How Do Sailboats Sail into the Wind?


It seems intuitive that sailboats, powered only by the wind, can travel easily with the wind at their backs, but it may seem impossible that they turn around and come home again, with the wind blowing straight against them.

But this reverse movement is possible because a moving boat's sail is shaped as an airfoil like the wing of a plane. When air moves over a plane's wing, from front to back, wind flowing over the top of the wing has to travel farther than wind flowing under the wing's bottom surface. This creates a pressure difference that lifts the plane.

On a sailboat, wind blowing against the boat at an angle inflates the sail, and it forms a similar foil shape, creating a difference in pressure that pushes the sail perpendicular to the wind direction.

According to "The Physics of Sailing Explained" (Sheridan House Inc, 2003), by Kent State University physics professor Bryon D. Anderson, this force from the sail's foil shape is combined with and balanced by other forces, including those of the boat's keel (the long thin piece that juts down from the bottom of the boat).

Together, the forces of drag, from the water, and the pressure from the wind against the sail itself push the craft forward. It moves at an angle opposite the direction of the wind, called windward in sailing terminology.

According to the American Institute of Physics' Physics Today magazine, the keel is especially important because without its balancing action, a boat would simply drift downwind.

Windward sailing also does not work if a boat is pointed directly opposite the wind direction, according to The Physics of Sailing. Wind has to be moving against the boat at an angle of at least 40 degrees for most vessels. Angling too sharply into the wind causes the forces on the boat to become unbalanced, and moves the boat sideways in the water.

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A sailor intending to travel windward toward a point exactly in line with the direction of the wind will have to zig zag back and forth to reach its target. Using this "tacking" technique, and traveling at an angle as close to the wind's direction as possible, sailors can reach a point in any direction, regardless of the direction of wind.

Got a question? Email it to Life's Little Mysteries and we'll try to answer it. Due to the volume of questions, we unfortunately can't reply individually, but we will publish answers to the most intriguing questions, so check back soon.

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sailboat in wind

How To Sail Into the Wind (in 7 Simple Steps)

Sailing into the wind seems like Poseidon's magic, but once you learn how to set up your sails and hold the correct course, you can do it. This article explains the technique in 7 simple steps.

How to sail into the wind?

  • Make sure your sails are close-hauled and tight
  • Set your direction approximately 22 degrees from the direction of the apparent wind
  • If you sail left from the direction of the apparent wind, your front sail should be on the left side and vice versa
  • Your mainsail should be centered
  • You can not sail directly into the wind, as there is an approximately 44 degree 'no go' zone' - 22 degrees from each side of the wind direction
  • Because of that, if your destination is directly into the wind, zig-zag (tack) your way towards it, going 22 degrees left and then 22 degrees right
  • During this zig-zag maneuver, you need to simultaneously change the boat's course and switch the front sail from one side to another

If you’re unsure what it all means, don’t worry. I will explain all the technical terms in the steps below.

It really isn't all that difficult once you remember these few steps. Plus it is a fun way to sail: the boat leans elegantly, the wind blows against you and you feel like the king of the seas.

So let's go through the steps in a bit more detail and make sure that next time you are out sailing, you can go wherever you set your mind to. Because that's what sailing is about - the freedom to do whatever you want.

sailboat in wind

On this page:

Make sure your sails are tight, determining the right course, headsail position should be dead center, center your mainsail, avoid the no-go zone, zig zag (tack) to stay on course, how to tack to change direction.

When I was on a sailboat for the first time and the skipper said ‘we’ll now sail against the wind’, I thought he’d gone crazy. It’s a sailboat. It uses the wind to move. Things don’t go against the wind. They go with it. Look at the leaves on the ground when it gets windy.

But soon I was proven wrong. Because when sailing into the wind, your sail doesn't work like a sheet that is simply pushed by the wind. Rather, it works like an airplane wing. That is why sails of boats going against the wind have approximately the shape of a wing - and that's what step 1 is all about - making sure the sails are tight and hold their form. No flapping around, no loose ropes.

The sails should also be close-hauled. Close-hauled means they are pointing almost straight back. Their direction is mostly determined by how you set them, not by the wind.

I have a confession to make - you can't sail directly into the wind. That's just physically impossible. At least until somebody comes up with some new revolutionary sail system.

But here is the good news - you can have the next best thing - sailing almost into the wind. Precisely 22 degrees left or right from the direction of the apparent wind. Once you cross this imaginary line and steer your boat closer into the direction of the wind, your sails will start to flap around, lose their form and your boat will slow down.

