Is Foiling the Future?

Published on February 1st, 2017

We frequently hear how “foiling is the future”. We don’t dispute that foiling is a remarkable development, and continues to find application further into the sport, but is it the future? Will we soon see flying boats of all forms be the norm?

The Foiling Week, an event launched in 2014 to gather the foiling community, produced a video that seeks to inspire and promote foiling as the future. Here is the transcript:
Sailing conveys many values. Adventure. Performance. Innovation. But now only one word described sailing innovation and defines the future. That word is foiling.

Like smartphones, digital cameras and ultralight thin notebooks, foiling is the biggest innovation of the last 50 years. It will bring sailing to the next level.

But foiling technology doesn’t belong just to the big R&D budgets of America’s Cup teams. Progress is in great part due to entrepreneurs, inventors, doers. We call them thinkers and tinkerers.

We are the largest and most credible global community for the promotion and development for foiling and sailing. This is the sweet spot of that commitment. Skills and a bit eccentric madness play the most important role in the innovation process in the sailing experience.

We champion sailors, doers, inventors, and designers, supporting them to make their next idea a reality. Because experience is everything.
For sure, foiling is certain to be part of the future of sailing. But how far will it go?

So we hosted a survey on February 1-2 where we asked, “Is foiling the future of sailing?”

Here was the response:
34% – Yes. Foiling is a significant innovation that will soon transform the majority of what we sail.

66% – No. Factors will keep foiling as a minority subset of what we sail.

Some of the respondents provided comments. Here they are, unedited and grouped according to how they voted:

No. Factors will keep foiling as a minority subset of what we sail.

Foiling entails higher levels of skill, attentiveness, risk and cost. So it will make some inroads in racing, but will not pervade all of sailing anytime soon.

Foiling would only take off if you could keep debris out of the ocean.

Expense and practicality will keep foiling as just part of the sport not the “savior”. Keeping on about foiling as the only future is actually sending a message to every club which does not have the water for foiling and telling every sailor that is not interested to just go off not be part of the sport any more

I have a hydrofoil for kiteboarding and I love it. But while foiling will continue to make inroads for small boats, I think ten years from now the number of people regularly sailing on foiling craft will still be small. The added complexity, cost, and hazards of foils are going to prevent it from becoming commonplace.

Comfort and relaxation is an important part of sailing as well. My boat is my second home

Foils will be on boats for the wealthy (racing IMOA 60s out of the YC) and for those who are fit enough to tack while foiling up or down wind. Combined those two subsets of sailing might crack into 10% of sailors but not likely. Fun to see them zoom, no matter.

As Foiling is a fantastic visual, the speed has reduced the match race to a drag race. Gone are the close maneuvers and dogfight scenarios before and after the gun has gone off. Now we see foiling boats drifting to the line and then taking off seeing who is the fastest. I watched America’s Cup racing for years and I always loved the pre-start dance and the tacking to cover up and down wind. Now with reaching starts you might as well just anchor the boats and blow the horn to see who gets going fastest. I really miss real match racing in boats that most people have learned to sail in. Heck match racing is fun to watch in Sabots up to large keelboats, foiling boats not so much.

Ma’ & Pa’ Kettle, who sail for just the sake of sailing and race, occasionally, in the local ‘beer can’ races have absolutely no relevancy to foiling. The person who buys the used Catalina or Pearson or C&C ……… have not a hint of interest in foiling. In short, 98% of folks sailing could care less about foiling. Yes, it’s cool to watch …….. but so is Formula One car racing ……… and who of us does Formula One car racing. Being old, I’m of the mindset that boats sail IN the water on a SINGLE hull …………. and no amount of marketing, cajoling, arm twisting, etc. is gonna’ change that for me (yes, that’s a slap at the present so-called America’s Cup fiasco).

If foiling takes over, sailing will become a youth sport, only for the young and athletic. What will happen to a life long attraction/commitment to sailing?

