Code Zeros

I have always thought that Code Zero ought to be the name of a Bruce Willis movie, but in reality I have found the name Code Zero one of the most confusing terms in contempory sailing/sail making.

With its genesis 20 years ago in what was then called the Whitbread Round the World Race, now the Volvo Ocean Race, the Code Zero was in effect a cheater headsail. For boats using a Code Zero sail when racing, this remains the primary use. It is used functionally as a very large headsail in light air but it measures as a spinnaker. It is a sail that requires more than the usual contemplation, planning and discussions with professionals than many, perhaps most, other sails.code 3 code 1

J-105 with Code Zero

This video is of a "code Zero"-the Hood version. This sail does not need"
* A 2:1 Halyard
* A really rigid bowsprit
* A roller
* Does not to have all the girth in the back of the sail, so the luff is straight to work on the roller.
* Can be made fro Nylon
* So it is less expensive that a laminate
* AND more durable too boot.
Email me for more details

Posted by Joe Cooper Sailing on Saturday, April 13, 2013


code 3Code Zeros are very specialized sails and for sailors thinking about opting for one, there are several questions you need to ask yourself first.

The very top of the list is:

What wind speed and apparent wind angle do I want this sail to work in? In other words where is the “hole” in the inventory? This is the basis of all discussions with sail makers and you may find a Code Zero is not the sail you need to solve your problem.


Will I ever want to race with this sail?


Do I merely want a sail I can use upwind in under 8 knots true wind?

The latter is relatively easy compared to racing, because the non-racing version of this sail can be designed & made like a headsail. There are several reasons why:

  • In terms of shaping it is “just” a headsail.
  • It can be set free flying, but should have a low stretch luff rope rather than the more common luff tape, intended to go into the luff groove on the furler.
  • It can be easily set on a second headsail halyard.
  • It can set “under” the sail on the furler, thus eliminating even the idea of “changing” sails.
  • It can be made in heavy spinnaker cloth, which is perfectly strong enough for light air use on boats under 50 feet.
  • In nylon this sail is light in dead-weight, even the kids can move it around!
  • It can be handled like a spinnaker, that is to say, stuffed into a bag. It need not be handled with the care used on the Shroud of Turin.
  • It is small in volume, so can be jammed into places an equivalent service Dacron Vektron or laminated sail has no hope of stowing in.
  • It is invariably less expensive that a laminated sail
  • AND nylon is much more forgiving in those moments when you get caught out and the sail is flogging. Where as laminated materials do not like to flog for very long or at all in any wind.
  • Lastly, once in its bag you can even use it to take a nap on!

For the non-racing sailor this kind of nylon headsail is a very powerful and effective sail in its wind range. Upwind it can be the difference between motoring and sailing. Such a sail can frequently be used in more wind at deeper angles, say down to about 90 degrees apparent wind angle. For sailing at deeper than 90 apparent one can change to the cruising spinnaker.

For racing there are several issues to be addressed:

The first one is: just how will the sail be rigged?  Will it fly off a short bowsprit or directly off the stem head or on a sprit and if the latter, a fixed or extendable sprit?

Unless you sail an open class like a Mini 650, a Class 40 or similar open boats, there are measurements that define both a spinnaker and a headsail. For a spinnaker what’s important for a Code Zero is that the mid-girth may be NO SHORTER than 75% of the foot length. For a headsail the mid-girth may be NO LARGER than 50% of the foot length.

This question is intimately tied to the issue of how the sail is to be handled. There are two options and most of the discussion on these sails involves a free luff furler. The next decision is the material from which the sail will be made.

The cloth manufacturers have all developed a range of very thin film laminated materials marketed as Code Zero material. This is fine if you have a well-drilled crew capable of responding to sudden changes in weather. For various reasons, mylar film cannot withstand being flogged for very long at all, ideally, never. Thus, if you have the Code Zero set and are caught out in a wind increase, sailing overnight for instance, it is possible to seriously damage the sail.

If you are going to use the sail on a furler, you should know that the loads the furlers need to work properly are considerable and apply loads to the masthead and the stem-head or sprit, usually way above what they were designed to accept. This is especially so if you have an older club cruiser racer.

Boats that are properly reinforced and rigged can get a huge amount of use from a Code Zero but you do need to do your homework on these issues and make sure every link in the chain of setting, using and lowering this sail is beefed up.

Lastly make sure you are sitting down when you get the price for the furling equipment. In a number of cases, it is more expensive than the sail itself.