Sail handling systems: push button navigation

Electric sail handling systems aren’t just for maxi yachts. Sam Fortescue examines how push-button navigation is impacting the cruise ship market

Sail handling systems: options for going all-electric

A 70-foot dayboat, you say? It’s a notion that didn’t exist until recently, but Eagle Yachts of the Netherlands wants to build one.

In order to qualify the yacht for its ‘dayboat’ badge, Eagle’s designers made every effort to make the rig usable by one person.

The boom-furling mainsail, electric winches and electric jib furlers can all be activated from the helm at the touch of a button.

Now most of us would draw the line well before 70ft, even if we could afford the marina berth for it.

But these push-button sailing principles can be applied to yachts of all sizes.

Sail handling systems: winches on superyachts can be controlled by a crane-style remote control

Indeed, Eagle’s range starts at 38ft and there are many other 30’s to 50’s that make good use of push buttons, from Tofinou to Amel.

“You have to strike a balance,” says Steven Bloersma of Eagle Yachts.

“Some people like to feel the tension on the winch. When I do a sea trial, they are not very fond of automatic winches at first, but after an hour of sailing, they start to change their minds and realize that it is finally very easy. With the ease of the push button, you want to trim the sail more, and it also prolongs your years of sailing.

Whatever your reason for thinking about push-button navigation, there’s a range of products that make conversion easy.

Sail handling systems

Somewhere between electric winches and electric windlasses is the captive winch.

Built by brands such as Lewmar, Harken and Muir, they are increasingly found on new boats, where they allow you to control a line that does not need to have its bitter end accessible.

It’s an option across the entire Eagle Yachts range, for example, where the mainsail sheet passes through a frictionless stainless steel eye in the deck and furls onto a hidden drum below.

It can also be used to tension the vang or even hoist a sail.

For finer, high-load adjustments like backstays or boom legs, hydraulics are the power of choice.

Sail handling systems: Selden 42V furlers operate at a lower current, but Profurl is also an efficient system which should draw no more than 30 amps.  The Harken can be a bit more power hungry up to 74A

Sail handling systems: Selden 42V furlers operate at a lower current, but Profurl is also an efficient system which should draw no more than 30 amps. The Harken can be a bit more power hungry up to 74A

On small boats, these systems may be manual, but the costs of pushing button functionality are high.

You will need to run the hydraulic hose below deck to the cockpit, find space for a hydraulic pump and oil tank, and connect a control panel to the battery.

Some sailors undertake this, but it must be carefully planned and installed by professionals.

The same goes for the electric mainsail furler, where the best results require a specialist boom or mast and a new sail.

It’s a big, big investment. A much more common push-button upgrade is motorized jib furling, which can be a relatively simple conversion process.

Harken’s MKIV furler can be electrified in sizes 2 and 3. It’s quite a bulky unit and requires a cable to run through the deck, but it’s been well designed, with manual override and auger with strong reduction to prevent the veils from rolling out under the effort.

However, this may require you to shorten the length of your foil and luff.

Pricing is north of £10,000 for the full electric winding system, while the conversion kit is closer to £3,000.

Selden also offers a conversion kit for its Furlex unit. It says anyone with a 200S, 300S or 400S unit since 1997, or a current model, can convert without making any changes to the foil or sail.

Using Selden’s 42V system which interfaces with other Selden equipment on board, the motors are compact and the overall profile small compared to some.

The conversion kit costs £2,860, but you’ll also need to buy buttons and possibly a power supply (£593).

French Profurl specializes in asymmetric jib and furling systems, with racing experience.

Continued below…

A yacht with a furling mainsail system and a boom furler

Some sailors swear by mainsail furlers, others swear by them. Graham Snook is looking for a way to keep your winder…

Electric anchor windlasses

Electric anchor windlass are becoming more affordable and can simplify shorthanded sailing, says Sam Fortescue

Converting to push-button electric winches is easier than you think

Electric winches are getting cheaper and easier to install, making effortless boating an affordable option, says Sam Fortescue

They also offer a motorized cruising product, which can be installed from scratch or added to a manual system as an upgrade.

Its NDE2 model is aimed at boats from 11 to 22 m and more in different powers.

Helpfully Profurl engineers will look to adapt the drive unit to suit any manual system you have on board. Germany’s Reckmann produces a range of electric jib furlers suitable for boats from 36ft to 70ft, which equates to a forestay diameter of 8mm to 16mm.

The EF90 system offers top-notch German engineering and you can choose between a standard aluminum profile or a carbon profile.

Just as with winches, the choice of knobs differ between brands, from the somewhat clunky Harken and Lewmar units to the much sleeker design from Andersen and Selden.

Did you enjoy this read?

A subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine costs about 40% less than the cover price.

Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest offers.

YM is packed with information to help you get the most out of your time on the water.

      • Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our experts
      • Unbiased in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment
      • Cruising guides to help you reach those dream destinations

follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.