How to Use a Mainsheet Traveler

Better Sail Trim Means Faster Boat Speed

Sailboat on the ocean
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Although the mainsheet tackle attaches to a fixed point on some smaller sailboats, most cruising and racing sailboats have a mainsheet traveler that allows for better positioning of the boom. This provides the best sail trim and boat speed. Learn how to use a traveler for your next sail by centering the boom upwind and more.

What Is a Mainsheet Traveler

The mainsheet traveler is a device that allows for changing the position where the mainsheet tackle connects to the boat. The traveler is typically mounted either in the cockpit or on the cabin top for mid-boom sheeting. Different forms of mainsheet tackle may be used, but the principle is the same: the tackle connects between the boom above and the boat below.

Usually, the tackle connects with a car that can be moved to port or starboard by control lines that lead to the cockpit. In the traditional type of traveler, each line leads back to a cam cleat. To move the traveler car to port, release the starboard control line and pull in the port line. Reverse this to move it to starboard.

Centering the Boom Upwind

A primary use of the traveler is to keep the boom centered when sailing close-hauled. Because the mainsheet tackle covers a span between the boom and the boat attachment, the boom will move to leeward no matter how tight the mainsheet is sheeted in. Moving the traveler car slightly upwind when sailing close-hauled can bring the boom back over the centerline to gain the most power from the mainsail. Be careful not to bring the boom to windward of the centerline, however. This causes a loss of power.

Trimming With the Traveler

In many situations, the mainsail is trimmed further off the wind by letting the sheet out, allowing the boom and sail to swing farther to leeward. The force of the wind on the sail also causes the boom to rise, however, making the mainsail less flat. In certain situations on points of sail between close-hauled and a beam reach, it may be better to trim the main by moving the traveler down rather than letting out the mainsheet. With the traveler farther off center, the sail can be flattened by tightening the mainsheet and pulling down the boom, without pulling the boom back toward the centerline.

Experiment With Your Own Boat

Letting out the traveler reduces boat heel and weather helm, the tendency of most sailboats to turn toward the wind with a gust. This action of using the traveler position to pull the boom down is similar to using a boom vang to keep the boom from rising and putting more belly in the sail. While the vang is often a critical adjustment for downwind sailing when the boom is far out, and thus rises easily with wind gusts, the traveler works better upwind.

As with all matters of varying boat gear and sail trim, it’s best to experiment with your own boat to see what configuration produces the most speed. Read about how to use the traveler and other sail adjustments for strong winds.