The Basic Principles of Sailing

sailboat on the water

The basic principles of sailing comprise a very specific set of rules and techniques that must be followed for a successful venture on today’s lakes and waterways. Knowledge of right-of-way, navigational terms and procedures for controlling sailboats, all contribute to safely preventing mishaps and problems.

Right of Way Procedures

In the event that two sail boats are approaching each other, or that one is overtaking another, the sail boat with the most power should avoid the other. This determination is because the more powerful boat has the greater ability to avoid a collision. It is incorrect to expect the boat on the Starboard side, the right side, to yield as in highway traffic. All boats under sail have the responsibility of avoiding rowboats or other fishing boats without motors. All power boats must steer clear of sail boats and always yield the right of way.

Sailing and Wind Direction

To sail effectively, both the strength and direction of prevailing winds must be considered. There are six major points of sail. When a boat sails directly into the wind, this is called being in irons, there is no movement, the sails are fluttering, not providing any power for movement.

Sailing with the wind blowing at either 30 to 40 degrees against the boat is called close-hauling and provides the greatest forward movement in the Starboard direction (to the right as the skipper is facing the front of the boat). Close, Beam and Broad reach are sailing with the wind blowing 60, 90 and 135 degrees against the boat and will allow the boat to move from a northerly direction in increasing degrees to a 180 degree or southerly direction, again to the right. When the boat is in the Running direction, it is being powered with the wind directly at its back, or 180 degrees away from the direct wind. These terms are also applied to the boat as it moves to Port, or to the left, as the skipper faces the front of the boat.

Coming About

When a boat is using the wind to change direction either going from right to left or vice versa, it is said to be coming about. This is also called either tacking, or jibing by changing direction from 30 degrees against the wind and turning its nose or stern (the back of the boat) into the wind. This will allow the boat to be 30 degrees in the opposite direction with the wind filling its sails. It is now 60 degrees from its original direction.

Jibing is less favorable than tacking because it is a very dangerous maneuver as the boom swings forcefully to the opposite side of the boat. Another reason in favor of tacking is because jibing also subjects the boat to heavy stress because of the forceful wind shift suddenly coming from the opposite direction.

Sail Shape

Observing the shape of the sail and the position of the telltales (ribbons attached to the mainsail) can help maneuver the boat as both directly react to the power and direction of the wind.