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The Best Roller Furling

Roller furling has become the status quo for headsails. Whether you are replacing one of the originals that is showing its age, or looking for convenience over hank-on sails, you'll find no shortage of good options with the latest generation of headsail furling systems.

After thoroughly researching the options, we think that the Seldén Furlex is the right roller furling system for most sailors.

Our Pick

Seldén Furlex 104S - 404S

Quality construction, smooth operation, ease of installation, and the included forestay make this our top pick over several great systems.

The latest generation of this well-made furling system strike a balance between total cost, performance, and versatility. It the easiest system to install yourself—complete with step-by-step video. Combined with the included forestay, which is a recommended upgrade for any furling system unless your boat has recently been re-rigged, and the Furlex is the best value of any furling system available.

For those looking to their jib as an all-weather sail, the Furlex includes the “free turn” swivel—helping flatten the sail when reefing by allowing the foil to get one free turn before the tack starts furling. For the casual racer, the Furlex features a detachable drum to convert into racing foil. It’s the only furler in our comparison to use stainless steel bearings, as well as the only system on the market that can be retrofitted into an electric furler (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Our Runner-Up

Harken MKIV

Harken lives up to it’s reputation with this popular furling system, making it our runner up.

Harken’s furling system is the most popular on the market. Paired with Harken’s great reputation and popularity in a wide range of products, the availability of spares, and reports of great after-market support and service make the MKIV our runner up choice.


The Research

What to look for

We looked for systems with these features:

  • Head-swivel - This allows the the foil of the furler to swivel independently of the head of the furler and halyard. You can get a jib furling system without a head-swivel for a bargain, but they’re not suitable for all-weather sailing.

  • Tack-swivel - If the tack can swivel independently of the furler, then furling will start from the middle of the sail. This flattens the sail, improving reefing and allowing the sail to to lay better when furled. Harken pioneered (and apparently patented) the fully swiveling tack, but Furlex and Facnor both allow the tack to swivel up to one full revolution before it begins furling.

  • Bearings - Wear and corrosion eventually take their toll on all moving parts, especially when they are wet and under load. Most old furling systems are replaced because they become too difficult to furl or even seize up. The material of the bearings and the design of the tracks are big factors. Torlon or stainless steel are preferred due to their strength and longevity. Most systems have the bearings slightly exposed so they can be easily cleaned with soap and water. Profurl is the lone-standout that has their bearings sealed and greased, making it virtually impossible to self-service.

  • Drum diameter - Larger diameters make it easier to furl, but also take more space and furling line. It’s a tradeoff, but being able to easily furl when you need to is worth the extra rope and space if you can spare it.

  • Toggles & Turnbuckle - Your forestay should have toggles at the chainplate and top of the mast—which allow for movement forward and aft as it sags, and side to side as there is load on the sail—and should have a turnbuckle to adjust the tension for light or heavy air. Sag sometimes can be adjusted with the backstay, but a good furling system should make it easy to adjust the turnbuckle connected to the lower toggle. Some systems accomplish this by providing a custom toggle and/or turnbuckle.

There are also a few features that may matter more to racers or performance-cruisers than the everyday sailor:

  • Sail grooves - Many systems come with twin luff grooves in the foil. There are two primary use cases for this: 1) changing the headsail in a race without losing speed, and 2) downwind sailing with two headsails. These systems also tend to have a furling drum that is easily removable to allow for sail changes and genoas with a longer luff.

  • Foil shape - The shape of the foil extrusion that fits over the forestay comes in two shapes: round or elliptical. Round rolls easier and more evenly. Elliptical is more aerodynamic when the sail is fully unfurled.

The competition

Furlers for jibs and genoas have been installed on new boats since the late eighties, giving manufacturers over 30 years of experience with what works and what doesn’t. The latest generation of systems are more durable, lighter, easier to inspect and maintain, and furl more smoothly—even under load.

We have focused our search on manufacturers with a reputation of building quality furling systems and compared these 5 products:

Product Price Bearings Drum size Foil shape Sail slots Tack swivel Warranty
Schaefer 1100, 2100, and 3100 Torlon 3 3/4" Round 2 5 years
Profurl C series High carbon steel N/A Round 2 10 years
Facnor LS / LX / RX Torlon N/A Round 2 2 years
Harken MKIV Torlon / Delrin 6 5/8" Elliptical 2 7 years
Seldén Furlex 104S - 404S Stainless steel 7 1/4" Elliptical 2 5 years

Schaefer 1100, 2100, and 3100

Overall, there is very little discussion of the Schaefer furling system online—especially compared to Furlex and Harken—which suggests lower adoption. However, given Schaefer’s longevity in the industry, they have earned their spot on the list of top furling systems on the market.

