Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Harken: A History of Innovation in Sailing Equipment

Sailing has been a popular sport and mode of transportation for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that advancements in technology truly revolutionized the industry. One company that has played a significant role in this transformation is Harken, a leading manufacturer of sailing equipment. With a commitment to quality and performance, Harken has become a trusted name among sailors worldwide. In this blog post, we will dive into the history of Harken, their innovative products, and their impact on the sailing industry.

Harken’s Commitment to Quality and Performance

Harken was founded in 1967 by brothers Peter and Olaf Harken in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. The brothers were avid sailors and saw a need for high-quality, reliable sailing equipment. They started out by making small boat hardware, such as blocks and cleats, in their garage. However, their dedication to quality and performance quickly gained them a reputation among sailors, and their business began to grow.

Today, Harken is still family-owned and operated, with Peter Harken serving as Chairman and his son, Bill Harken, as President. Their commitment to quality and performance remains at the core of the company’s values, and it is evident in every product they produce.

Quality Materials and Design

One of the reasons Harken’s products are so highly regarded is because of the materials and design that go into each piece. Harken uses only the highest quality materials, such as stainless steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber, to ensure durability and longevity. They also have a team of engineers and designers who are constantly pushing the boundaries of innovation to create products that are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing.

Harken’s products undergo rigorous testing before they are released to the market. This includes real-world testing by professional sailors and in-house testing using state-of-the-art equipment. This dedication to quality ensures that Harken’s products can withstand the harsh conditions of the sea and perform at their best.

Customer Satisfaction

Harken’s commitment to customer satisfaction is another factor that sets them apart from other sailing equipment manufacturers. They offer a lifetime warranty on all their products, which speaks to their confidence in the quality and durability of their products. Additionally, they have a team of knowledgeable and friendly staff who are always willing to assist customers with any questions or concerns.

Harken also values feedback from their customers and uses it to continually improve their products. This customer-centric approach has helped them build a loyal following among sailors worldwide.

The Science Behind Harken’s Products

Harken’s success can also be attributed to their use of science and technology in the design and manufacturing of their products. They have invested heavily in research and development to create products that are not only innovative but also scientifically proven to enhance performance on the water.

Aerodynamics and Hydrodynamics

One of the key areas where Harken has applied science is in the aerodynamics and hydrodynamics of their products. By understanding how air and water flow around a sailboat, they have been able to design products that reduce drag and increase speed. For example, their winches and blocks are designed to minimize friction, allowing for smoother and more efficient movement of lines.

Harken also uses computer-aided design (CAD) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to simulate and test their products before they are manufactured. This allows them to make adjustments and improvements to ensure optimal performance.


In addition to aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, Harken also considers ergonomics in the design of their products. They understand that sailing can be physically demanding, and their products are designed to reduce strain and fatigue on the sailor. For example, their winches have ergonomic handles that provide a comfortable grip and reduce the risk of injury.

Harken also takes into account the human-machine interface when designing their products. This means that their products are intuitive and easy to use, allowing sailors to focus on sailing rather than struggling with equipment.

How Harken’s Products Have Revolutionized Sailing

Harken’s commitment to quality, performance, and innovation has had a significant impact on the sailing industry. Their products have revolutionized the way sailors handle lines and maneuver their boats, making sailing more efficient and enjoyable. Here are just a few examples of how Harken’s products have changed the game for sailors:

Self-Tailing Winches

Before Harken introduced self-tailing winches in the 1970s, sailors had to manually wrap and cleat lines around the winch drum. This was not only time-consuming but also required a lot of physical effort. Harken’s self-tailing winches automatically grab and hold the line, making it easier and faster to trim sails. This innovation has become an essential piece of equipment on sailboats of all sizes.

Roller Furling Systems

Harken’s roller furling systems have made it possible for sailors to easily reef or furl their headsails without leaving the cockpit. This not only improves safety but also makes sailing more convenient and enjoyable. Before this invention, sailors had to go to the bow of the boat to manually roll up the headsail, which could be dangerous in rough weather.

Traveler Systems

Harken’s traveler systems allow sailors to adjust the position of the mainsheet while under load. This allows for better control of the mainsail and improved performance. Before this innovation, sailors had to release the mainsheet and then retrim it to change the position of the traveler, which was not only time-consuming but also affected the boat’s speed and balance.

