Reefing sails occurs when the wind blows harder. A sail is designed to a specific size for the boat and must allow for its use in a variety of wind conditions. In light airs, larger sails are needed to derive thrust, while in heavier airs, smaller sails deliver the required thrust.

To allow sailors to carry one sail instead of many, reefing points are sewn into the sail, allowing it to be made smaller or larger as needed. Different approaches are used to reef a sail, but in general, when referring to the mainsail, there are three reefing points in the front or luff of the sail, and three corresponding points in the leech or rear of the sail. By threading a rope through any one of the forward points, and another one through an aft point, and then tying these lines to the boom, the sail can be brought down to the new level of these points and still be held in the same approximate shape as it filled when not reefed, only now being a smaller sail. The reefing points are numbered one through three and the higher the number the smaller the sail area remaining. In practice, the reefing lines are often combined into what is called a single-line reefing system, although in other cases, six lines are used, one for each of the three points, forward and aft.

While it may seem logical to sail with as much sail up as possible, three facts dictate that the sail should be reefed appropriately:
1) Safety – too much sail can cause the boat to capsize.
2) Too much sail places too high a stress on the rig and the mast or sail, causing injury and or expensive repairs, and perhaps stranding one at sea.
3) Flying too much sail does not necessarily make the boat go faster, as too much force causes the boat to press down into the water, causing more friction.

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