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The mainsheet (large green line) on a US Yachts US 22 sailboat
The jib sheet (large red line) on a US Yachts US 22 sailboat

In sailing, a sheet is a line (rope, cable or chain) used to control the movable corner(s) (clews) of a sail.[1][2]


In nautical usage the term "sheet" is applied to a line or chain attached to the lower corners of a sail for the purpose of extension or change of direction. The connection in derivation with the root "shoot" is more clearly seen in "sheet-anchor", one that is kept in reserve, to be "shot" in case of emergency.[1][3]

Fore-and-aft rigs

Fore-and-aft rigs comprise the vast majority of sailing vessels in use today, including effectively all dinghies and yachts. The sheet on a fore-and-aft sail controls the angle of the sail to the wind, and should be adjusted to keep the sail just filled. Most smaller boats use the Bermuda rig, which has two or three sets of sheets:

On the smallest boats, a sheet is often a simple line, pulled by hand; on larger boats, intermediate blocks are sometimes used to provide mechanical advantage. However, many blocks and their multiply reeved lines, particularly on headsails, have been replaced by single-line sheets trimmed by powerful winches.

Square rig

Square-rigged vessels are much less common, and are usually large ships. Nevertheless, they too have sheets on the movable corners of their square sails. Unlike fore-and-aft sheets, though, square-rig sheets do not control the angle of the sails (which is performed using braces); instead, they are used to haul the corners of the sails from their stowed positions down towards the tip of the yard below. They are then not adjusted significantly while sailing until the sail is to be handed (put away) again. The lowest sails, the courses, are trimmed using the sheets as these sails are loose footed and are secured to yards only at the head.


  1. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sheet". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 822.
  2. ^ "sheet, n.2" in Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. ^ "Anchor" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 949.