A collaboration between Jeanneau and Harken has resulted in an advanced sail handling system intended to make sailing easier for “just about anyone who goes afloat.” The system offers push-button sail control for sail hoisting, tacking and trimming, with everything monitored by load sensors to make sure there’s no chance of excessive forces being applied that might cause a breakage..

The system enables sail trim adjustments to be made from the wheel, along with remote operation of the electric winches. Once the initial trim has been established, the system will adjust the sheets after each change of course, or after wind shifts, to retain efficient trim. In a tack, the old headsail sheet is automatically eased and the new one tensioned, exactly replicating the sail trim of the previous tack. All the helmsman needs to do is steer the boat through the tack. If you don't believe it, take a look at the video below:




In addition, the electric winches are set up for one-touch hoisting and dousing of sails, with everything operated from a cockpit display. A further feature that may find favour with many is the heel limiter. This can be set at a user-defined angle, beyond which the mainsheet is automatically eased. It’s then sheeted back on once heel returns to an acceptable angle.

"It's been a challenge to keep this project secret through years of development and on-the-water testing, but this finely-tuned system was definitely worth the wait," says Harken’s Davide Burrini. "By centralising controls, integrating wind and equipment sensors, and allowing skippers to control all sheeting from the helm, this project has the potential to revolutionise cruising and shorthanded sailing."

Assisted sail trim

A collaboration between Jeanneau and Harken enables yachts to sheet, hoist and trim their own sails.


Fail safe thinking

So what could go wrong? The most obvious might be the system continuing to wind a winch when something has snagged – we’ve all seen overly enthusiastic crew members do exactly that. Harken has pre-empted this possibility, so load sensors are used to prevent damage in the event that a jammer is mistakenly left closed or a sheet gets stuck. Once the user corrects the problem they can immediately resume using the system.

The Assisted Tacking and Auto Trim functions work in a range of 5 to 25 knots of wind speed to ensure the system can handle the conditions safely. A crew can still perform all functions manually if this range is exceeded, at any time if they do not wish to use AST, or if power is interrupted.


Research and development

The system is the culmination of a huge amount of development work that dates back to 1987, when Olaf Harken developed a 65ft concept yacht called Procyon. This was large sloop that could be fully rigged in less than 10 minutes and could be sailed by a small crew without leaving the cockpit. The Assisted Sail Trim system also makes use of the load sensor technology that Harken developed during the company’s involvement with the successful Alinghi America’s Cup team between 1997 and 2003.

Assisted sail trim: sailing at the touch of a button

Testing and final development of the assisted sail trim project took place on the Sun Odyssey 509. It will be built in to the new 519.

The next stage in the process was with the development of ‘rewinding’ winches that allow a line to be eased without removing it from the drum or self tailer. This effectively means they can be used in the same way as the captive reel winches that are fitted to many superyachts. Another important step came in 2010 with the introduction of Harken’s Touch Trim in-boom push-button electric mainsheet system.

A further four years of development followed, in which off-the-shelf sensors were introduced and the operation of individual winches, complex coordinated manoeuvres, and heel control were centralised in a single control panel at the helm. While initial testing, from as long ago as 2004 was on a Beneteau Cyclades 39, in 2015 this switched to a larger Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 509, in preparation for the system’s release this year on the updated 519 model.

Assisted sail trim controller

The electronic control screen for Harken's assisted sail trim set-up that will feature exclusively aboard Jeanneau cruisers for a number of years.


Who’s it for?

While in theory the system could be fitted to any boat, in practice electric winches are needed, so there’s a natural fit with the size of yacht that’s more likely to have these fitted as standard. Nevertheless, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used on many 40ft yachts and Jeanneau predicts a similar uptake as for its joystick docking option, which is specified on around 20 per cent of new sailboats above 45ft.

Having helped with its development, Jeanneau has a period of exclusivity with the new system, which initially is only available on the new Sun Odyssey 519. It will then be offered on a wider range of Jeanneau’s designs during the 2017 model year. On the 519 the option costs €27,900 ex Vat, and is only available on boats in which the Preference Trim level and Electronic package with autopilot and GPS is specified, while self-tacking jibs, regular electric winches and a 140 per cent genoa are incompatible.

The system includes the following elements:

  • Additional 115Ah domestic battery

  • advanced battery monitoring system

  • Two Harken Rewind 60.2 winches for genoa

  • Upgrade of coachroof winch to Harken Rewind 46.2 for mainsheet

  • GRP Console mounted on handrail at starboard helm

  • Control screen installed in console

  • General cut-off safety switch at console

  • Wiring harness and load sensors at each winch

  • Electronic heel sensor

For more electronic wizardry reports on boats.com, see: Cat S60 mobile phone with thermal imaging or Digital Yacht launches iKommunicate gateway box. For more on deck gear, see: How to choose and install electric winches and WinchRite: a viable alternative to electric winches?


Written by: Rupert Holmes
Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.