Plus the boat will start shaking as the sails flap, it will all get noisy, simply put, you want to stick to those 22 degrees.

sailboat in wind

Don't worry, you don't have to bring a pen and paper to the helm and measure everything. The little V on the top of your mast along with the arrow that points into the wind, that's your best friend in determining the right direction. The angle of the V is precisely these 22 degrees times two.

So if the tail of the moving arrow overlaps one of the legs of the V, you are hitting the sweet spot.

If the tail is inside of the V, you are headed too much into the wind.

If the tail is too much outside of the V, you are still moving, but you aren't sailing as much into the wind as your boat allows.

The correct position of your mainsail is pretty clear. Have it tightly set right in the middle.

But what about your headsail? Your headsail is your front sail. This is mostly a jib. Even if it is as close-hauled as possible, you still have two places to put it - the left side and the right one. So what to do?

Well, the answer is pretty easy. If your sailing direction is left of the wind direction, you put the sail on the left. If you are sailing on the right side of the wind direction, you put the sail on the right.

Not much else to explain here. The tricky part comes when you need to switch sides. But more on that later.

As mentioned, the mainsail should rest in the middle. While sailing upwind, you don't need to manipulate it at all. That is unless you need to reef it during a storm. The important thing is to have it firmly set in one place. No wiggle room like would be the case if the wind was in your back. Remember, you are not being pushed, you are using your sails like wings.

All that needs to be said was covered in the second step. As already said, you can't go directly into the wind and some 22 degrees from its left or right side.

By the way, this number 22 is not exactly set in stone. It differs slightly for different boats. Racers can go more into the wind whereas cruisers have to keep the angle wider.

But you can find out what your boat's angle is quite easily. Close haul your sails, make them tight and start turning into the wind. As long as they hold the wing-shaped form, all is well. As soon as they start to flap, your angle became too narrow. You've entered the no go zone.

So right before the flapping starts, that's the sweet spot.

Obviously we have to address the important question here. What if your destination lies somewhere in the no go zone? Let's say the marina you want to rest at for the night is exactly where the wind is coming from. Dead center.

Well, since 22 degrees is the closest we can get to the wind direction, that's what we will do. Head left of your destination, sail for a bit, then turn and head right of your destination. Then left again, then right again. Dance around the center line and eventually you will get to your spot. If it sounds a bit abstract, see the picture below. This is called tacking.

sailboat in wind

How often you turn is entirely up to you. Whether you decide to turn just once (the red line), making your passage wide but with less effort, or whether you turn every two minutes, making the passage narrow (the blue line), won't influence the total distance covered.

As portrayed in the picture, going all the way to the right corner, turning and going straight towards the finish, or turning every time you reach the end of a single field has no effect on how far your boat will have to go in total. You pass the same amount of chess fields.

But know that each turn slows your boat down a bit and it takes time before it gathers speed again. So as far as time and energy goes, better keep it simple.

This means that the route you take will mostly be dictated by how wide you can afford your passage to be. If you find yourself in a narrow channel, you will have to switch directions often, if on the other hand you have nothing but open seas ahead, you are in luck.

When planning your zig-zag route, keep in mind that the wind will make you drift. Your boat will not travel in a straight line ahead, it will be pushed by the wind wherever it will blow from. Even though you are travelling upwind, since you are going 22 degrees off the wind's course, the wind is still pushing you from one side.

This zig-zagging means you will have to change directions. Especially for beginners, this is a potentially challenging maneuver and oftentimes has to be done with at least two people.

The reason it is a bit tricky is that you have to change the boat's course and switch the front sail from one side to another simultaneously within the shortest time you can. Why the rush? You don't want to hesitate because, during the turn, the boat goes through the 'no go zone', the dead angle where it won't be propelled by the wind. You will rapidly start losing speed. So you want to make sure you are on the right course as soon as you can.

Also, in this dead angle, the sails will flap and you don't want to expose them to this much, especially if the winds are too rough.

The best way to go about this is to have one person at the helm and two more at winches. Once the helmsman starts changing the course, the winch holding the front sail on one side should be released and the front sail should be winched in onto the other side. There will be a lot of sail flapping, especially if it is windy, but don't worry and just keep winching the sail in until it is nice and tight again.

A Leaning Boat

Don't worry, no more steps. Just a quick heads up. If you travel upwind, your boat will lean to one side. The windier it is the more it will lean. This is completely normal. Don't correct the course just because the boat's belly starts peeking out of the waves. The wind itself can't tip the boat over. I won't go into the physics of why that is, just know you are safe.

But be sure to have all your cabinets closed and keep the number of things that can freely move around to a minimum. Many teacups have been broken like this. It is also nice to inform those onboard that the boat will lean, especially if they don't expect it.

