Avoiding Mainsheet Mayhem

Nothing is more frustrating than getting your mainsheet tangled in a manoeuvre. Most of the time there is no rhyme or reason. Perhaps it’s related to karma, spiritual beliefs, or luck of the draw. Sometimes it’s so aggravating, it could cost you the race mentally. Is it some sort of practical joke? Do you have the wrong type of line or is there actually a correct way of handling it? Here’s the secret to frustration free sailing (FFS) shown in the video, along with some other small tips that may help.

What not to do:

  1. Leave it up to chance. Before every manoeuvre you are required to have some cognitive initiative to evade the ankle cross constrictor knot (a harsh knot that can be difficult or impossible to untie once tightened).
  2. Leaving it to superstition, like brushing your teeth with your opposite hand and sleeping with socks on the night before the regatta.
  3. Tying the loose end of the sheet to your hiking strap. It may keep the loose end from being in the cockpit, but it is very easily chain stitched to the strap.
  4. Drag the mainsheet in the water while racing. The line will have a hard time half hitching on your ankle if it’s behind the boat, but I would still refrain from doing this.

Creating a FFS environment:

  1. Drag the sheet behind the boat between races. This usually gets rid of any twist and you don’t have to worry about sailing slow.
  2.  If you drain the water from the cockpit, the mainsheet won’t swish around and tangle in your feet. Sailing with water in the cockpit is also not ideal from a displacement standpoint.
  3. You must respect your mainsheet. When was the last time you took all the knots out of it?
  4. At the end of the sailing day, coil it in a figure 8 instead of the standard coil to avoid a twist.
  5. Cut the extra 4 feet from the end and use it for a hiking strap adjustment line. Removing unnecessary line in the cockpit is critical to not getting your feet luggage tagged together
  6. Consistently follow those steps and you may eliminate 10% of ankle bracelets. The most important method is explained next.

I decided to do some testing and video work to see how it’s really done. Last night I wore my socks to bed in the hopes that my sheet would slide free, and it worked!

What to do:


Before tacking you can see my forward hand sliding up the sheet clearing about 6 feet of tail between the main block and the ankle knots. The sheet is placed quickly and neatly on my lap. When I go into the tack, that 6 feet is all I need to make sure there’s no hiccup, and it falls nicely into the cockpit without me stepping on it.

After tacking you can see me finishing a tack and doing the same thing with my forward hand; sliding it up to free 6 feet from the block.

Recovering from a mistake: I did my usual tack without any prep and casually clove hitched the mainsheet to my feet. I finished the tack without mainsheet in hand. Why? I thought it would be better to keep sailing fast than to verbally abuse my sheet.

If you feel like you are experiencing mainsheet mental breakdown (MMB), come join one of ISA’s support groups here in Mexico as we work together in a classroom environment to overcome our frustration.


Vaughn Harrison

When Vaughn isn't coaching sailors at our week long, all-inclusive Laser clinics in Mexico, he continues his work with countless Olympians, youth and masters sailors. He coached at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and founded ISA in 2008.