How To Use A Topping Lift In Sailing


Many people will own a boat for a lifetime and never use the topping lift, leaving it to be colonized by algae. However, it serves multiple important functions when sailing and it is therefore important to adjust it regularly.

So, put on your boat shoes and let’s go sailing!

When you have not raised the sail, it is the topping lift that holds up the boom. For many people, once having adjusted this line after buying the boat, they will often not adjust it again. The downside to this is that the line will rot away on the cleat as time goes by.

This is how to use a topping life in sailing but first…

Understanding the topping lift

It’s important to first learn and understand the parts of a sailboat. The topping lift is a line that is also known as the uphaul. Its function is to create a force that pushes the boom of a sailboat upwards.  This is what holds up the boom after you have lowered the sail.

The line will be attached on the free end of the boom and upon the mast. Often, you may find that depending on the sailboat, the line also runs through a block situated on the top of the mast which makes it possible for it to be adjusted easily.

If you have a smaller sailboat with a smaller boom, the topping lift will sometimes run from the one end of the boom to the mast aft. After you raise the sail, then you are going to also remove the topping lift.

Even while sailing always ensure that the other technical parts of your boat are fully functioning such as the bilge pump.

How to use a topping lift

When topping lift sailing, the main issue with setting up and forgetting the topping list is that when the sail is raised the toping list, it will eventually bow out and become slack. In a worst-case scenario, it will wrap itself around the sail and may damage the backstay adjuster.

Once you have raised the sail, always remember to adjust the topping lift. The objective here is to remove any slack but care should also be taken to ensure that you do not overtighten it. After you have refed the mainsail, now the new clew will be met by the boom once it has risen.

A useful tool to have when sailing is a good quality marine GPS.

The result of this is that there will also be plenty of slack which means that the topping lift needs to be reset again.

You can also use the topping lift to delay the refining. This is done by adding tension to it and raising the boom.  By doing this, you are going to add a twist to the sail. The sail top, on the other hand, will lose air which decreases the efficiency of the sail.

I say you were to release the mainsheet as well, a twist will occur in the main and will spill air but this will only happen when the boom eases out.

Inducing a twist using the topping lift will also spill air while still allowing the mainsheet to remain tight.

Yet another reason why it’s not a good idea to ignore the topping lift is that you can use it for the main as an alternative halyard. Since it is not exposed to too much tension, it can be rigged using a small line and a weak line.

Ensuring a tight topping lift


There are two main situations when you may want to tighten a topping lift when topping lift sailing. One is if the boom weight is held by the topping lift and not the sail. If you want to bring down the mainsail you need to tighten the topping lift. This will hold the boom up and out the way.

The other main situation where you need to tighten the topping lift is when you are planning on preparing the reefing on the mainsail. This is where you plan on bringing down the mainsail only partly or halfway. It allows the sailor to have just part of the sail open and is often used when there is a lot of wind. By tightening the topping lift, you are going to ensure that the sail has more slack. This makes it much easier to drop the sail halfway.

After you have raised the sail, however, you want to make sure that you loosen the topping lift. This allows the sail to be pulled up tight by the boom. If the topping lift is too tight, it will result in bagginess which makes the sail less efficient.

When sailing sometimes you may need to call in help or communicate with other boats in the area. For this, you will need to have a high-quality VHF Marine radio.

Using the topping lift, the right way

If you have the mainsail refed or raised completely when topping lift sailing, you should ensure that the topping lift is only tight enough to allow the boom to tighten the sail. This also allows the boom to pull on the sail instead of tight.

As a result, the mainsail will maintain a good shape that is efficient when sailing. You are also better able to trim the sail.

What you should take note of is that the topping lift should never be loose and floppy. It may even get snagged on riggings and sail battens.

Globo Surf Overview

The topping lift may be one of the most ignored parts of a sailboat but it is also one of the most important. When set up and used correctly, it will ensure smooth and efficient sailing. Spending time maintaining and adjusting your topping list should be a priority when you are sailing and this guide teaches you to do just that.

More Sail Reviews:


  1. How to use a topping lift when sailing,
Globo Surf
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!