Practical Sailor’s 2009 test of furling systems has this to say about Schaefer 2100:

The latest Schaefer headsail furler is a display of well-executed stainless-steel castings, machined parts, and welded and extruded components. The 2100’s Torlon bearings make furling silky smooth. Helicoils have been inserted to lessen corrosion caused by stainless-steel fasteners.

With the 2100, Schaefer did not walk the razor’s edge separating performance and longevity. The heavy-duty foil section is rounded with high-torque carrying links transferring loads from one to the next. The drum and swivel are large enough to pack good-sized bearing races and transfer plenty of torque to the foil section. Foils are connected via stainless pop rivets that can be drilled out to disassemble—no worries about corroded fasteners.

The installation kit comes with furling line lead blocks and a toggle and link for those who want extra deck clearance for anchor handling.

Two minor drawbacks testers noted were that Torlon bearings could be seen in a few places, which means sunlight can also see the Torlon, and the top swivel has some exposure to sunlight. Schaefer noted that Torlon has a high tolerance to UV, and reported that in 20-plus years of using Torlon in their furlers, the company knows of no failure due to UV damage.

Bottom line: The swivel and bearings’ possible exposure to sun is a minor issues in an otherwise very well-engineered, yet pricey, system.

Links

Profurl C series

Profurl’s C series is targeted at cruising boats from 5m — 30m (16ft - 98ft), and they offere a separate range of systems for racing. A favorite of riggers for many years, a lot of older Profurl systems are still in use today. These older systems were stiffer and heavier than todays models, and many were plagued by issues with halyard wrap, but the latest generation improves on all these aspects. When issues do arise, there are reports of great customer service.

Practical Sailor’s 2009 test of furling systems has this to say about Profurl’s predecessor to the C series, the LCI32:

Profurl, a key player in the field of roller furling, continues its engineering evolution, making a solid performer even better with a series of “from the drum to the top swivel” tweaks and changes. The LCI32’s round foil tubes use a C-shaped connector spline and heavy-duty, threaded fasteners that are anodized to reduce corrosion.

A stainless-steel luff feeder snaps into place on the appropriate foil segment with a click. One of the big pluses for this system is the variation it offers in drum clearance and swivel positioning, a feature that has gained rigger approval for decades.

The system places no torque loads on set screws, and seems to have overcome issues such as halyard wraps and foil segment separation that plagued earlier equipment.

Profurl uses a hardened carbon-steel ball bearing set packed in grease and protected by a double-lip seal. The company says that it “can’t corrode because the bearings are sealed in grease.” However, seals can fail, and those with older systems should do a careful bearing check.

Bottom line: The bearing system was the unit’s only feature that gave testers pause.

Profurl is owned by the same company that owns Facnor.

Links

Facnor LS / LX / RX

Facnor offers a range of furling systems that target crusiers (LS), performance cruisers (LX), and racers (RX).

Practical Sailor’s 2009 test of furling systems has this to say about Facnor LX130:

This headsail furler is a favorite among Europeans, and like other Facnor products, it has been sea-trialed in grueling offshore racing conditions.

The system is well engineered and blends a high torque-carrying, rounded foil shape with nicely machined connecting links. The unit uses a traditional swivel and mast-halyard hoist design, and its telescoping foil section eliminates the need to cut a “shortened section.”

During installation, neither the wire nor the turnbuckle have to be replaced, and the 40-mil hard anodized parts are quite corrosion resistant.

The bearing system is referred to as the “bearing box,” and it contains a stainless-steel thrust bearing and large fiber/polymer bearings for axial loads all housed in the compact drum hub. There’s a handy anti-halyard wrap deflector and optional turnbuckle kit.

Bottom line: This unit has gained attention of builders and do-it-yourselfers alike. One minor issue testers noted was that the articulating tack bearings are exposed to continuous UV degradation.

Our research turned up multiple reports of LS model becoming stiff, suggesting problems with bearings over the years. Unfortunately, the bearings are not serviceable and require the whole system to be replaced.

In 2013, Facnor was bought by the same company that owns Profurl.

Links

Harken MKIV

Our Runner-Up

Harken MKIV

Harken lives up to it’s reputation with this popular furling system, making it our runner up.

