No Furler? Make a Foredeck Sail Bag

If you have a headsail furler on your sailboat, this project will probably be of little interest to you. But if you have hank-on headsails and want convenient protection for them like the sacrificial covers on furled headsails, read on.

A foredeck sail bag is something of a luxury for the trailer sailor. It’s not necessary to sail and unless you spend considerable time with the headsail doused, it’s not of much use to a trailer sailor. But if you like to cover your sails overnight or if you keep your sailboat in a slip and you don’t want to remove and stow the headsail during that time, a foredeck sail bag can come in handy.

A foredeck sail bag is a canvas bag that you can close around a doused headsail that you leave attached to the forestay when you’re not under sail. It’s like the nylon sail bags that you store your sails in below deck, but its made of a more durable canvas material. It also has a different opening to fit around the sail hanks when they are attached to the forestay. The canvas protects the sail from the elements and wildlife damage. Actually, you can also use it in place of a nylon sail storage bag by detaching the hanks from the forestay while the sail is in the bag, closing the bag, and stowing it below.

Foredeck sail bags come in a variety of constructions but all have similar features:

  • Easy to use fasteners around the mouth that close around the sail hanks and forestay
  • One or more rings or loops on the opposite end to which to attach the headsail halyard. This lets you raise the sail bag off the deck to drain and stay dry and it also secures the halyard when not in use.

A popular online Catalina parts retailer offers finished foredeck sail bags in a variety of sizes made in your choice of Sunbrella colors. I chose to make my own sail bag from a Sailrite kit instead of from scratch. By the time you purchase the materials a la carte to make the sailbag, the Sailrite kit is not much more and includes all the instructions you need to build it.

The kit comes with plenty of material to make the sail bag and excellent instructions. Cutting lines for the canvas pieces are plotted right on the canvas. All you need to do is cut them out and sew. For the best results when cutting the materials, consider making an inexpensive hotknife from a soldering gun. Sailrite also has an excellent video that describes the whole process, which only takes a couple of hours at most.

This was my second canvaswork project after making a DIY mainsail cover. I ordered the F-2 size kit but in retrospect, I should have ordered the larger F-3 size kit to better fit my 150% genoa headsail, which is a tight fit in the F-2 kit.

To use a foredeck sail bag:

  1. Douse the headsail normally. I recommend using a headsail downhaul line.
  2. Leave the headsail hanked on to the forestay but detach the halyard and temporarily attach it somewhere else nearby.
  3. Detach the headsail sheets.
  4. Flake and roll the sail from the clew toward the forestay (optional).
  5. Stuff the sail into the sail bag while pulling the bag forward around the hanks and forestay.
  6. Close the sail bag around the forestay with the twist fasteners or zipper, whichever type the bag has.
  7. Attach the halyard to the upper rear corner of the sail bag.
  8. Attach the headsail sheets to the same point as the halyard.
  9. Hoist the bag off the deck with the halyard so that any water that gets in the bag will drain out and water on deck can’t soak in
  10. Apply light tension to both sheets to keep the sail bag from swinging in the wind or as the boat rocks and to tidy up the deck (optional).

I don’t use our foredeck sail bag a lot, but when I do, I don’t worry about the safety of our headsail left on deck even in a vicious storm. And Summer Dance looks pretty sharp at rest with her color-matched bimini, mainsail cover, engine cover, lifeline cushions, and cabin cushions.


If you like this project, then you’ll really like my ebook Do-It-Yourself Small Sailboat Canvaswork. It contains this project and eight more canvaswork projects as well, all for only $20 USD. Click the picture at right to order your copy for immediate download and get started today!

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. capnrehab says:

    Looks very nice. I’ll have to put in my seemingly endless list of projects you’ve already done that I want to do. Thanks for the post.

    1. kbilling says:

      Any progress on your keel? Fairing and refinishing mine is bubbling up to the top of my to-do list, either this Fall or in the Spring.

      1. capnrehab says:

        No progress yet. Injury & work has slowed me down. Probably won’t do it till spring, I hope to get it done before you give us a write up on how you did yours!

  2. Is the headsail the same as the jib?

    1. That’s right, Rachel. A headsail is any sail that is set forward of the mast and attaches to the forestay: jib, genoa, and specialty sails.

  3. Steven Wallace says:

    Always great info.

  4. maryjane41 says:

    I love my headsail bag. I made it with a Sailrite Kit. Easy Peasy.

  5. TIM ONEILL says:

    Where did you get the zipper? I need 36″ one to redo a mainsail cover. Do you have a list of all your suppliers to refer to? I do want to support this very informative site at the right price.

    1. Hello, Tim

      I buy all my sewing supplies from Sailrite. Here’s a link for a 36″ zipper. For other suppliers that I use, see The 6 Best Sources for Sailboat Parts and Supplies.


  6. Mark Hughes says:

    I just took your advice to purchase a set of new Rolly Tasker Dacron sails. Now we’d like to take good care of them. We keep our boat on a mooring buoy for the summer. We flake and cover the mainsail on the boom. But we are stuck on what to do with the Genoa!? Any tips on how to flake, roll, and bag a 150 on deck? Would this bag help?

    Thank you for sharing your passion for DIY on your 22. I’ve used your site to refinish my keel, and many other projects. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi, Mark

      If your genoa headsail has hanks instead of a furler, then this is your ticket. If your going the kit route, I’d recommend the F-3 size kit, which will fit your 150 and smaller headsails.

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