Is a self tacking system for me?

A self-tacking is basically like a mainsheet system for your foresail. Instead of running two sheets aft from the jib clew to the cockpit winches or cleats on each side, your have only one sheet running from the jib clew, led through a car which moves across the boat when you tack, and going upward in your mast back and to your cockpit. Some are factory installed directly on deck and other use a stand.

Either you saw them on a charter or on a catamaran, you may have asked yourself what are the benefits and drawbacks of such setup?

As they seem easy to use, self-tacking jibs are becoming popular on new yachts and there is a trend to install those onto older boats.

Like the people who prefer automatic versus standard transmission on their car, each rig configuration has its benefits. In the end it all depends on how you plan to use your sailboat and the experience you expect while sailing.

The system advantage is it does not require you to release and pull in a new jib sheet each time you tack. You only have one sheet to take care. With only one sheet, it helps to keep the cockpit clear from any tripping hazards and makes operation easier as your crew do not need to move every time you tack.

For people thinking going solo or short handed, the self-tacking jib allows an easier experience. On the other end, the main issue is when you’re sailing downwind. The self-tacking jib can be very slow unless you run a cutter rig with a gennaker on a furler. Another undesirable aspect is lack of ability to fine tune the foresail. As the track slides from side to side you cannot adjust your lead fore and aft like the regular genoa track does. But to every problem comes a solution. You can add a barber hauler to improve this trimming ability.

To get all the benefits, a self-tacking required a proper installation otherwise it might not work well and create more issues than ease your experience. Knowing how the system works will help you to understands how to install and reduce drawbacks.

The goal is to make the car movement smoother and the sheet tension more consistent across the rail. A track shape can go from straight across the deck, to a bent track with the ends forward or you can add a tilt forward.

We recommend that you add curvature to the track to achieve the goal mentioned earlier, but you can decide to go with straight track. Understand the sheet and jib foot will go slack in the middle of the tack with the tension coming on as the car reaches the end of the track. Even this can be interesting, if the sheet is too tight, the car never reaches the end of the track.

On the other end, if your go with our recommendation, you need the right track curvature and length, and something you should know is when you order a track, you can ask for such customisation (See form)


Thus, for good performance, the radius of the track should be 95% of the “J” measurement and the tilt angle should allow the car to be aligned toward the clew. Ideally, the angle matches the composite vectors of load (Figure 2), but since the Rutgerson car design allow a load up to 45 degrees each side, using the angle between the deck and the clew is also good.


Is it manageable for anyone to add a self talking system on an older boat? Yes, if you minimize fiberglass work. This can be achieved by using a stand-up directly on mounted the deck. It requires measuring tool a saw and socket key.

First, the track is cut to the correct length with equal distance on both side of the mast. Put as much length as you can but for comfort when walking on deck, do not create a tripping hazard going forward on the deck. Leave room for your feet.

Then the track is placed in front of the mast, across the deck so that the upper side of the track is parallel to the headstay (Figure 1 above).

The middle clips are fitted between the track and the deck and create the tilt. The end supports are cut to the correct height and attached to the track. Do not forget to slide in your cars.

The system is then mounted and bolted onto the deck. Use a conforming sealant like butyl to avoid water intrusion.

Complete your installation by install your block properly sized (see article on block sizing) and run your sheet through up to the clew point. You should be now able to enjoy your system. For question or enquiries, do not hesitate to contact us.