How To Trim A Mainsheet Traveler On A Sailboat


The mainsheet traveler is one of the most important devices when it comes to sailing control. It fine-tunes the mainsail to maximum power and allows for proper positioning of the boom.

A well-positioned boom provides a better sail trim, which increases the boat’s speed. This post details how to trim a mainsheet traveler to deliver the performance you are looking for in your sailboat. If you already know how to raise and hoist the mainsail, then trimming the mainsail should be a cakewalk. So let’s get started, shall we?

Understanding The Mainsheet Traveler

The mainsheet traveler is simply a device that enables the mainsheet tackle to change the position at the point where it attaches to the boat. This device will typically be mounted either on the top of the cabin or in the cockpit.

There are different types of mainsheet tackles but all these apply the same principle – they connect between the boat below and the boom above. Usually, tackles connect with a traveler car that can easily be moved to the starboard or port using control lines that join to the cockpit.

In traditional travelers, each control line connects back to the cam cheat. To move your traveler car toward the port’s side of the sailboat, release the control line of the starboard and pull the port line in. A reverse of this will move the car to the starboard.

Getting The Boom At The Center Upwind

The main purpose of the mainsheet traveler is to help the boom stay centered when moving to the close-hauled point of sail. Since the traveler covers a significant length between the boat attachment and the boom, the boom will start moving to the leeward side regardless of how tight you have sheeted in the mainsheet.

To have the boom back at the center when sailing close-hauled, move the traveler car a little upwind. This will give the mainsail maximum power, which will in return, increase the boat’s speed. Just make sure that the boom is not close to the centerline’s windward, as this could cause loss of power.

Knowing how to predict the wind when sailing and especially when centering the boom upwind is crucial, as it is the only way to harness maximum power from the wind and ensure that you are on the right point of sail.

Trimming The Mainsail With The Traveler


In most instances, the mainsail will be trimmed further off the direction of the wind by having, or rather, letting the mainsheet out. Doing this will allow the boom and the sail to swing further to the leeward side. However, the force exerted by the wind on the mainsail will get the boom rising making the sail less flat.

There are certain situations when it might be better to trim your sail by moving the mainsheet traveler down instead of letting the sheet out, especially when sailing between the beam reach and close-hauled points of sail. Since the traveler will be further off the center, you can flatten the sail simply by making the mainsheet tighter and pulling the boom down. Don’t pull the boom back to the centerline to avoid reducing the speed of the boat.

The mainsail is set, controlled, and adjusted using the sailboat boom vang (kicker) or mainsheet traveler. This results in the sail angle being adjusted to the direction of the wind and the intensity of the sail’s twist.

The speed of the wind increases and decreases slightly with height. As such, the sail top will be trimmed freer than its base.  To determine how much twist a sail has, look up the boom and see if the sail top falls more to the leeward side than on the centerline. When moving upwind, the traveler and the mainsheet will be controlling the twist but once off the wind, the kicker will take over.

The mainsheet adjusts the sail angle to the wind. When you sail close to the wind and the boom moves to the centerline, the sheet exerts a huge downward force on the sail’s leech, much quicker than the vang. Trimming the mainsail properly when moving closer to the wind will get you maximizing the power of the wind and increasing your speed. It will also ensure safe sailing.

When sailing upwind, and after you have set the twist using the mainsheet, your boat will be powered and depowered using the traveler. Though the mainsheet traveler is normally centralized, it can be hoisted toward the windward side in light winds or to the leeward side in heavy winds.

When you move the traveler windward, you ease the mainsheet and kicker, allowing the boom to remain at the centerline. The eased sheet enables the boom to move upward in light winds, creating twists.

If you detect weather helm or an increase in the boat heel, ease the traveler to the leeward side. This will reduce the shape and twist of the sail but reduce the force of heeling. The luff will spill the wind and the leech will keep driving.

The kicker will control the twist and tension of the leech when the boom passes to the leeward side of the traveler. To give the boom a rise, ease the kicker. This will also open the leech and increase the twist. Making the kicker tighter will close the leech and reduce the twist.

How about rod kickers? Most people, especially those who are just starting to learn how to sail think that a rod kicker will exert more force downward. Well, this is not the case. The primary role of rod kickers is to generate more upward force in light winds, opening the leech but not pulling the boom down and closing the leech.

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A mainsheet traveler is a perfect device for controlling the helm and balancing the heel when sailing. Without it, most sailboats would turn toward the direction of the wind with a gust. A traveler allows you to trim the mainsail properly and maximize the power generated by the wind to propel the boat forward. It enables you to position the boom better, increasing the speed of your boat.

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  1. 5 Tips: Mainsail Trimming,
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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!