When you buy a secondhand boat, the sails are a big part of the boat value. Of course, the actual owner will say the sails are good enough to sail. So, what do you need to check on the sails before buying your next boat? How long do sails last? How to know if the sails are still in good condition? How much does a sail cost?
Polyethylene terephthalate is the material used for Dacron sails; this is a common type of polyester. Dacron. PET has excellent resiliency, high abrasion resistance, high UV resistance, high flex strength and low cost. Low absorbency allows the fiber to dry quickly.
How long do Dacron sails last?
They are almost universal on cruising sailboats, so it seems appropriate to note that two of the world’s most experienced long-distance cruisers, Lin and Larry Pardey, (they’ve written 11 sailing books and sails 200.000 miles under sails) claim in a video presentation that Dacron sails lose 40% of their strength when they are exposed to sunlight for 30 days. Of course, nobody has said how much longer the remaining 60 % will last, and it might be deduced from empirical observation that it could be decade. Dacron won’t hold its best shape for that long, but cruising sailboats are not concerned about optimum sails shape like racers are. Dacron is so inherently strong that even sails that have lost a lot of their strength may be perfectly adequate for cruising purposes.
So, it depends on the sun and the time that you pass sailing, if you have or not a lazy bag to protect the sails and if you take care of the sails or not.
We can make a calculation for heavy duty (sailing every single day in full sun of Caribbean) and you will need to replace it after 2 years and half of use (sailing everyday 12h per day)
How to know if the sails are in condition?
To start, check the condition of the UV protective strips. A faded color or frayed seams are bad signs.
Then inspect all the seams of the sails and check if they need rework.
Also check for tear areas.
pay particular attention to the following points:
The head point.
The clew (used to trim the sail).
Price of a secondhand sail
It depends of course on the sail condition, how old they are, and most of all, how long they were used effectively.
To have an idea here is a scale of what is a sail in fair, good, or very good condition:
- Fair – 45-50% of life left
- Good – 70-80% of life left
- Very Good – over 90% of life left
If the sails cost $10,000 new (with 100% life left), you’d think that a “good” set with 75% life left should cost should cost $7500. But it doesn’t work this way. The price will not be 25% off. but more because the first year the sails lost a big part of their value. After 2 years a sail will be half of the value already. There are no rules it depends of the buyer of course but don’t be fooled, it is kind of norm to say that a sail older than 5 years will cost less than 20% of its originally value.