memory" and want to fold exactly the same each time the halyard is let fly. Basically you are training the sail to fold the same way all the time.
Letting the halyard "fly" is very effective in taking speed off the boat in a hurry. For instance; while sailing into a dock. Lube the sail track and slides with Silicon Spray Lubricant and the sail will come down very fast and fold itself on top of the boom. only use silicon lube or paraffin wax in this application.
Now to determine the vertical lines of the system.
I take a close look at the sail as it's lowered. Watching for areas where the sail wants to bulk or gather in some sort of bundle. Near the luff I determine a vertical line spaced aft of the mast that will intersect the area where the sail tries to bulk up, At that location I place a strap eye on each side of the boom and attach my first vertical line.
Note that this line is split into two lines part way up. This is just a means of eliminating extra line up in the rigging as well as eliminating some unwanted stretch that such a long single line would have.
There are a couple thoughts on whether to place the strap eyes on the side of the boom or along side the sail slot on top of the boom.
I prefer placing them near the top so the Lazy Jacks don't crimp any reef lines along the boom.
You will also find that generally there is another location toward the leach of the sail where the sail wants to bulk or stack up. I place another strap eye at this point, Then I divide the distance between the two sets (fore and aft)strap eyes and place a third one in that area. I try to keep the spacing as equal as possible and to a total of three vertical lines. Larger sails my require more lines.

Tip: The main thing to keep in mind is to "keep it simple".
Once the Lazy Jacks are setup, they never need tending.

Click on any pic for larger view

Note that on "Solita" I made the longest vertical line just behind the mast. I have since modified this to have the "split" line behind the mast and the single vertical the aft line
That very long line had too much stretch and didn't hold the forward part of the sail the way I wanted.
I have now modified the system to have only three vertical lines instead of the four in this photo. (Keep it simple)

Once you have the design laid out on one side, duplicate it on the other side of the boat. Keep in mind that the "main" leg of the Lazy Jack system is a continuous loop from the port side of the mast, down and thru the top lift block and back up to the attachment (eye strap) on the starboard side of the mast.
When the system is hoisted and installed, both port and starboard ends of the main line are mounted permanently to the mast.
Now all the vertical lines will be hanging down from this main leg or line. Find the locations where you want to attach them to the boom. This too is done using eye straps. I place these eye straps very close to the sail slide groove in the boom. The reason is that having them up higher on the boom helps to keep the bulk of the sail closer to the top edge of the boom. This is extremely beneficial when you have a reefed sail. The bulk can be held up by the lazy jacks and there is no need for reef ties to be wrapped around the boom. In fact, I don't use reef ties on my sails. The Lazy Jacks keep everything in place.
I snug these lines up to a point where the sail is now supported by the system and I pass the vertical line thru the eye strap and tie a square knot to hold the tension.
I leave this knot in the line and adjust the lines as needed when I start sailing. After a few sea trials, I'll learn just where I want them and at that point I'll splice eyes into the end of the lines making them permanent.

A stopper knot allows me to adjust the vertical lines until I have some miles on the system. Once I have worked out the proper tension, I do "eye splices" in the lines and make them permanent

Topping Lift

The topping lift is routed from the aft end of the boom forward to a cleat near the front end and close to the reefing lines.
I leave enough extra line so that by easing off on the top lift, the lazy jacks can be lowered to a position where they lay on top of the boom just behind the mast.
The only time I need to lower them is if I have to set the storm trysail. Other wise they stay right where they are.
In using this system I have developed a few tricks that make dousing the sail and reefing much easier.
The first thing I do is adjust the resting boom height. With the sail down and furled, I use the top lift to raise the boom outer end slightly above the boom gallows or cradle. Maybe a couple inches. I cleat the top lift and then I mark the top lift line right where it comes over the top of the cleat. Here I take some colored whipping twine and I whip about an inch of the line right at this mark.
If at any time when I am sailing, I find that I need to adjust the top lift/lazy jack system, when I decide to drop the sail I return the top lift line to where that whipping is right on top of the cleat. I then let the halyard fly. The boom lowers to the point where the top lift holds it above the gallows and the sail folds itself in the lazy jacks.
When I haul on the mainsheet, the stretch in the three strand polyester lazy jack line allows the boom end to be tucked down secure right in the gallows. When ready to hoist the sail, I simply release the mainsheet and hoist away.
The key to making this work is to ALWAYS return the top lift whipping mark to the cleat before letting the sail come down.


