• Mobile App For Android Now Online!

    Download it here. The app is searchable in the Google Play Store under Sailboat Owners.

    Sorry iPhone/iPad users, we are still waiting on Apple. :(

    Click the X in the upper right corner to make this go away


May 17, 2004
Other Catalina 30 Tucson, AZ
Ship Mates: 2021 has got to be a better year. Nothing could be worse than last year.

The community we live in (4500 homes) is working with the state of AZ to distribute the vaccine and my wife and I received the first dose on 1/23/21. The vaccine is a tremendous step in the right direction to beating Covid. Even though we get our flu shots each year sometimes I get a touch of the flu but I'm able to shake it off in about 3 days. In mid February, 2020 I had all the Covid symptoms but our doctor told me it was the flu. If it was the flu I've have never been that sick in my entire life and it lasted for over 10 days. I didn't go to the hospital because that's where all the sick people were and they weren't admitting anyone anyway. I survived but Covid takes a lot out of you and it takes a lot of time to fully recover.

Enough about Covid - lets talk about telltales. Telltales are absolutely the most important sail trim indicator on the boat. No non-electronic devise has been developed that approaches the sensitivity and effectiveness of telltales on the mainsail and jib. Sadly, a majority of sailors do not have telltales attached to their sails. I feel they are so important that I devote 5 pages to them in my book THE SAIL TRIM USERS GUIDE. Telltales are the first thing I look for on any boat I go on. I even carry a extra set with me in the event the boat is lacking telltales Any conversation I have with sailors regarding sail trims starts with the question "do you have telltales?". I don't know how anyone can trim their sails to 100% efficiency without them - I can't and I know what I'm looking for!!

Telltales not only indicate the direction of the wind but how the wind is moving over the sails. On a masthead rig, the jib is the engine - on a fractional rig it's the mainsail. Telltales will indicate if the wind is flowing evenly over both sides of the sail. If one side is flopping around it creates a sail trim problem that needs to be corrected by either changing course or or trimming a jib sheet. The course change or jib sheet trim will depend on which telltale is flopping.

There's so much extra you can do with your telltales once you understand what they are telling you. Such as are you sailing too low or high plus they can indicate a full speed setting, extra pointing and extra power settings..

In my opinion "telltales are absolutely the most important sail trim indicator on the boat".

Stay safe and the sailing season is just around the corner.
Oct 26, 2010
Hunter 40.5 Beaufort, SC
@Don Guillette - Do you have suggested locations and how many on a Genoa and a Main? I have 3 on my Genoa, located at a point on the sail where there are "clear" windows. There are none in the bulk of the sail and I could see how more would tell you more info for sail trim. On the main I only have tell tails on the leech of the sail at points where there are loops at the battens. Seems it would really be useful to have some on the face of the main in the belly at different heights and possible further aft between the belly and the leech.

I have your book and trim guide sheets but they are on the boat and am away from there right now. I have the genoa out for inspection and some restitching and it would be a good time to add them. I can do the main as I hoist it on a calm day.
Sep 20, 2014
Rob Legg RL24 Chain O'Lakes
Interestingly, when I was first taught to sail, we had telltails, but they were on the side stays, rather than the sail. Sail trim was based on apparent wind. As has been pointed out, if the sail is pointed directly into the wind, all the tell tails will fly.
May 25, 2012
john alden caravelle 42 sturgeon bay, wis
as the wind passes over the surface of the earth, there is drag from the surface, up until about 26 knts of wind when the drag "washes out". so most all the time we sail, we are in winds that are slower on the surface than aloft. therefor, the sailboats apparent wind is at different angles between the bottom of the sail and the top. the difference gets less and less as the wind increases until it washes out above 26 knts. so as sailors we know to put twist in out sail so the the leading edge of the sails is knifing straight into the apparent wind. in order to read how much twist we sailors need to have many sets of tell tails all the way up to the top of the sail. as the apparent wind speed goes up or down the twist will have to be adjusted.

if you don't do this, than huge %s of your sail will go from powering you along to dragging slower. funny thing about sails, if the are not pulling you they will be slowing you.

we of course have tracks so the spot at which our sails at sheeted to can changed so we can change the twist. then of course we will want to change the fullness/flatness of the sail as the apparent wind speed goes up.

having tell tails all the way up and down your sails is a absolute must for the sailor that wants to sail well. to many tell tails is much better than not enough.

they can fall off the sail. having extras ready to replace them is wise.

so which is it? tell tales or tell tails. i sure don't know

remember, if your sail ain't pulling you, it's creating drag. drag is slow. you want your sail pulling you from top to bottom. the trick is to remember that the direction of the apparent wind changes form top to bottom because the wind is slower closer to the deck.
May 25, 2012
john alden caravelle 42 sturgeon bay, wis
leach line adjusting
jib sheet track adjusting
out hall adjusting
boom vang adjusting
halyard tension
forestay tension/sag
reading the tell tails
reading the wind coming at you
reading the wind in the whole area your sailing
all while driving smoothly with just little adjustments

you gotta have lots of tell tails baby
you gotta have a good crew to help you achieve all the above.
if you want to sail well.
May 25, 2012
john alden caravelle 42 sturgeon bay, wis
yepper, i do all this while cruising/day sailing cause the "ride" on a well trimmed boat is amazing.
Feb 20, 2011
Island Packet 35 Tucson, AZ/San Carlos, MX
Ayup, telltales.
And cutlass, not cutless, unless it's a Duramax Johnson cutless® . ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Windlass, not windless
And heeling, not healing.
Anything else? ;)

Oh, glad you're better now, Don.
  • Like
Likes: jon hansen

Ward H

Nov 7, 2011
Catalina 30 Mk II Barnegat, NJ
I fully believe in watching the tell tales on my main for sail trimming but other than "a lot" how many should a sail have?
One every X number of feet up the leech? One at each batten?
Oct 2, 2008
Pearson/ 530 Strafford, NH
Ayup, telltales.
And cutlass, not cutless, unless it's a Duramax Johnson cutless® . ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Windlass, not windless
And heeling, not healing.
Anything else? ;)

Oh, glad you're better now, Don.
Yeah, he’s heeling.


Jun 1, 2004
Catalina 27 Mission Bay, San Diego
I just call 'em "Tells". As far as location.... headsail luff and mainsail leech are absolutely mandatory. All else is optional and sometimes quite difficult to interpret..
Aug 2, 2010
J-Boat J/88 Cobourg
Lots of telltales on the main of the America's Cup boats. I found it interesting that the rows have the telltales from luff to leach and only what looks like a few inches apart.
They certainly see their value.
Good to hear from you Don.
Mar 29, 2017
Hunter 30t 9805 littlecreek
As a kid, I grew up in 80's I'd use a little piece of duct tape and vcr tape or even cassette tape to add extra tails as seemed nessary to get the best sail trim Before me my dad used jarn from his mother's sewing kit wonder what modern devices one could use today


Alden Forum Moderator
Jun 22, 2004
Alden 38' Challenger yawl Rockport Harbor
I just typed telltales in my finder, and several of my photos came up.

A knockabout out of Woods Hole competing in 'Prince Johns Folly' taken at anchor in Hadley Harbor, Buzzards Bay.

CC 330 telltales streaming aft kids .jpg

I have an extra on my 130 genoa. It's there for when the sail is roller furled to about 120% or less.

Sails and telltales (1 of 1).jpg

My daughter and her English roommates from college came up in the finder under 'hair telltales'

Hair telltales.jpg

This too: 'Hair telltales stalled'

Hair telltales stalled.jpg