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The Sails – How it works

Sails are mostly used for years, staying with the boat until they are replaced and many times stored for long periods after replacement. Racing sails are often replaced or sold to a less critical sailing team after a few races. Sails wear and tear from usage and under the influence from elements, sun, water and salt. The materials are durable but over time form and function degrades which causes discontinued use. Than what happens?

Use of sails – When are sails discontinued

High-end racing market

TP52, America’s Cup, Olympic Sailing: within 1 year

Local club racing

1-3 years

Surfing & Kiting

1-3 years

Cruising fleets (Charters)

< 5 years

Cruising market

< 10 years

The R’s: 
Repair, Re-use, Re-sale, Re-furbish 

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Repair and Re-use

Sails are repaired, washed and sometimes re-coated until its form or function disappears. Racing sails of top sailors are often sold to second tier competitors in its first season.

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Re-use and Upcycle

Re-use and “upcycle” of old sails  into new products are widely seen but count for a small percentage. Sails that are relatively “new” 
(<3 years old) are eligible for upcycling; older sails should be considered for recycling.

Up-cycling market

Recycling of sailcloth (Bringing it back to its original virgin raw form) is challenging for the same reasons valid in the textile industry: 
 

  • Sails are coated and/or colored and therefore difficult to bring back to virgin material 
  • Laminated sails consists of glued layers; difficult to separate 


In general only 9% of plastics are recycled (see OECD report) Recycling of sails is non-existing but the upcycle market is growing and is possibly bigger (in %) compared to the textile industry)