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Inflated Wing Sails

We have inflatable dinghies, inflatable watersports toys, and now even inflatable paddleboards, so how about inflatable sails?

Inflatable wing sail in action

A team of three Swiss guys have come up with what they are calling IWS — Inflated Wing Sails. At first glance, the sail looks similar to a paraglider wing stood on end. Not surprisingly, one of the designers of the sail is Edouard Kessei, who developed some of the first successful paragliders.

The sail is inflated with an electric fan and is supported internally with a collapsible mast that raises and lowers in concert with the sail. The mast is entirely self-supporting, in a similar way to the popular Freedom rig, so there are no shrouds or other supporting paraphernalia, which makes for a very streamlined-looking sailboat. As for sail controls, there is a mainsheet, and that’s it. Sail shape is mostly predetermined by the cut of the inflated sail. Reefing in strong winds is accomplished by partially deflating the sail.

While an interesting concept, it may be a hard sell to sailors as the boat would have to be built to accommodate the mast, boom, and sail from the outset and is not something that could be retrofitted without colossal expense. I could also see that some sailors would have concerns about this sail, for instance what if a hole prevents the sail from staying inflated, or you run out of electrical power and the internal inflation fan stops working?

IWS Inflated Wing Sails

While still in the concept stage, long-term benefits are apparent: The lack of sail controls and the ease with which one can be out sailing could make this a game changer for elderly and infirm sailors who aren't ready to hang up their sailing gloves just yet.

Author

Mark Corke

Associate Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A marine surveyor, and holder of RYA Yachtmaster Ocean certification, BoatUS Magazine Associate Editor Mark Corke handles the magazine’s very popular Practical Boater section, keeping it full of easy-to-follow how-to articles. Mark has built five boats himself — power and sail – has been an experienced editor at other top boating magazines, worked for the BBC, has written four DIY books, skippered two round-the-world yachts, and holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest there-and-back crossing of the English Channel, in a kayak! He and his wife have a Grand Banks 32.