William Longyard's Mast Raising Page

Fed up with the flimsy systems some boat manufacturers offer? So am I. Read on!


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What is mast raising and why is it important?

Mast raising is the process of bringing a mast from horizontal to vertical. Today it is used mostly by trailer sailors to allow them to haul their boats on roads, and for some to also store their boats in garages. What many trailer sailors do not realize is that mast raising was developed long before the boat trailer and automobile, and was first used by working boats which had to navigate their way under bridges , through canals, and other low obstructions.

Considering its working heritage, it should not be surprising that some of the best ideas for mast raising come from Europe which was heavily canalized beginning 300 years ago.

Mast raising is important even for trailer sailors not just so that they can erect, or lower, their masts quickly, but because a simple, reliable system greatly adds to personal safety. I've seen numerous factory-offered mast raising systems, but none of them match the safety and utility offered by the examples I'll show you below. Factories do not offer really useful mast raising systems because they are pricey, and ...dull. People love to talk about their spinnakers, autopilots, and outboards, not their mundane mast raising apparatus.

I believe that a boat manufacturer which offers a really practical mast raising system on its boats will sell more boats. Too many people today know the quiet frustration of having to deal with a big "stick", though they do not like to talk about it because it connotes weakness.


What is a practical mast raising system?

A practical mast raising system is one which is rigged and ready to be used at all times, even when under way. Systems which require the use of a jury pole in the rudder pintles, or straps attached to the boat trailer, or several helpers stationed at different places on a boat ARE NOT PRACTICAL and do not pass the test.

A proper mast raising system should:

a. Be permanently rigged for instant use.

b. Allow for one person operation.

c. Be operable when afloat with a moderate roll.

d. Be compact and not interfere with the normal rigging of the boat.

This model in the Scheepvaartsmuseum in Amsterdam shows what I consider an ideal method to raise and lower a ship's mast- even a relatively large one. A system such as this could be easily fitted to a small boat either by the owner, or better yet, at the factory. This method employs an "A" frame, the two white poles attached athwart the mast at the gunwales, and coming together at the bow where they are rigidly fixed to each other. A short pennant attaches the peak of the "A" to the forestay attachment bracket. The most import feature of this system is that the "A" frame provides lateral stability to the mast as it is raised, or lowered. In other words, it resists any tendency the mast would have to lean to the left or right. Such off-centered leaning could literally rip the mast's tabernacle out of the deck. Another point to consider is that the ends of the "A" frame are nearly in-line with the pivot point of the mast. If these three points were exactly aligned the forestay would stay taught during the entire raising-lowering process.


Now look at these two pictures taken at Haarlem, the Netherlands. This lovely wooden boat is actually a city dweller! Comfortably afloat outside its owner's town-house, the only way this beauty can get to open water is through a series of canals over which there are many bridges. No wonder it has a handy mast raising system.

This system uses a "gin" pole which is permanently attached near the base of the mast exactly in-line with the mast pivot point. The block and line on the bow-sprit control the whole system. When the line is extended, the mast leans backs as the gin pole rises. The reverse occurs when the line is hauled in. The gin pole is made from a galvanized steel tube. Lateral stability is aided by the tabernacle sides which steady the mast which is of square section where it fits between the tabernacle sides. This is a mast that goes up and down many times within a hour as the boat negotiates the canals and bridges between it and the IJsselmeer. (Due to the size of the cabin windows I doubt this boat sees much North Sea water.)





Here is my gunter rigged Siren 17. Sirens were built in the 1970s and 80s in Canada as basic sloop rigged over-nighters. The mast was over 20 feet long, and that was just too big for me to handle in a practical, and safe manner, therefore I decided to convert it to a gunter rig AND devise a simple mast raising system at the same time.

The mast was cut down to 13 feet so that when it folds down in the tabernacle it extends over the rear of the transom by about 2 feet. The gunter yard is a 12 foot section of heavy gauge aluminum irrigation tube, with a slot cut into it for sail slides. The gunter folds horizontally along with the mast, while the boom uses a quick-release pin to fit into its luff slide, or its storage bracket mounted off center on the tabernacle.


Here is the cabin top. The tabernacle is made from stainless steel "C" channel 3/4"x3"x3/4" (.090). It was purchased at a scrap dealer having formerly been part of a food-processing assembly line. I paid $35 for it and cut it with an abrasive disk "chop box".

A short piece of channel serves to space the two side pieces. Everything is bolted together with 1/4" ss bolts. Bolted to the cabin top, and also bolted to the vertical channel, is another short piece. This provides for lateral and fore/aft rigidity. The rear piece of channel is cut short to allow the mast to lie nearly flat. Part of the mast base, and top, were cut. This must be done so that the mast slot groove is at the proper height above the cabin top.

The lines in the above picture are only temporary. Now, they run down to the blocks at the base of the mast, too. The starboard side tabernacle blocks are exactly in line with the mast pivot, and so when the mast is lowered these lines remain tight, and do not have to be readjusted. When I put the mast up all halyards are ready to use.

Inside the cabin you can see how I carefully notched the roof with a series of 1/8" drill holes. I then rocked the drill back and forth to connect the holes, and clean it out with a file. Afterwards, everything was sealed.


The "C" channel edges came deburred, but as an added precaution I later put plastic covers over them. The wire goes to the masthead light socket on the cabin top.


The bottoms of the "C" channels are bolted against the swing-keel trunk using the 1/2" stainless keel pivot bolt. The small notch cut into the "C" channel if for the keel locking pin.

Not pictured is a piece that connects the channels half way from the keel bolt up to the cabin roof. This member handles any flex loads imposed by mast compression.




Mast Raising Made Easy:

My mast raising system allows me to put up the mast in about one minute from the time I climb up into the cockpit at the launch ramp. I simply push up the mast to vertical, then lock it in place with a temporary locking pin a few inches below the pivot bolt. I next attach the forestay and remove the temporary locking pin. It's up. I have done this at the ramp, and on the water (with the keel down of course).


Warnings, Cautions, and Disclaimer:

I am not an engineer and therefore I provide this page for informational purposes only. If you wish to alter your boat's rigging you should do so with the advice of a professional engineer.


I hope you enjoyed this page. If you need to contact me, click HERE.

Happy Sailing!