Essential Reefing a Sailboat Tips

A good sailing tip would be to reef your boat early before the wind hits but even more essential reefing tips are embedded in this recent sailing event in Sydney Harbour, Australia.

You can’t visit Sydney with out a sailing trip out on the harbour and Matt Hayes, owner of Sydney by Sail charter company (see is the guy to call to arrange a perfect day out. Sydney harbour is one of those world iconic sailing grounds. It’s not huge, you can easily get around it in a day. You get to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and out past the famous Sydney Opera House then out and around past some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Sydney By Sail is a well run Yacht Charter Company located in Darling Harbour downtown Sydney, home of the Sydney International Boat Show. Matt Charters out immaculate condition Hunter Sailboats. Next time you’re there give them a call.

Last weekend we visited Sydney more specifically for the quad nations Rugby match where New Zealand played Australia but since we (myself, sister and brother-in-law) arrived on the Friday before, we had the day to go for a sail. The wind was out of the east at about 10-15 knots and so once we were out from under the harbor bridge we set sails for a nice afternoon – well what we thought would be a nice afternoon. After all, how rough can it get in the harbour?

We turned around at Manly and began heading back. Just then an unusually large gust came ripping out of Middle Harbour and laid us down a bit followed by a good rounding up. As I peered across the water I saw that this wasn’t just a gust but the wind was seriously picking up. My brother in law was helming the boat and was having difficulty controlling the boat heading. It was time to reef with out delay.We sailed all the way up to Manly at the North end of the harbour. The wind was gusting a little and so the boat was laying down a little during the gusts but nothing that we couldn’t handle except for a few round ups that caused my sister to squeal a little.

From before, luckily I knew how the reefing system worked and was able to get her reefing back into the second reefed position pretty quickly. Gusts were now ripping through and we clocked 42 knots that’s nearly 50 miles per hour or 85 km/hr. It’s nothing that a Hunter 33 can’t handle but not under full sail. At these speeds, you run the risk of bringing the rig down. And not to mention scaring the bg’s out of the crew (sister). My Brother in Law was sort of ok – he was laughing uncontrollably which I know he does when he gets very nervous.

Summing this up, had I not been forced to learn the reefing system as we’d raised the sails earlier in the day, we could have been in some pretty decent trouble. What had happened was a reasonably severe cold front had come through unbeknownst to us. Had not checked the weather forecast. Even if we’d known however, I doubt if we would have changed our minds about going out. Who can resist Sydney Harbour. However, we might have been a little more prepared to throw in the reefs earlier. Just after the frontal system appeared, as you might expect a downpour of cold rain came through. Fortunately we’d bought rain jackets for the game the following evening so we had that one covered. As I saw the clouds forming for the rain, I decided that we’d had enough sailing for the day. We switched to engine then lowered and secured the sails.

Thus bringth many lessons from just one day out. As a seasoned sailor you’d think that I would have covered these but I didn’t – I was overwhelmed by the prospect of sailing the harbour. I freely admit my mistakes and admonish myself in front of the world here more so to make the learning real for everyone. If the story was instead just lessons on preparedness I don’t think they would sink in as much for everyone. Next time you head off on a day charter think of me and Sydney.

  • Tip 1: Know how to reef a boat. It’s not an advanced sailing skill. It’s a piece of sailing knowledge you need to know before you ever skipper a boat.
  • Tip 2: Know about all the various types of reefing systems.
  • Tip 3: Know how to reef the specific boat you are going to sail on before you leave the dock. Especially charter boats. It’s so easy to get excited about a new location and be distracted by the navigational issues.
  • Tip 4: Remember the weather. Get a forecast. Yes even if you’re sailing in protected waters.

Refer to my previous post to view basic animations of reefing a sailboat


  • Grant Headifen

    My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.

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Last updated on July 6th, 2022