Understand Difference

Mastering the Art of Sailboat Rigging: Unveiling the Masthead and Fractional Rig

Introduction to Masthead and

Fractional Rig – The Basics of Sailboats

Sailing is a sport that involves a lot more than just water and wind. It’s a complex system of ropes and sails, pulleys and winches, and above all, rigging.

Rigging is a marine term that refers to the system of ropes and wires that support and control the movement of the sails on a sailboat. The rigging is made up of the mast, shrouds, stays, and halyards that connect the sail rig to the hull of the boat.

Sailboat rigging can take many different forms and designs, depending on the type of boat, its purpose, and the preferences of the sailor. One of the most common sailboat rigs is the Bermudan rig, which features a single mast and triangular sails.

Two variations of the Bermudan rig are the masthead rig and the fractional rig. In this article, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between the masthead and fractional rig and their design, features, and benefits.

Definition of Rigging

Before we get into the specifics of the masthead and fractional rig, let’s start with the basics of rigging. Rigging is an essential component of any sailboat, acting as a transmission system for the force of the wind to propel the boat forward.

The rigging is responsible for supporting the mast, which holds up the sails of the boat. The sails are adjusted and controlled by a system of ropes or wires known as lines.

All the lines, wires, and pulleys are collectively called rigging, which works together to manipulate the sails and control the boat’s movement.

Overview of Masthead and

Fractional Rig

The Bermudan rig is the most common type of rig used in sailing. It’s known for its simplicity and efficiency, with a single mast and triangular sails.

There are two variations of the Bermudan rig – the masthead rig and fractional rig.

Masthead Rig

The masthead rig is a traditional form of rigging that features a single mast that runs from the bottom of the boat to the top. The masthead rig design is based on the original sailboat rigging used for racing and cruising boats.

Design of

Masthead Rig

The forestay supports the mast forward, while the backstay supports the mast backward. Cap shrouds support the mast from the sides, adding stability to the rig.

The lower shrouds support the mast and prevent it from tilting sideways, ensuring that the sails work efficiently. Features of

Masthead Rig

Masthead rigs are known for their stiff and reliable performance, making them ideal for larger sailboats or boats with a lot of sail area.

With the mast located at the top of the boat, the masthead rig has a larger jib, or head sail, than a fractional rig. The additional sail area means that the boat can sail faster upwind.

Fractional Rig

A fractional rig is a modern development in sailboat rigging. Instead of using a single mast, fractional rigs have two masts – a shorter mast and a longer mast.

The shorter mast, also known as the fractional rig, is located towards the front of the boat and holds the jib, while the longer mast holds the mainsail. Design of

Fractional Rig

Fractional rigs rely on the tension in the shrouds to control the shape of the sails.

The smaller mast is typically stepped in a tabernacle or pivoted at the bottom for ease of lowering, allowing for a higher aspect ratio on the larger mast. Features of

Fractional Rig

Fractional rigs are designed to be more flexible and forgiving, making them ideal for smaller sailboats or boats that sail in high winds.

With the smaller mast located near the front of the boat, the fractional rig has a smaller, more manageable jib. The smaller jib area allows the boat to sail closer to the wind, making it a popular choice for racing boats.


In conclusion, the masthead and fractional rig are the two most popular types of sailboat rigging and offer different design features and performance benefits. The masthead rig is stiff, reliable, and ideal for larger boats with a lot of sail area, while the fractional rig is flexible, forgiving, and ideal for smaller sailboats or boats that sail in high winds.

Understanding the differences in design and features between these two rigs is essential for choosing the right rig for your sailboat.

Fractional Rig – A Detailed Explanation

The fractional rig is a popular choice for sailing enthusiasts because it offers a balance between speed and responsiveness. This rigging system is designed to enhance the performance of smaller boats that sail in higher wind conditions and offers several advantages over other rigging systems like the masthead rig.

Design of

Fractional Rig

The fractional rig features a shorter mast that is positioned towards the front of the boat, unlike the masthead rig, which has a tall mast that extends to the top of the sailboat. The shorter mast means that the forestay, the wire or rope that supports the mast from the front, is not connected to the top of the mast but to a point lower down known as the hounds.

Additionally, the fractional rig features a runner, which is a tensioned line that helps control the shape of the sail by limiting the mast’s bend, ensuring that the sail’s wind is correctly oriented. This rigging system also includes a backstay or aft support, which is attached to the top of the mast and extends to the stern of the boat, balancing the forces acting on the mast and ensuring the stability of the boat.

Features of

Fractional Rig

One of the most significant features of the fractional rig is the larger mainsail, the sail that connects to the taller mast. This larger sail area provides more thrust, making it easier to sail in higher wind conditions.

While the headsail, the sail that connects to the shorter mast, is smaller than that of the masthead rig, its smaller size allows it to be handier, making it easier to maneuver. The jib, which is larger than the headsail, but smaller than the masthead rig’s jib, is well-suited for close-hauled sailing as it maximizes wind efficiency.

Fractional rigs are tuned to have more bend in the mast than the masthead rig, contributing to their flexibility and responsiveness in higher winds. However, doing this without the proper tension on the runner can lead to excessive bending of the mast, affecting the boat’s handling and reducing its efficiency.

Comparison between Masthead and

Fractional Rig

Let’s compare and contrast the masthead and fractional rig systems to help you make an informed decision.