Feel like a Poseidon

It is precisely the boat leaned to one side, oftentimes so much that you can touch the water while standing behind the helm, and the feeling of speed, that makes this type of sailing so fantastic. As both the wind and the waves will be coming towards you, the boat's speed will feel much higher than it is. This makes sailing exciting as you feel like you are flying through the waves.

As opposed to downwind sailing where you hardly feel any wind, since you are traveling with it.

Lift Explained (Ok, but how is all this possible?)

Right. I still haven't explained that. Well, as said in the beginning, you aren't being pushed by the wind, you are, as it were, being sucked into it. I know intuitively this makes little sense but if you bear with me through this little physics lesson, you'll understand it.

As mentioned, a tight sail on a boat going upwind has approximately the shape of an airplane wing. See the picture for illustration.

sailboat in wind

Because of this shape, the wind on the shorter side has to travel slightly slower speed than wind on the other side. This results in high pressure on one side and low pressure on the other. And as with anything, where there is low wind pressure, things are being sucked in. That's why the tight close-hauled sail is so important.

The reason why your boat doesn't just go sideways is your keel. It compensates for the suction by pushing the boat and the powers combined result in the boat going more or less forwards.

So there you go. The whole thing really is not that complicated. As with everything, go out there and practice a bit. The main things to get a feel for are keeping the correct angle so that you take advantage of the wind as much as possible and mastering the direction change. It is easier to practice in slower winds before you give it a full go.

Related questions

How to sail downwind? If the wind is in your back, you just open up the sails as much as you can and let yourself be pushed. Sometimes a spinnaker is used, which is a special balloon-like sail used in back winds. Sailing downwind is easier for many sailors as the whole thing is a bit more intuitive. So it is easier to set up the sails correctly.

How was this done in the olden days? The Chinese were able to sail upwind very early on. Some medieval European designs on the other hands were only able to take advantage of downwind. This then really depends on the particular designs. Just as with any technology, some cultures got the hang of it sooner than the others. One thing is for certain though, the ability to sail upwind is not a modern matter.

So take advantage of the ancient wisdom, get out there and enjoy!

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The Ultimate Guide to Sailing with the Wind: Mastering the Art of Wind Sailing

  • The Ultimate Guide to Sailing with the Wind: Mastering the Art of Wind Sailing

Sailing enthusiasts, both novice and experienced, understand the sheer thrill of harnessing the power of the wind to glide gracefully across the water. Wind sailing is a unique and exhilarating sport that requires skill, knowledge, and a deep connection with nature. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of winds for sailing, sailboat wind dynamics, and strategies for sailing faster than the wind itself. So, hoist your sails and let's embark on this exciting journey! 

Understanding the Basics of Wind Sailing

What is wind sailing.

Wind sailing, often referred to as sailing or yachting, is a thrilling water sport that involves using the wind to propel a sailboat across the water's surface. Unlike motorized boating, wind sailing relies solely on the power of the wind to move the vessel, making it an eco-friendly and serene way to navigate the waters.

The Essentials of Wind and Sailing

To become a proficient wind sailor, it's crucial to grasp the fundamentals of wind and its interaction with a sailboat. Wind is the primary driving force behind sailing, and understanding its behavior is essential for safe and enjoyable sailing.

The Connection Between Wind and Sailboats

Sailboats are meticulously designed to harness the energy of the wind. This intricate dance between wind and sailboat is what makes wind sailing a captivating and challenging endeavor.

Choosing the Right Wind Conditions

Optimal wind speed for sailing.

One of the most critical factors in wind sailing is wind speed. Discover the ideal wind speeds for different types of sailing and how to make the most of your sailing experience.

Interpreting the Sailing Wind Chart

The sailing wind chart is a sailor's best friend. Learn how to read and interpret this valuable tool to plan your wind sailing adventures effectively.

Sailing Away from the Wind: Points of Sail

Exploring different points of sail, including upwind and downwind sailing, will expand your wind sailing horizons and open up new possibilities for exploration.

Sailboat Wind Dynamics

How sailboats harness the wind.

Unlock the secrets behind how sailboats capture and utilize the power of the wind. Understanding sailboat wind dynamics is the key to becoming a skilled wind sailor.

The Anatomy of a Sail

Delve into the components of a sail and learn how subtle adjustments can significantly impact your sailing performance and speed.

Adjusting Sail Trim for Optimal Performance

Discover the art of sail trim, where precision adjustments to your sail's position and shape can make your sailboat sail faster and more efficiently.

Sailing Faster than the Wind

The physics behind sailing faster.

