Selecting a Whisker Pole

By Tom Burden

Whisker poles let you “pole out” your jib or genoa to weather, on the opposite side from the main, when broad reaching or running downwind. The sail sets well instead of flopping limp and useless, extending out away from the mainsail’s wind shadow, maximizing its projected area and providing a substantial boost in speed with little trimming required. They’re used in non-spinnaker racing and shorthanded cruising, whenever you what to get to your destination with dispatch.

Whisker PolesWhisker Poles
Line control style of telescoping whisker pole. This pin-style toggle car fits the larger line control models and slides on 1 1/4" mast T-track.

What's the right length of pole for my boat?

Telescoping whisker poles let you use one pole with furling headsails or multiple sized jibs and genoas—one size fits all. Your pole should usually be adjusted so it is 100% of the length of the headsail being flown, measured from tack to clew.

Whisker Pole Size Recommendations

  Working Jib Genoa
Boat Length Light to Med. Air Mod. To Heavy Air Light to Med. Air Mod. To Heavy Air
Up to 16ftADJ 4'-8'ADJ 6'-12'ADJ 6'-12'HD 6'-12'
Up to 22ftADJ 6'-12'HD 6'-12'HD 6'-12'LC 8'-14'
Up to 25ftHD 6'-12'HD 6'-12'ADJ 7'-15'ADJ 7'-15'
Up to 28ftADJ 7'-15'ADJ 7'-15'ADJ 7'-15'LC 10'-18'
Up to 33ftLC 10'-18'LC 10'-18'LC 10'-18'LC 12'-22'
Up to 35ftLC 12'-22'LC 12'-22'LC 12'-22'LC 13'-24'
Up to 46ftLC 13'-24'LC 13'-24'LC 13'-24'LC 15'-27'
Up to 55ftLC 15'-27'LC 15'-27'LC 15'-27'Carbon Custom Pole
ADJ-Small Twist Lock Telescoping, HD-Heavy-Duty Twist Lock Telescoping, LC-Line Control

Which method of telescoping length adjustment is best?

Twist lock poles, for boats to about 25' use an internal asymmetrical cam, similar to many adjustable boat hooks and tiller extensions, to lock the pole to the desired length with a quarter turn of the inner and outer sections. Line control poles have an internal outhaul, so you can extend the pole while standing at the mast. It’s not necessary to go forward to adjust buttons of any type—simply uncleat the line and extend or retract. Never adjust any pole while under load; take all loads off the sheet before adjusting the whisker pole’s length.

The new Tri-Reacher™ is a three-part line control pole developed specifically for use with asymmetrical/gennaker sails. It allows deeper sailing angles and reduces the need for constant gybing.

What kind of end fittings?

The inboard end attaches to one or more fixed spinnaker pole rings (at different heights for different headsails, flown so the pole is level) on boats 22' or smaller. Larger boats use adjustable spinnaker pole slides, frequently mounted on T-track. Choose end fittings and compatible mast fittings. Small boat twist-lock poles use a spike outer end that you poke through the grommet in the clew of your genoa. Medium-length boats choose the Ultra Series ends, up to a maximum boat length of 43' for the outer end, or 36' for the inner end. All larger boats use GP Series ends. Larger boats can also choose the TS “socket” type of inner end that locks onto a male toggle, a T-125 toggle car.

Aluminum or carbon fiber tube material?

Aluminum is the economical alternative. It’s more durable, with greater abrasion resistance. Carbon poles excel in saving weight, so the pole is easier to deploy or stow, and carbon poles come with “Ultra-style” UTS end fittings for further weight savings.

How should I store the pole?

Storage options, when not deployed, range from belowdeck (for small boats) to rugged deck-mounted or stanchion-mounted pole chocks, and the increasingly popular vertical storage on the mast.

Using a whisker pole

When is it time to deploy a whisker pole? When the jib sheet goes limp and you need to head up to get more speed, or you must sheet in until the headsail interferes with the aerodynamics of the main, then the whisker pole will aid performance. In light wind it may produce a benefit at wind angles up to 90° to 100° apparent, if your pole is long enough. Stronger winds, with the boat traveling near hull speed, may require angles like 150°, further off the wind.

Some practice and experimentation will show what works best for your boat. This video from Forespar shows just how easily you can use a whisker pole with a roller furling system for your genoa.

Forespar has an alphabetical Whisker Pole Selection Guide on their website. It allows you to just click on a boat manufacturer. The table below provides general guidelines for sizing your pole, based on boat length, sail selection and wind conditions. Suggested length is 100 percent of the foot length of your largest headsail, based upon masthead-rigged boats. Fractionally-rigged boats may require smaller poles. Boats with relatively heavy displacement or with bowsprits should use the next larger pole size.