The sunfish is a small sailboat with a lateen sail. Realistically you can not raise the sail while in it. Usually raising and lower the sail is done at shore.

It is occasionally necessary to paddle the sunfish, due to lack of wind and/or obstacles. The spars on the sail are about the same 14 feet (4.2 meters) as the boat is long, and need to rest down the center of the boat when down. Pretty much this means if you are paddling a sunfish the sail is up, you are becalmed (or in irons, heading into the wind) and sail flowing directly down the center line of the boat, with any slight side breeze making the lower spar (like a boom) push against you (or bang you in the head). It is easy enough to raise the spar and put it to the other side. but it is not effective for long.

I have been river sailing and sometimes need to move upstream past a wind block, so need to paddle for some distance. I am looking for a solution that will allow me to paddle for 10 or 15 minutes safely.

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunfish_(sailboat)#/media/File:Sunfish_rigged_for_sailing.jpg

I can add more pictures later if needed. Leave a comment if not clear

  • Sorry for the naive question, I only have very little sailing experience with a small 2-man kat: What prevents you from fastening the sail on the opposite side than you're paddling? Capsizing is obviously a danger of this, but I never experienced still or head-on wind conditions where strong winds would suddenly come from the side without any prior signs.
    – imsodin
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 19:54
  • @imsodin There is no way to do that. There just is nothing to fasten to that would keep the sail from moving windward. Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 10:27
  • Anecdotal evidence from watching others, never tried myself: Sculling (rapidly moving the tiller back and forth) works but only for short distance. Others go sit on the bow to paddle.
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 17:42

5 Answers 5


You're a bit more cramped than a topper but it seems to be much the same game.

It's very much about the type of paddle you're using and the position you want to be in. We used praddles in the Toppers for which you need to be low and close to the water anyway.


Kneel in the bottom of the boat, tiller between your legs, and lean forward to get to paddling position, since you'll be close to the boat the boom should pass over your head. You'll bang your head once in a while but if you're sailing small dinghies you need to develop a thick skull anyway.

  • +1 I will give this a try next time, but not sure it will work, Looking at some pics seems like the spar/boom is lower on a sunfish and the tiller + extension higher. I could hinge the tiller up and ignore it but then I could not paddle straight with one paddle. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 15:05
  • I tried this, it didn't work well. Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 14:29
  • @JamesJenkins, ah well, worth a go
    – Separatrix
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 14:40

I had the same dilemma. I finally solved it, and it's awesome. I added an extra line to the cockpit which goes up the mast and connects to the two spars. When I haul that line, it raises the two spars to be parallel with the mast. The sail is completely out of the way, allowing you to anchor, fish, paddle...etc. The gooseneck ring needs a little help going up the mast when raising the spars, but it's not difficult to raise. When lowering it, the outhaul line will assist in lowering them back down. You will actually be using two lines to lower the sail. It's pretty easy to do from the cockpit when leaning forward towards the mast. Here are the alterations I made:

  1. At the top of the mast, drill a hole through and add another block on the opposite side of the main sheet block.
  2. Place your sale on the ground. Close the spars together and drill a hole through the upper spar, close to where the main sheet line is tied around it. Add a block on the inside part of the spar. Then, drill a hole through the lower spar directly across from where you drilled through the upper spar. Add a block on the inside part of the spar.
  3. Add another block and cleat to the deck near the mast.
  4. Tie a line to the lower spar close to the block. Run the line to the block on the upper spar. Run the line to the block on the lower spar. Run the line to the new block at the top of the mast. Run the line to the new block on the deck. Pull that line and it will raise your spars and sail out of the way. Be sure to help the gooseneck ring up the mast. The tension on the main sheet line will be too much. I actually broke the block off of my main sheet the first time I tried doing it.

I hope this helped you. I'm going to make a YouTube video of it soon.

