Upcycling Old Sails - Sailors for the Sea

Upcycling Old Sails

 March 15, 2024  | By: Jennifer Brett

While propelling boats with the wind is certainly environmentally friendly, the sails themselves typically are not. Modern sailcloths include polyester (Dacron), nylon, carbon fiber and aramid fibers (such as Kevlar and Nomex). They are usually not recyclable, and at the end of their useful onboard life, often end up languishing in someone’s shed or basement, or worse, the landfill. In most cases however, the cloth is still usable and is ideal for upcycling the old sails into something new.

If you have a tired sail or two taking up space, consider hosting a sail drive at your sailing club or during a regatta. Chances are, there are plenty of others who also have some older sails that could use a new life.

I reached out to our friends at Sea Bags and Sail to Shelter, two organizations that accept used sails, to see what guidelines or tips they might have for someone wanting to donate sails or host a sail drive.

Sea Bags

Sea Bags, located in Portland, Maine, is well known for their totes, bags, and other items made from upcycled sailcloth. They do custom work as well (check out our Sailors for the Sea bucket bag!) and will provide you with bags made from your donated sails. The Thistle Class utilized this perk when they were able to turn sails that were donated during a regatta into prizes for the Thistle Nationals 75th Anniversary Regatta.

The prizes awarded at the Thistle Nationals included bags made by Sea Bags from donated Thistle sails.

If someone would like to host a sail drive for Sea Bags at their regatta, what would be the first step?

First, contact a sail trade associate as they can assist with pick-up of the sails and order placement (if applicable) for any one-of-a-kind handcrafted bags being made in trade. Sail trade associates can also assist with marketing opportunities and offer advice on how to position the sail drive on the organizer’s media channels.

What are the sail materials that you can accept?

We accept all Dacron, canvas, spinnaker, and NON-delaminated sails. Sea Bags strives to recycle as much as we possibly can, hand-cutting sails to maximize usable material and repurposing any leftover scraps for our cherished hang tags.  

How about the condition of the sails? (wear and tear of the cloth, staining, etc.)

We believe wear and rust marks only add to the character of our bags and intentionally incorporate them while handcrafting our totes, bags, and accessories. We accept sails in almost any condition, please refer to your sail trade associate with any specific questions.

Van with used sails
If you host a sail drive at an upcoming regatta, you might find that plenty of sailors have some old sails to donate.

Factors for a successful sail drive:

  • Promote your sail drive across many channels: social media, newsletters, and email.
  • Include a clear description of what sail traders receive outlined in all marketing.
  • Signage (which Sea Bags can provide) and a clear drop-off point.
  • Maintain communications with sail trade associate throughout the process.

Sail to Shelter

Sail to Shelter, based in Los Angeles, California, is taking an entirely different approach with used sails. Working with an architecture firm, they are devising ways to use sails as shade and shelter in places that have been devastated by natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Currently, they are in Maui working to assist victims of last year’s Lahaina wildfire.

Angela Abshier, founder of Sail to Shelter, has big plans for these big sails.

What are the sail materials that you can accept?

Currently we are only accepting superyacht sails and racing sails. We are going for big sails right now to maximize scale and durability. 

How about the condition of the sails?

Sail cloth should be in good condition. Sails can be ripped, but the cloth should be at least fair/good or good. We cannot use delaminated materials. However, we have yet to see a worn-out superyacht sail.

What’s the best way to get the collected sails to you?

Contact me, Angela Abshier, Sail to Shelter’s president, directly. Most lofts will hold a sail for you while I make arrangements for pick up.

What are some of the projects that you have done with the donated sails?

We are working on Maui right now to provide shade, shelter and wind diversion. Check out other projects at our website!