How to land a Helicopter on a Sailboat

A lot of unique yachts have visited San Francisco Bay this year. There were some spectacular vessels that visited San Francisco Bay during the America’s Cup but one thing you definitely did not see was a sailing yacht with a helicopter on board. Think about it for a moment: a helicopter needs a flat open space to land and a sailboat has a tall mast that is supported by rigging to hold it up. The two are not compatible but there is one yacht currently in town that has come up with a unique solution.


The Rainbow Warrior, the flagship for Green Peace, is a sailing vessel with a helicopter pad! Their innovative design has two A-frame masts with roller furling sails suspended from the top of the mast to the center-line of the ship. This mast design is more secure than a single spar and therefore is less reliant on rigging to hold the mast up. Rainbow Warrior still has backstays that cross over the top of the helicopter pad but if they want to land or launch a helicopter these backstays can be removed and the A-frame mast will not come crashing down. It is important to note that the backstays are needed when sailing so in order to conduct helicopter operations, the Rainbow Warrior must first furl all of her sails.

Another advantage of the  A-frame construction is it allows the Rainbow Warrior to have a helicopter hanger in the center of the yacht beneath the mast. Of course there must be disadvantages to an A-frame mast. These weren’t discussed on my recent visit to the ship but I would speculate that the large A-frames disrupt smooth airflow around the sails and add more weight aloft compared to traditionally rigged sailing yacht. However, the purpose built Rainbow Warrior appears well suited to the advocacy and research mission of Green Peace.

Public tours are available on November 16 and 17 from 10am – 5pm. More information about the Rainbow Warrior is available here.