  • Can you post pictures of it here? Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 14:34

Rig a topping lift

I realize this is an old question and my answer may be over-engineered, but here it is anyway:

You could rig a topping lift: a line attached near the aft end of the boom and run through a block near the top of the mast. When you need to paddle, ease the sheet and haul the topping lift to raise the boom up and forward out of your way. This has the added advantage of scandalizing the sail so if an unexpected breeze catches while you're paddling it will have less effect than if it were down and allowed to fill.

  • 1
    This is a reasonable idea. I actually tried it (on land) It does work to get the lower spar out of bang you in the head area. BUT if the wind comes up while the sail is in this position, it is problematic, the sail stil catches wind, and you can't control it as you normally would. It was so unsafe in wind on land (my backyard) that I never got brave enough to try it on water. I took a few pictures (not sure I still have them) that I was going to post as part of an answer if it had worked. Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 15:54
  • 1
    I guess to really tame the sail at the same time you could run the topping lift through a cringle or two near the leech of the sail and haul the boom tight to the mast... although that may not be easy to do with the hardware connecting the boom to the mast on your rig. Plus, it means a hole in the sail and an awful lot of messing around for a little boat.
    – Tuorg
    Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 16:06
  • 1
    Yes, that is pretty much the thought process I went through. Additionally the gooseneck from the lower spar to the boom tended to bind when lifting the rear of the spar. This is a good idea, but the reality of implementing is not so good. Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 16:45

I concur with Jim Green's answer. As a teen we would often raise the sail from a buoy if the wind was from the wrong direction to rig in the slip. This sounds complicated but it's easily accomplished in under 60 seconds plus some time to tie up the sail.

To drop the sail:

  1. Put the boat into irons and luff the sail so the boom is over the deck. This keeps the sail mostly out of the water so you're not hauling in a sail full of water.
  2. Release the main sheet. I didn't have to worry about this, as we only had the hooks, but you'll forget to do this if/when you raise the sail later.
  3. Slide up the deck to the starboard (right) side of the mast. You can reach a very stable kneeling position with the cleat between you legs and your right arm can reach straight up close to the mast.
  4. Untie the halyard. Keep the last wrap or bend around the cleat, grab the boom with your left hand to keep the gooseneck loose and lower the whole sail till the boom is on the deck. Then you can use both hands on the halyard to lower the rest of the sail.
  5. Secure the halyard so it doesn't slide out the top of the mast. You can then tie up the sail with the main sheet and a series of running half hitches. This keeps the sail from catching wind, the rope neat and the boom from sliding off the boat.
  6. You can either paddle from the bow or the cockpit. For short distances, I would lay on my belly at the bow and front stroke back to the dock.

To raise the sail:

  1. Set the wind to the front and/or a little to the right.
  2. Untie the main sheet. Make sure the main sheet won't catch on anything if the sail swings out.
  3. Slide back up to the same position at the mast as before.
  4. Lift the sail until it's fully open.
  5. To finish lifting the sail, hold the halyard with your right hand as high as you can reach. Lift the boom with you left hand so the gooseneck doesn't catch, while pulling the halyard with your right.
  6. Once it's up, you can tie off on the cleat with you left, keeping tension with your right.

You should probably raise the rudder and raise the daggerboard somewhere in there if it's windy. If you can do this from a anchor or mooring, you'll always drift so you're pointing into the wind and you can take your sweet time.


Drop the main. We drop the main at dockside and raise it in the boat all the time. We destination sail around Long Beach to other harbors and slips all the time. I've never paddled for a long distance except for a hardware failure , but striking the main would be how I would do it. Getting clunked in the head 20 times a minute and the drag of a luffing sail, are both reasons to strike the main.

  • I find it difficult to imaging raising the sail of sunfish in the middle of the lake. First the goose neck tends to bind to the mast, so normally it needs to be manually lifted when raising the sail. With a little of bit of wind this can be challenging even when standing next to the boat in knee deep water. Second the main is just not designed to raise the sail from the cab, there is too much friction. Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 1:04
  • Where we live there aren't a lot of opportunities to beach launch, so we ramp launch, paddle out then raise the sail. It's not exactly convenient, but it's not particularly difficult if you've got two passengers. I think the keyword in this answer is "we".
    – Him
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 18:52

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