Improvised Sail
Row, row, row your boat...

You make a sailboat and decide to sail it in a bathtub or in any body of water you can find outside such as a pond, a stream, or a lake). But uh oh! Your boat doesn't have a sail, what do you do?

The simplest thing you do is use a makeshift sail for your boat, whether it be a leaf, a napkin, or even your pants or a shirt. Sometimes may even be made of improbable materials. But that doesn't matter in most cases. Either way, now that your boat has a sail. On with ye journey!

Essentially, this is a trope where a boat or raft of any kind is devoid of a regular sail before being given an unorthodox sail.

Can be a part of MacGyvering.

Similar to this is: Improvised Parachute.


  • In Lupin III (Green Jacket), after stealing a dozen classic paintings, Lupin and his gang sail away on a boat thats sail is made out of the sewn-up paintings themselves.

  • In The Last Flight Of Noah's Ark, two bands of survivors join forces to build a boat to get back to civilization. For propulsion, flags sewn together make a sail. This might not count because the boat isn't launched until after the sail is in place.
  • In the film I Sailed to Tahiti With an All-Girl Crew a rival boater sabotages the protagonist's sails, so the eponymous all-girl crew use their dresses to patch the sails. Now he's got a sail which looks like a cut-out chain of people out of folded paper.
  • A plot device in the John Candy movie Summer Rental, where a pair of his character's under shorts are used in lieu of a sail, while entering a sailing contest against another vacationing family.
  • In Cast Away, Tom Hanks' character escapes the island after making a raft, the sail of which is a large sheet of hard plastic.
  • In Cat City, Sgt. Lazy Dick makes one out of a leaf.

Comic Books
  • The Viz character Felix and His Amazing Underpants often does this with... well, guess.
  • One Adventure Time comic had Marceline the Vampire Queen serve as a sail on Princess Bubblegum's raft by assuming the form of a giant bat and clinging to the mast.

  • An early Gil Elvgren pinup ("Short on Sails") has a topless girl sitting on a raft with a bra flying from the mast.

  • A Russian bard song "Blue Striped Pants" ("Little Boat"), sung to the tune of "Red River Valley", has the lyrical protagonist using the titular pants as a sail. It ends badly; wind carries the pants away and the protagonist is stranded on a boat, alone, with no means to steer and in his longjohns.

Western Animation
  • One episode of Mr. Bogus showed Bogus and Brattus sailing down the river in a raft, using Bogus's pants as a sail, with Bogus just standing in his Goofy Print Underwear.
  • One episode of Hey Arnold! had Arnold and Gerald going out fishing. They took off their shirts to make the sail on their boat. Arnold provided both his blue overshirt and his red flannel undershirt.
  • In Around the World with Willy Fog, when Inspector Fix and Constable Bully are lost in the jungle, they build a raft and they make sails out of their jackets (pictured above).
  • In Littlest Pet Shop (2012) "Littlest Pet Street," Blythe and her dad are stranded on a dessert island because the Pet Jet has crashed and isn't airworthy. Blythe asks if it's seaworthy, and they wind up sailing it home, with a sail made of her dad's Bermuda shorts. Doubles as an odd Chekhov's Gag, as he'd bought the shorts to wear on his staycation.

Real Life
  • Truth in Television: on rare occasions in Real Life, this can be a highly effective survival technique when lost at sea. One such incident was logged by the HMCS Charlottetown on January 7, 2008.
  • In Real Life, even masts can be improvised, and this trope is known as jury rig. A skilled sailor can use any spars or oblong objects for jury rig and any suitable fabric (or even tarpaulins) for sails. (Needless to say, on an actual yacht, sails can be used on positions not originally intended to, such as storm jib for jury-rigged mainsail.)