Foiling will certainly be around forever. It does seem, however, that until all ocean waters are clear of floating debris of all descriptions, it will not become something that the average sailor will use to go too far from shore. Where I sail for recreation and occasionally to race, there are lots of lobster pots and quite a bit of kelp. I have been sailing catamarans since 1967 and have done 2 transatlantic crossings in cats and the round Europe race in 1985 on a cat. I would be happy to sail on a foiling boat, but it seems to me to be too risky for the average sailor.

The future of sailing….at least from the perspective of participation, as opposed to being a spectator sport…is fundamentally based on accessibility. To put it more bluntly, it needs to be easy and relatively cheap. Especially considering the millennials, who form the most “at risk” demographic group relative to the future of sailing (with respect to the long term viability of most of the Yacht Clubs and One Design classes in the US), the issue of accessibility is paramount. As such, I would submit that foiling boats, while sexy and exciting, in no significant way provide the basis for the sustainability of sailing as a participatory sport over the coming decades.

Foiling will transform the subset of fast sailing boats. The majority of sailing is multi-faceted, It involves sleeping, relaxing, preparing meals. It is casual. The demands of foiling craft to stay light to allow foiling to occur produces Spartan designs that don’t overlap with the majority of sailing vessels. The expense of the modern composites also will slow proliferation.

Not enough space for the speed at many smaller inland clubs

Foiling is very cool, and I want to try it, but straight line speed is not why most people sail or own boats. Community is the future, and this foiling community is a perfect example. They come together to enjoy development and tinkering together. Building the best gizmo and keeping it a secret isn’t any fun!

Sure, foiling is the next great thing, and quite an advancement. I’m sure it will have a place with young and athletic sailors. I’m a one design sailor who is almost 60 years old. My poor old brain is already at its limit with making an old fashioned boat go fast, and in the right direction!!

Foiling may be fine for limited number of racing sailors but the majority of sailors are in for the relaxing elements of sailing.

Foiling, I hope not I would like America’s cup to go back to where it was, real sailing and the challenge of it all is in a monohull. Foiling is dangerous and will lead to a lot of crashes and will end up the same as car accidents. Let’s get back to real sailing.

Until fragility and expense are overcome foiling will be a slice of the pie.

Foiling (and multihulls) ruined the America’s Cup. It is not ocean racing. No tactics, no sets or douses, no tides, almost no crew work (pumping oil for the whole race, woo-hoo)

There’s a whole world out there that won’t be going foiling anytime soon or afford it. Foiling will be for just a few regardless of the advances in the sport.

I think it will take over the dinghy racing scene in the next 15 years. But the Lightning, Thistle, Bullseye, IOD, Snipe and other classes will remain healthy. We were halfway to Bermuda a couple years ago on a traditional wooden schooner. At sunset in the Gulf Stream the owner asked, “Do you think we will be doing this on foils in ten years?” There was a significant silence while we all pondered this. One by one the heads began to nod and we all agreed it was likely.

Because you can’t start to sail on a foiling boat; Because more than 50% of boats do not race and foils do not suit family and friends sailing (cruising); Because in foiling races speed and technique are much more important than tactics; Because foiling requires a level of agility that not all would be sailors (and older sailors) have,

Sailing and Yacht Rang is more than just speed! Foiling is new and exciting and different in tactics. Speed, speed is main factor, like dragster car racing. Excitement, easy to understand for spectators, but not as demanding as on a traditional race course playing the slight wind shifts, tune the boat and sails continuously for more efforts.

A large percentage of “sailors” cruise/daysail.

Foiling will gain ground and be a growing subset of sailing. However, sailing is a life sport and a sport for life. I can take my 2-3 year old grandchildren out for a sail on good weather days, but not in (or on) a foiling boat. I race with a group of more senior citizens at least once a week when I am home. We manage dinghies OK and we certainly do OK in a 33 foot cruiser racer up to around 25 knots. I doubt we could manage for either of these to be foiling. I happen to have passed a motor racing course and test just a few years ago, but I could not handle a top end race car. Nor to most cars look like top end race cars. I think foiling will be similar. Perhaps a bigger percentage of the market than race cars are to the total. It should be encouraged as it is exciting and will bring in young talented sailors. I just hope that those who start foiling early, still enjoy the benefits and delights of non-foiling sailing, especially as they get beyond the physical demands of foiling boats.