Using the top lift in jiffy or slab reefing takes the load off the outer end of the boom and makes hauling in the outer reef a snap.
I also use the whipping idea to making reefing fast and simple. Sitting at the dock on a calm day, take in number one reef. Once the out haul is snug, use the top lift to raise the outer end of the boom so that the leach of the sail gets a good, slack curl in it. Then place another whipping on the line at the cleat where it rests for this reef point. Maybe use a different color so you can identify it from the resting boom position mark. Then do the same thing for number two reef. I generally use one color of the resting boom position and another color for reef marks. but, for number two reef, I place two whippings at this location. This way even at night I can feel the whippings and know which is which.

Taking in a Reef;

Ok so I have practiced this for over forty years and I have actually, on occasion, been able to take in a reef in 45 seconds. Providing someone else releases the mainsheet.
here's how it goes...

At the mast I call "let fly the mainsheet". My wife releases it completely and makes sure it is free to run out as much as it needs without any snags or knots.
I first haul in on the top lift to the point where the whipping for number one reef is right on top of it's cleat. I secure the line on the cleat. Then I ease the main halyard and haul the luff down to the number one reef cringle and place it over the reef hook on the goose neck. I then hoist the halyard back and tension it properly. Once the halyard is secured, I then release the top lift to a mark on it where I have previously marked the "working" position. I call "mainsheet trim" and it's done. Just that easy.

The extra sail lays in the lazy jacks and there is no need to tie in the intermediate reef ties. In fact, many people don't realize that if you do tie these in, they should NEVER be brought down tight around the boom. All they are there for is to hold up the extra sail laying along the boom. Once reefed you are sailing on a "loose footed" sail. Meaning it is only attached at the head, clew and tack. No slides or support are needed between the tack and the clew. Plus, if you do tie the reef ties around the boom, you have strapped the top lift and other reef lines to the boom and they can't be used.

I also use this whipping system to pre-mark many lines on the boat that perform a wide variety of functions..
Coming back to the reef system, I also place whippings on the main halyard that tell me just how far to lower the main sail to get it over the reef hook. This way I don't have the entire sail trying to pile up on the boom.

I use Silicon Spray Lubricant to lube all my sail slides. On the mast, booms and my pole track. NEVER use WD40. Silicon will not leave oil residue which contributes to rotting the sail thread.

 Sail Covers:

When you install lazy jacks you create a whole new problem for the canvas man. 
I have already stated my opinions on Stack Paks and must add that for the "day sailor" that most likely will never encounter heavy seas and winds where the boat can be overwhelmed, a stack pak can be a very convenient way to go. I personally want my mainsail to perform at it's best at all times since we "sail" nearly every mile we travel and I feel the stack pak messes with the air flow across the lower portions of the sail.
I guess this needs to fall under "my opinions" regarding jib furling. But that needs to be taken up at another time.
Back to the cover. I like my sail cover to be very tight around the sail and boom. In fact, I prefer it also incorporate the normal "sail gaskets" used to keep a sail secured to the boom. Oh, but that's what the lazy jacks do too. so why stop there.
The only trick to sail covers for vessels with lazy jacks is how those vertical lines need a place to exit the cover.
I've  included some photos of systems that I have seen on other vessels. Decide which works best for your application.

They may not look as "Yachty" as most covers, but my sail won't get loose in high winds either.

Click to enlarge

Enlarge this pic and look at the Lazy Jacks on the Catboat to the left

More Lazy Jack ideas. Just enlarge these images or enlarge and download them then study how each boat is setup

Here the Gaff is secured on top of the sail and boom.
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