Harken’s furling system is the most popular on the market. Paired with Harken’s great reputation and popularity in a wide range of products, the availability of spares, and reports of great after-market support and service make the MKIV our runner up choice.

Practical Sailor’s 2009 test of furling systems has this to say about Harken MKIV:

Harken has two new furling systems on the market, and both eliminate the “built in” turnbuckle that Harken had used for decades. The new Mark IV system incorporates the twin slot foil of its proven predecessor the Mark III. The unit retains the full rotation tack and head swivels that cause the furling and reefing operation to flatten the mid portion of the headsail first—a feature that many sailmakers prefer.

The big change for Harken is going to a two-tiered approach and offering different units to cruisers and racers with the Mark IV being the racing/performance cruising option. On both systems, thrust and axial loads are handled by a combination of Delrin and Torlon bearings nicely tucked away in the drum and hidden from sunlight. The interlocking foil segments are secured with captured links that are held in place with adhesive and mechanical fasteners.

Bottom line: We found the Mark IV is a compact and efficient furler. It gets the PS Recommendation as it’s certainly destined to be a favorite among more performance-oriented sailors.

The biggest flaw with the Harken MKIV is a poor quality furling line that comes with the system. We would prefer to see Harken either ship without a furling line, or include a decent quality line.

While it is possible to install this system yourself, you’re probably better off getting it professionally installed. The total cost of the installed system is one of the reasons we recommend Furlex over Harken.

Links

Seldén Furlex 104S - 404S

Our Pick

Seldén Furlex 104S - 404S

Quality construction, smooth operation, ease of installation, and the included forestay make this our top pick over several great systems.

The latest generation of this well-made furling system strike a balance between total cost, performance, and versatility. It the easiest system to install yourself—complete with step-by-step video. Combined with the included forestay, which is a recommended upgrade for any furling system unless your boat has recently been re-rigged, and the Furlex is the best value of any furling system available.

For those looking to their jib as an all-weather sail, the Furlex includes the “free turn” swivel—helping flatten the sail when reefing by allowing the foil to get one free turn before the tack starts furling. For the casual racer, the Furlex features a detachable drum to convert into racing foil. It’s the only furler in our comparison to use stainless steel bearings, as well as the only system on the market that can be retrofitted into an electric furler (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Practical Sailor’s 2009 test of furling systems has this to say about Furlex:

Furlex, manufactured by Seldén Mast, has been a frontrunner in headsail furling for decades. Among all the units we looked at, the 200S was the only one that came with a new headstay wire complete with turnbuckle, toggle, and the recommended Sta-Loc compression fitting. Covering a questionable headstay with a new furler can lead to problems. Furlex prevents such complication by offering the total package.

In addition to a well-designed and packaged array of parts, the Furlex comes with a superbly illustrated manual (in four languages—no need to learn new words while trying to put together this furling system).

At the heart of Furlex’s twist technology is an investment-cast stainless drum core and bearing support for multiple races of stainless bearings. The system handles thrust and axial loads very efficiently. The patented halyard swivel “load distributor” spreads the load over many balls to reduce point loading and friction.

The foil sections are double slotted and elliptical in shape, and the full-turn tack swivel allows the mid portion of the sail to lead off in the furling/reefing process, reducing excess draft in roller-reefed sails.

Bottom line: Among a field of quality products, Furlex stands out for its investment cast stainless hub and bearings.

Since 2009, the fourth generation Furlex was released with improvements that only make it better, resulting in an 8% reduction in overall weight, reduced furling resistance, and an improved foil extrusion.

While the upfront cost may be slightly more than the competition, the included forestay and ease of installation make this one of the least expensive systems if you install it yourself.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

No matter what furling system you pick, you’ll find someone reporting issues with it. The primary complaint for all older furling systems is that they don’t move as easy as they once did—a problem that affects boat and body parts alike. Proper cleaning and maintenance can help.

Furlex is one of the few modern furling systems with an enclosed drum, which can be big hassle if the furling line gets jammed. To avoid this, always ease the furling line by hand as you unfurl the headsail (no matter which furling system you use). Consider installing a rachet block on your furling line to make it easier to ease the line.

Links

Do you think we got it wrong or are missing something? Let us know!
Curators
Avatar of Brandon Keepers Brandon Keepers
References
sailmagazine.com
How to: Choosing a Furling System (2018)
myboatsgear.com
Roller Furling system (2016)
forums.sailboatowners.com
Harken vs Profurl furling systems
forums.sailinganarchy.com
recommend me a headsail furler

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