Maximum speed is obviously the aim within any individual fleet, but taking an overview of sailing, it is not everything. The vast majority of sailing boats don’t go racing.

I am sure (but that is not the point, see after AND): Foiling will join sailing as runners and runner groups join pedestrians, similar with race cars. But you will not go out foiling or go out just for a cool and lazy sunset trip on foils with your family or beginners. Similar with race cars. As with runners, cyclists and others the majority of us will go by foot, take a normal bike or a car for a ride. AND: Looking at the danger of foils rushing with high speed through the water, there is still the danger of hitting a sunfish, turtle or else (trunk, debris) or worst case: a human being, i.e. a swimmer or running over a windsurfer (normal or foiling) who suddenly crashed or over a crew of the boat ahead who fell overboard after a bad manoeuver at a mark or stopping in a wave, after pitchpoling…. Or what about your own boat? Ask Franck Cammas who nearly lost his lower leg. It could have been his neck… Rules are needed: To wear at all times helmet and body/spine protection (like the kitesurfers do wear them) should be compulsory! To enjoy sailing with your friends – and a lot are not pure enthusiasts – you’ll take a normal sailing boat… I’m sure!

Until foiling rides out major storms better than the usual sailing vessel, things more or less continue to evolve slowly!

Fooling is a niche and a narrow one at that. It may hang around until it’s passed by the next big thing.

Foiling in all of its forms is great!. It’s not “New” and like most things foiling is just another direction for Sailing!. Not everyone is interested in it however it is Spectacular. If Speed is Your Goal Then Foiling is on Top at the present time. It is a Type of Sailing that is different! but not Better or worse than Normal Sailing. All Sailing is Just Great and should be encouraged at All Levels.

I am 76 yrs old. I have done 29 knots on a 65ft racing cat in the Ensenada Race and my loaded for cruising 40ft trimaran has hit 20 off Mexico. 14 and 15 kts is fun, but the 20 was nerve wracking. When you do these speeds you enjoy the thrill but you aren’t enjoying “just being out on the water”. That’s where more sedate monohulls come in, and if there are 2 of them, they will probably race and have fun doing it. I think the foiling will be relegated to a small following of racers. Thanks, Tony Spooner S/V “Macha”

it is the future but this will take longer to become mainstream as the technology is still immature .

Foiling yachts are too fast for most crowded harbors. When a 50 foot foiler doing 40 knots runs through a fleet of Optis, the toll of dead and injured children will see widespread foiling bans introduced.

Smaller foiling boats will require gymnastic ability, strength and agility that only a limited number of sailors will possess; while large foiling boats will require these as well as bags of money. They will be the toys of the wealthy and the professionals. I dread the day when there is a collision between two or more of these flying machines with numerous casualties, even deaths. Then the traditional designs might start to look a bit more attractive.

Foiling is great and will have a large and growing part in sailing. However, there are more moving parts which result in more cost per foot of boat size and will result in more maintenance to keep things moving. There is a whole lot of sailing that occurs in simple boats that may go a lot slower than the foilers but still have very good racing. That is what is great about our sport, there are so many ways to enjoy it. Foiling will be part but probably not the majority.

The majority will be afraid to accept this new technology, thus keeping it as a minority subset

I am a cruising sailor who has done some offshore racing and follow the AC. Can’t see myself cruising the Hauraki Gulf with two toddlers on board…half the fun of cruising is the getting there. If I want fast passage, I’ll buy a motorboat.

What’s next? Foiling catboats? Some- no many- folks view sailing as relaxation. Foiling does not fit that description. It is cool, but will not replace sailing as we know it.

