a triangular sail that sets ahead of the foremast

A jib is a triangular sail that sets ahead of the foremast of a sailing vessel.[1] Its tack (lower leading edge) is attached to the bowsprit, to the bow, or to the deck between the bowsprit and the foremost mast. Jibs and spinnakers are the two main types of headsails on a modern boat.[2]

The barque Alexander von Humboldt, with four jibs set and a fifth furled (folded or packed up) on the bowsprit

Traditional vessels

A jib sail (shown in green)

Schooners typically have up to three jibs. The foremost one sets on the topmast forestay and is generally called the jib topsail. A second jib on the main forestay is called the jib. The innermost jib is called the staysail. Actually, all three sails are both jibs and staysails, in a general sense. A large square-rigged ship typically has four jibs, but could have as many as six.[3][4]

From forward (fore) to the back of the boat (aft), these sails are called:

  • Jib of jibs
  • Spindle jib
  • Flying jib
  • Outer jib
  • Inner jib
  • Fore (topmast) staysail.[3][4]

The first two were rarely used except by clipper ships in light winds.[3][4] A storm jib was a small jib of heavy canvas set to a stay to help to control the ship in bad weather.[3]

Modern vessels

A jib, left, compared to a genoa, right

Boats may be sailed using a jib alone. More commonly jib(s) make a minor direct contribution to moving the boat, compared to a mainsail. Generally, a jib's most important function is as an airfoil, increasing performance and overall stability of the mainsail.[5]

On boats with only one jib, it is common for the clew of the jib to be further aft than the mast, meaning the jib and mainsail overlap. An overlapping jib is called a genoa jib or simply a genoa (see illustration). These are efficiently used when reaching more broadly than a close reach. Alternatively, a boat may carry smaller jibs, to compensate aerodynamics when the mainsail is reefed; these more rugged sails are called storm jibs or spitfires.[6]

On a boat with two staysails the inner sail is called the staysail, and the outer (foremost) is called the jib. This combination of two staysails is called a cutter rig (or in North America a yankee pair) and a boat with one mast rigged with two staysails and a mainsail is called a cutter.

On cruising yachts, and nearly all racing sailboats, the jib needs to be worked when tacking. On these yachts, there are two sheets (ropes) attached to the clew of the jib. As the yacht comes head to wind during a tack, the active sheet is released. At the same time the other sheet (the lazy sheet) on the other side of the boat is pulled in. This sheet becomes the new active sheet until the next tack.


  1. "Terminology". School of Sailing. Blue Water Sailing School. Archived from the original on December 5, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  2. "About Sails". The Marine Surveyor School. Archived from the original on July 9, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Richard Mayne (2000). The Language of Sailing. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 155. ISBN 1-57958-278-8.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Dean King (2000). A Sea of Words (3 ed.). Henry Holt. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-8050-6615-9.
  5. "How Sailboats Move - Sailing Theory Airfoil and Hydrofoil". Working The Sails.com. Archived from the original on December 12, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  6. Torrey, Owen C., Jr. (1965). Sails (Seamen's Bank for Savings ed.). New York: Palmer & Oliver. pp. 20–25, 36&37.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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