Boat Maintaince

Make Your Own Telltails

by: Ed Sinofsky

I admit it, this is sailing nerdiness at its extreme. When I was a teenager I was a sailmaker at Spencer sails in Huntington New York. That was almost 40 years ago! I used to make the telltales when I worked there. It was always fun bringing pockets full out to customer's boats and giving them away like bringing cake or wine to a visit.

I'm no longer a sailmaker, but over the years I have fine-tuned the design. As winter sets in, I always like to make a nice big batch just to keep myself occupied. I thought some of you might be interested to see how I do it.

I used to use wool, then Teflon coated wool, but now I'm using acrylic yarn. This particular batch was motivated by new sails that were very black, and don't show up my (or North's) traditional telltale colors. I found some fluorescent acrylic orange and green on eBay.com and bought a skien of each. Acrylic is nice because it melts, but doesn't do as well wet as wool.

The other things you need are a 1" hole Cutter ($30), and some acrylic draft tape with adhesive backing.

First I cut the telltale dots by banging them out with the cutter from the draft stripe. I usually do a batch of 100. It just takes a few minutes to do many.

Using a sailmaker's needle threaded with the yarn I pierced 40 or 50 of the dots at once and collect them all on the yarn

I then pull one dot at a time into the end area where I use a hot knife, (or you could use a pair of scissors) to cut the lengths at 6 1/2 inches

I do that for all the tales on that batch.

Then I tie a knot ON THE PAPER SIDE. This anchors the yarn with a knot under the dot which has proven over the years to be very durable, and wont hang up on itself.

I like to hotknife the very end to lock in the knot

This makes the yarn emerge from the top side of the dot in the middle and is very resistant to sticking to the sail to show flow. This was especially true on the windsurf sails I use this technique on.

Pull the yarn through the dot to tighten it on the knot.

I find that if I use several in a row, it is easy to visually see the flow attach or stall so I like lots of them on my sails!

It took me 1.5 hours to make 50 green and 50 red. Now what do I do the rest of the Winter! 10F here tonight. brrrrrr.



  • Cutter use 7/8" if you can only get 1" wide tape. McMaster-Carr
  • Punch 1 inch punch from Amazon
  • Tape 1 inch Draft Tape
  • Tape 3 inch Bainbridge Sail Tape
  • Yarn eBay, Neon Colors
  • Yarn JoAnn Fabrics, Solid Colors

NOTICE: Some pages have affiliate links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read website Cookie, Privacy, and Disclamers by clicking HERE. To contact me click HERE. For my YouTube page click HERE