Harken’s Impact on the Sailing Industry

Harken’s products have not only revolutionized sailing for individual sailors, but they have also had a significant impact on the sailing industry as a whole. Their commitment to quality and performance has set a high standard for other manufacturers to follow, and their innovative products have inspired new advancements in sailing technology.

Harken’s products are used by sailors of all levels, from recreational cruisers to Olympic athletes. Their equipment has been used in numerous prestigious sailing events, including the America’s Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race, and the Olympics. This widespread use of Harken’s products has helped to solidify their reputation as the go-to choice for sailing equipment.

Top 10 Harken Products That Every Sailor Should Own

With such a wide range of products, it can be challenging to choose which ones are essential for every sailor. Here are our top 10 picks of Harken products that should be in every sailor’s arsenal:

  1. Self-Tailing Winches – As mentioned earlier, these winches are a game-changer for any sailor.
  2. Roller Furling Systems – Another must-have for easy sail handling.
  3. Traveler Systems – Essential for controlling the mainsail.
  4. Blocks – Harken offers a variety of blocks for different applications, such as jib sheets, spinnaker sheets, and halyards.
  5. Carbo Racing Foil – This lightweight and durable foil is perfect for high-performance racing boats.
  6. Cam Cleats – These cleats provide secure and quick line holding.
  7. Tiller Extensions – Harken’s tiller extensions are designed for comfort and control while steering.
  8. Deck Organizers – These systems keep lines organized and prevent tangles.
  9. Winch Handles – Harken’s winch handles are ergonomically designed for ease of use.
  10. Sail Handling Systems – These systems, such as the Lazy Jack System and the Battcar System, make sail handling easier and more efficient.

A Look Inside Harken’s Manufacturing Facility

Harken’s commitment to quality and performance is evident in their manufacturing facility in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. The 100,000 square foot facility houses state-of-the-art equipment and a team of skilled technicians who oversee every step of the production process.

Harken’s products are made using a combination of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology. For example, their winches are still assembled by hand, but they also use CNC machines for precision cutting and shaping of parts. This blend of old and new techniques ensures that each product meets Harken’s high standards for quality and performance.

Interview with Harken Founder Peter Harken

To gain further insight into Harken’s history and their commitment to innovation, we had the opportunity to interview Peter Harken, one of the company’s founders.

Q: What inspired you and your brother Olaf to start Harken?

A: We were both avid sailors and saw a need for high-quality sailing equipment. At the time, there weren’t many options available, so we decided to create our own.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge in growing Harken into the successful company it is today?

A: One of the biggest challenges was keeping up with the demand for our products. As our reputation grew, so did the number of orders we received, and we had to continually expand our operations to keep up.

Q: How has Harken’s commitment to quality and performance evolved over the years?

A: Our commitment to quality and performance has always been at the core of our values, but we have continually invested in research and development to improve our products. We also listen to feedback from our customers and use it to make necessary adjustments and improvements.

Q: What do you see as the future of Harken?

A: We are always looking for ways to innovate and improve our products, so I see a future filled with new advancements in sailing technology. We are also committed to sustainability and reducing our environmental impact, so that will continue to be a focus for us.

The Future of Harken: Sustainability and Innovation

As mentioned by Peter Harken, sustainability is a key focus for the company’s future. Harken has implemented various initiatives to reduce their environmental impact, such as using renewable energy sources and implementing recycling programs. They have also developed products, such as their Element blocks made from 100% recycled plastic, to promote sustainability in the sailing industry.

In terms of innovation, Harken continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in sailing equipment. They have recently introduced the Reflex furling system, which uses a unique torque rope design to provide better sail shape and performance. They have also expanded their product line to include accessories for powerboats, such as davits and steering systems.

Harken: The Trusted Choice of Sailors Worldwide

With over 50 years of experience and a commitment to quality and performance, it’s no wonder that Harken is the trusted choice of sailors worldwide. Their innovative products have revolutionized the way we sail, making it easier, safer, and more enjoyable. Whether you’re a recreational sailor or a professional racer, Harken has something to offer for every type of sailor.


Harken’s history of innovation and commitment to quality and performance has made them a leader in the sailing industry. Their use of science and technology in the design and manufacturing of their products has revolutionized the way we sail and inspired new advancements in sailing technology. As they continue to push the boundaries of innovation and sustainability, we can expect to see even more groundbreaking products from Harken in the future.

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