Jib and Headsail

The triangular headsail helps to maximize upwind sailing efficiency. With a masthead rig, the jib is larger, giving the boat more power in moderate winds but less control in higher winds.

In contrast, the fractional rig’s smaller headsail means that the boat will be more efficient in higher winds.


Stable rigging is required to ensure that the sailboat sails efficiently and avoids capsize. The masthead rig is more stable and easier to tune.

Since the fractional rig relies on more significant tension on the runner, it is relatively more difficult to tune. Over-bending or under-bending the mast can lead to a sail shape that’s less than optimal, affecting performance.

Advantages and Disadvantages

One of the advantages of the masthead rig is its reliability. With their larger sails and more straightforward rigging systems, they are easier to operate and maintain.

It is easier to reef the sails when conditions become more challenging. In comparison, the fractional rig’s larger mainsail size makes it more challenging to control when the winds are strong.

Fractional rigs are better suited for smaller boats that sail in higher wind conditions, as they offer excellent responsiveness and maneuverability. Efficiency is another factor to consider.

The large sail sizes of the masthead rig require more wind to move the boat. The smaller sail size of the fractional rig creates less drag and provides more efficiency.

However, the larger mainsail and strict tuning requirements of the fractional rig make it more susceptible to performance degradation due to poor tuning. Handling is critical when deciding between the masthead and fractional rig.

The masthead rig needs a crew to operate, whereas the fractional rig requires less crew due to its simpler rigging system. The fractional rig is easy to handle and can be managed by just one sailor.


Rigging plays a crucial role in the performance and efficiency of any sailboat. The fractional and masthead rigging systems are the most common types of sailboat rigs.

The fractional rig is suited for smaller boats that sail in higher wind conditions, thanks to its larger mainsails, handier jibs, and responsive maneuverability. The masthead rig is ideal for larger boats that need lots of sail area and greater power.

With this information, you can now make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a rigging system for your sailboat. Additional Information on Masthead and

Fractional Rig

Masthead Truck

The masthead truck is a wooden cap located at the top of the mast of a sailboat.

It is designed to help support the rigging and secure the mast in its position. The truck also serves as a mounting point for various instruments like radio antennas, wind vanes, and weather sensors.

On smaller boats, the masthead truck also serves as a flag-staff holder. The masthead truck is connected to the halyards, which are lines attached to the sails that raise and lower them.

The halyards are routed through a series of pulleys and blocks attached to the masthead truck, allowing the sails to be raised and lowered effortlessly. In addition to supporting the rigging, the masthead truck can also be fitted with a lightning rod.

The lightning rod serves to divert lightning strikes from the mast, preventing electrical shock or damage to the boat’s electrical systems. Sailing

Fractional Rig

Sailing with a fractional rig requires a slightly different approach than traditional rigging systems.

The forestay on a fractional rig is attached to a point lower on the mast, and the smaller foretriangle sail area means that the jib must be much more efficient than on traditional rigs. The greater tension placed on the rigging system requires careful tuning to ensure the sails are functioning correctly.

The rig’s tuning also makes a significant difference in the boat’s overall speed and responsiveness. Proper tuning has a significant impact on the mast and its flexibility and bend.

The mast on a fractional rig is designed to respond to the tension of the runner, allowing for precise control over the shape of the sail. However, it is essential to maintain the correct tension on the runner, as over-tensioning or under-tensioning can lead to less optimal sail shape and less efficient performance.

Proper tuning of a fractional rig requires expertise and care.

Masthead Ketch

The masthead ketch is a two-masted sailboat with a specific rigging system. The mainmast is located towards the bow of the boat, while the aft-mast, known as the mizzen mast, is located towards the rear of the boat.

The two masts on the masthead ketch have different heights, with the mainmast being considerably taller than the mizzen mast. The masthead ketch rigging system is known for its versatility, allowing the boat to sail in a variety of wind conditions.

The taller mainmast generates greater power, making it easier to sail faster in lower wind conditions. Meanwhile, the shorter, rear mizzen mast helps to balance the boat and maintain stability during high wind conditions.


Masthead and fractional rigging systems are two of the most common types of rig found on sailboats. While masthead rigs are more traditional and well-suited to larger boats with more sail area, fractional rigs are ideal for smaller boats that sail in higher wind conditions.

Understanding the specifics of each type of rig and their unique designs, features, and benefits is imperative when selecting a rig type. Additionally, knowledge of masthead trucks, tuning of fractional rigs, and the unique rigging system of the masthead ketch can aid sailors in maintaining their boats and adapting to changing weather conditions.

In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of sailboat rigging, specifically the masthead and fractional rig, is crucial for sailboat enthusiasts. The masthead rig offers reliability, larger jibs, and stiffness, making it ideal for larger sailboats.

On the other hand, the fractional rig provides responsiveness, handier jibs, and flexibility, which suits smaller sailboats and higher wind conditions. Both rigs have their distinct advantages and tuning requirements.

Additionally, topics such as masthead trucks, sailing with a fractional rig, and the masthead ketch rig demonstrate further nuances in the world of sailboat rigging. Ultimately, choosing the right rigging system can greatly impact a sailboat’s performance, efficiency, and overall sailing experience.

So, whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a beginner, understanding the different rigging systems and their features is essential for making informed decisions and enhancing your enjoyment on the water.

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