Foils are the new top end, and with new materials, the top end will be open to more people. But it’s still the top end. Nobody’s going to learn sailing on a foil, and few will progress to it. Perhaps the speed will draw more attention, and thus more beginners, but again, they won’t begin on foils.

Most boats are still made from polyester, chopped strand mat and with standard aluminum rigs. There are so many innovations that are not used in boatbuilding, even if they increase the price of the boat only marginally like lead keels, better foam cores and better fibres. Even in dinghy sailing there are a lot of old classes still healthy today. Sailing is not only about true speed but about experience, competition and camaraderie. I sail a 30 year old 26 foot Microcat (Mycat 26) mostly singlehanded with regular speeds over 14 – 16 knots, all polyester and aluminium. I would not dare to do that with a carbon foiler with a much higher price tack. As a boatbuilder I welcome any innovation, but they are not for everyones interest and pocket

Foiling moves sailboats into a speed category that will have negative consequences. Collisions with other vessels and with marine sea life will invite pushback on sailing. This is not a win win improvement for sailing.

I choose to sail because I have bad knees and couldn’t road race or play team sports. I like the ‘low impact’ nature of sailing and the mental game of it. I have no interest in foiling and I’m not sure enough people do for it to become a majority. Even a-cat worlds had a non-foiling fleet. It looks fun but I think the best sailing is still ~20 boat fleets of reasonably priced one design dinghies.

The lack of stability and durability inherent in foils will keep it a niche. Albeit foiling is not binary, it will find some popular, less extreme use cases, like subtly lessening wetted surface and displacement versus outright flying. But main cases will be niche racing, at least for a long time.

Yes. Foiling is a significant innovation that will soon transform the majority of what we sail.

Foiling will breed other forms of technology into sailing. Stabilization gyros? Sail management? The future of sailing is bright 🙂

In what time frame? 10 years? 70 years? You could have made the same survey about planing hulls in 1930. Or about the trapeze (initially banned). The majority of sailboats out there still don’t plane. Most dinghies don’t have trapezes. Does that make these innovations insignificant? Hardly. This is a silly survey.

I think this is an over simplification…. Foiling is A future not THE future. For racing of course foiling is faster and more dynamic but the sailing world on mass will not ditch their current boat to start foiling.

Once a foiler, always a foiler.

It is wrong to prevent or stall progress. Look at the Wright Brothers and flying. But it must come hand in hand with additional safety requirements. The speeds on the water have trebled and this will result in some violent accidents sooner or later unless we are careful

No doubt

I’m sick to admitting because that means the death of competitive sailing for those who aren’t young, in shape, or wealthy. Lead bellies are dead. Makes me wonder why I still compete with all this shit on the horizon. Guess we will settle for much smaller fleets of fast, potentially dangerous, boats. And that sucks. And I blame the AC for most of this. Whatever.

Foiling is also the future of private and commercial powerboats but the power boat industry has not yet realized it.

We love the CR:X concept of one design foiling. Can’t wait to give it a go.

More classes of multihulls, sailboards, and monohulls are adding foils to enhance boat speeds . More one design dinghies should consider foil development to get more racers in those classes.

The current foiling technologies are extremely limited and dangerous. However, foiling will very soon be very safe and more than twice as efficient (L/D) than current foils. This is because we are starting to develop the computer controls for fully active control with digital control laws that change very rapidly to deal with real-life events: wakes, seaweed, debris, etc. We will soon be able to do controlled jumps. That is a fundamental minimum capability for safe foiling. Full foiling boats will look completely different from any current monohull or multihull: the problem of flight is fundamentally different from the problems of floating vessels, and so the solutions will be fundamentally different. Our current R&d efforts are bringing aerospace software and avionics technology to bear on this problem, and the progress is rapid and very promising. NDAs and proprietary corporate investments are currently restricting what can be shared at this time, but the efforts currently underway will bear fruit and be widely publicized and demonstrated in the very near future. — David Smyth, President, Westlawn Institute

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