What Is a Spinnaker or Jib?

by Simon Green
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To the confusion of many inexperienced sailors, there is a large amount of nautical terminology far removed from that used on land. There is port (left), starboard (right), prow (front) and stern (back), not to mention the different names for masts, sails and other ship-based systems. The names of some of the sails can also be very confusing, as they seem to bear no resemblance to what they actually do.


A spinnaker is a special type of sail used for sailing on a course with an off wind. An off wind blows across the boat rather than from behind. It is a large, almost balloon-shaped sail that is attached at the very front and can be adjusted so it fills with wind. When it is full, it is said to be flying.


There are two types of spinnaker sails. The first is called symmetrical, which generates drive by collecting wind in the top part of the sail. The asymmetric spinnaker collects the wind in the side part of the sail. Symmetrical ones are used when traveling in a straight line as they generate more speed; asymmetrical ones are used for course directions.


The jib is another type of sail, not unlike a spinnaker. It is a triangular sail placed at the front of the boat, connected from the prow to the top of the first mast. The key difference between a jib and a spinnaker is where they are used. Sailing boats use jibs, whereas spinnakers are more commonly found on racing yachts.

Jib Numbers

Larger boats, like schooners, can have three or even four jib sails. These are attached in line to the bowsprit and the foremast. The furthest forward is called the flying jib, followed by the outer jib, the inner jib and the fore staysail.

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