Roller furlers have gone from luxury items to standard equipment for many sailors.
They make a day on the water with the family, or a long excursion to new ports, much easier, but they need to be maintained. Nine out of ten problems with roller furlers are caused by a simple lack of maintenance.
Every manufacturer makes their equipment a little differently, and roller furlers are no exception. Some advertise no maintenance or even using water only.
This is why it is crucial to understand your furler’s construction.
Fortunately, it is a straightforward procedure that even casual owners can do themselves without hiring their rigger or sailmaker to take care of it:
Here’s How to Perform Maintenance on Your Roller Furler:
First, you need to read the manual to identify the places needing lubrication or other maintenance. Then, prepare the furler and the area below it. Next, apply the lubrication and make sure it coats all bearings. Finally, reassemble the furler drum and raise the genoa again.
Read & Understand the Furler’s Manual
This cannot be understated. Every furler is different and has different spots requiring lubrication; some are not obvious even with the furler drum removed.
Some manufacturers also require a specific type of lubrication. Using WD-40 in place of grease will only gum up the bearing races.
Being familiar with the manual has other benefits, as well. For example, if you see a separation in your extrusions at a later date, and you know that they are held together with a spring on the leading edge, you may have already identified the problem.
Or, if all the extrusions are separating, you might be aware that the inner sleeve has shifted due to a set screw under the drum having fallen out.
If you do not have the manual, it is still likely you can find it. Most manufacturers have placed their manuals online, even for older, out-of-production models. If this is not the case, say for a manufacturer that is out of business, it is still possible to track some down from riggers or sailmakers, particularly those that have been in business for a long time.
If all of this fails, forums are a possible source, particularly if there is a forum for a particular boat manufacturer with that brand of furler as standard for any length of time.
Certain boat dealer networks may have the manual, as well, as a PDF if not a physical copy.
Knowledge of the construction of the unit helps you understand why and where the furler requires maintenance.
Prepare the Furler and the Work Area
This step usually takes the longest.
The first thing to do is lower the genoa, detaching the head and tack from the shackles and pushing the sail out of the way. If you perform this maintenance at the end of the year or before the season starts, the sail is already out of the way.
One helpful hint here: mark the furling line where it rests on the line guide. This is because you will be taking off all the line to remove the drum.
When you reassemble everything, you will know how many lines to wind back onto the furler when you raise the sail with this mark. Note the direction – clockwise or counterclockwise – as well!
Next, spread an old towel under the furler drum. This is to catch the dirt that will be flushed out of the unit, as well as catch any small parts like set-screws that might fall out of your fingers. Screws will bounce off decks and over the side, but a towel will cushion their fall so they don’t bounce so high.
Now you want to remove the furler drum. Usually, these are two halves that snap or are screwed together around the unit. But again, all units are engineered differently, so make sure you understand how to remove the drum before you try it and break something expensive.
At this point, you will probably find yourself doing a quick cleaning of certain areas like bearing races. Salt and other grime can accumulate in these areas, even lubricated, so it is important to clean them.
Usually, you will want to use a spray degreasing cleaning solvent here. These are readily available in auto stores or sewing machine sellers. A favorite among sailmakers is C-60, as it dries quickly. Make sure the manual does not have a specific recommendation; some want you to use water in cleaning the unit.
You do not want to use WD-40 or a similar product to clean the unit, as it leaves a residue that will attract dirt and salt and work against the lubrication you will use.
The most obvious areas where you will spray the cleaning solvent are the bearing races at the bottom behind the drum and the bearing races of the upper swivel unit that the sail’s head attaches to. Some models have two bearing races at each of these locations; make sure you clean both!
There may be a few other places the units require cleaning, depending on the brand.
Apply the Lubrication to All Areas Requiring it
This is the heart of the matter. Lubrication is what makes your furler work smoothly, the same as all mechanical parts.
Without it, they bind up and can be damaged as you try to turn them. Failure to lubricate is the cause of the majority of damage to roller furlers.
It is important to be familiar with the manual for the specific unit, as there are differences in the exact product needed to lubricate. Many furler manufacturers supply the owner with some grease, but it eventually runs out.
Most manufacturers want you to use water-resistant, semi-solid grease. Furlex, by Selden Mast, makes a proprietary grease, available from most of their dealers, that works on most other brands as well. Lewmar Winch Grease, Superlube, West Marine’s Boat Grease, and similar products will usually fit the bill here.
Several manufacturers want you to use water only on their units, such as some Harken and Schaefer furlers. These have a different bearing system, often using Torlon or similar plastics, so they do not require the coating that ball bearings do.
The most obvious area to treat will be the bearing races, which you previously flushed the salt and grime out of. This will be on the lower unit, and the halyard swivel, again keeping in mind that there may be two bearing races at each area.
Ensure the bearings are coated: put in some grease, spin the swivel all around, and put in some more grease. Bearings that are not completely coated can cause problems.
There may be a few other areas that require some lubrication at this point, as well.
For instance, some furlers have a feeding ring that will rotate one full turn when the sail is raised. While not critical for the furler’s operation during the season, it is a good idea to take care of it simultaneously.
Reassemble the Drum and Clean the Area
Now, you’re done with the essentials of the operation.
Do a quick clean-up of the unit to get any grease that may be smudged or dropped on the unit or the deck. Reassemble the drum unit, but don’t rewind the line on yet.
There may be some other things to inspect on your unit, and now is the time to do it. There may be set screws or bearing pins, again depending on the particular make of furler. Some extrusions are kept in place above the drum by screws, and you want to make sure they are still in place, and the extrusions are supported.
Clean the rest of the area and the lower extrusions. Salt splashes up into this area over time, leading to possible corrosion, particularly on aluminum extrusions, and now is the time to remove it. Some manufacturers recommend that you use a mild detergent here, but be aware of the contents, as aluminum extrusions can be damaged by the wrong detergent.
You might also decide to polish the lower extrusions, as this will help protect the surfaces from salt and dirt. A silicon-free polish or wax is good to go with here, as particles will be less likely to adhere to these surfaces.
Now, remove the towel from under the unit, and finish cleaning any chemicals or solvents still on any deck or pulpit surfaces.
Roll your line back onto the drum – making sure you are going in the proper direction – to the mark you made earlier. Raise the sail and furl her up. Feel the difference?
Time to go sailing!
This is a relatively easy, straightforward process that is essential to the continued functioning of your expensive furler.
If this is not done regularly – once every season is ideal – your furler WILL fail, and it will probably be at the very worst time: with building winds still far from the dock and your furler binding up under load.
But staying ahead of the maintenance guarantees that your furler will be problem-free for as long as you own your boat.