What does a Sailmaker do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A sailmaker is a person who specializes in producing sails for ships and providing advice on how to use, set, and care for sails. Sailmakers can work for large companies producing ships and accessories and may also work in smaller firms. People in this field are usually experienced sailors and often learn through apprenticeship to an experienced sailmaker, although some college classes can also help people prepare for a career in sailmaking. Understanding textile science and the physics of sailing can be valuable for these professionals.

Sailmakers test the sails they have made on the water.
Sailmakers test the sails they have made on the water.

Sailmakers are capable of designing sails, as well as developing different rigging schemes. Companies involved in mass production rely on a team of personnel to develop appropriate sail designs for their ships. When custom orders come in, as when people want a specific configuration or design, the sailmaker meets with the client to discuss the needs and develops an appropriate design, creating patterns for use in the production of the sails. In smaller firms and independent sail lofts, all the work may be custom.

For people like competitive sailors, working with an experienced sailmaker is very important. The types of sails used, as well as how they are set on the ship, can make or break a race. These professionals are familiar with the demands of racing and the various types of ships used so they can assist their clients. Others may specialize in historic sails, focusing on making sails for replica ships; they are familiar with ancient sailmaking techniques and rigging and can help people create a factually accurate replica that will also work for film and television, as well as events.

In addition to working onshore in a facility where sails are produced, sailmakers spend time on the water. They rig and test sails and can provide consultation services to people who want help with their boats. The sailmaker provides information about different rigging options and sail handling, inspects sails, and helps people maintain and repair sails to keep them in good working order. This work can take sailmakers to a variety of locations around the world, as clients may request that the artisan travel to the ship.

Rates of pay vary, depending on where a sailmaker works and the skills the person has acquired. People familiar with complex topics like working with racing boats can often command high fees for their services, especially if they are working with well-known sailors and their support teams. Beginners tend to make less money. Availability of benefits is also variable; big shipmakers may have benefits options available, while smaller independent companies tend not to offer this.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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