Sailing faster than the wind may seem counterintuitive, but it's a reality for experienced sailors. Explore the physics that make this feat possible.

Strategies and Techniques

Master the strategies and techniques that will allow you to outpace the wind, leaving you with a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.

The Role of Sailboat Design

Sailboat design plays a crucial role in achieving higher speeds. Learn how to choose or optimize your sailboat for the ultimate wind sailing experience.

Read our top notch articles on topics such as sailing, sailing tips and destinations in our Magazine .

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Environmental Responsibility

As a wind sailor, it's your duty to protect the environment. Learn how to minimize your ecological footprint while enjoying the beauty of the water.

Mastering Wind Sailing: Tips and Tricks

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Tacking and jibing are essential maneuvers in wind sailing. Master these techniques to navigate efficiently and enjoy a smoother sailing experience.

Reading the Wind

The ability to read the wind is a skill that separates novice sailors from experts. Learn how to interpret wind patterns and adjust your sails accordingly.

Enhancing Your Sailing Skills

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Common Challenges in Wind Sailing

Dealing with unpredictable wind shifts.

Wind shifts can be challenging to navigate. Discover strategies for handling unexpected changes in wind direction and strength.

Navigating Strong Winds

Sailing in strong winds can be both exhilarating and daunting. Learn how to manage high winds safely and effectively.

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Sailing Wind Speed Chart: Your Ultimate Reference

Decoding the sailing wind speed chart.

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Conclusion: Embrace the Wind, Master the Waves

Celebrating the beauty of wind sailing.

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How Does Sailing Work? The Physics of Sailing

How Does Sailing Work? The Physics of Sailing

Sailing, with its graceful boats skimming across the water powered solely by the wind, is a captivating and ancient mode of transportation and recreation. While it might seem like magic, the principles behind sailing are firmly grounded in physics. The interplay between the wind, the water, and the structure of the sailboat creates an intricate dance of forces that propels the vessel forward. In this article, we will delve into the physics of sailing to uncover the mechanics behind this age-old practice.

The Role of the Wind: Lift and Drag

At the heart of sailing lies the wind – a dynamic force that fills the sails and provides the energy needed to move the boat. The interaction between the wind and the sail is based on the principles of lift and drag, which are also fundamental to aviation and other fluid dynamics.

When wind flows over the curved surface of a sail, it creates an area of lower pressure on the windward side and an area of higher pressure on the leeward side. This pressure difference generates lift, much like an airplane wing. The sail’s shape and angle in relation to the wind determine the amount of lift generated. By adjusting the sail’s angle, sailors can control the lift and subsequently the boat’s direction.

Drag, on the other hand, is the resistance the sail experiences due to the friction between the air molecules and the sail’s surface. While drag can’t be entirely eliminated, modern sail designs aim to minimize it to ensure the boat moves efficiently through the water.

>>Also Read: How Fast Can a Sailboat Go?

The Concept of Apparent Wind

In a straightforward scenario, a sailboat would travel directly downwind with the wind pushing the sails from behind. However, sailing often involves moving at angles to the wind, a concept that introduces the notion of apparent wind.

Apparent wind is the combination of the true wind – the wind blowing over the Earth’s surface – and the wind generated by the boat’s motion through the water. As the boat sails at an angle to the true wind, the wind experienced by the boat appears to come from a different direction and at a higher speed than the true wind. This apparent wind is crucial for maintaining lift on the sails, even when sailing against the true wind direction.

The Physics of Sailing

Points of Sail: Navigating the Wind Angles

To understand how sailboats maneuver, it’s essential to grasp the concept of points of sail. These are specific angles at which a boat can sail relative to the wind direction. The main points of sail are:

  • Close-hauled:  Sailing as closely as possible into the wind. This requires the sails to be trimmed in tightly, and the boat moves forward at an angle against the wind.
  • Close reach:  Sailing diagonally to the wind, between close-hauled and a beam reach.
  • Beam reach:  Sailing perpendicular to the wind. This is often the fastest point of sail as the boat can fully capture the wind’s energy.
  • Broad reach:  Sailing diagonally away from the wind, between a beam reach and running.
  • Running:  Sailing directly downwind, with the wind coming from behind the boat.

By adjusting the angle of the sails and the boat’s course, sailors can optimize their speed and direction according to the prevailing wind conditions.

>>Also Read: Points of Sail Explained

Balancing Forces: The Keel and Centerboard

While the wind provides the forward propulsion, the boat’s stability and ability to maintain a straight course are maintained through the use of a keel or centerboard, depending on the type of sailboat.

The keel is a heavy, fin-like structure located beneath the boat’s hull. It serves two main purposes: counteracting the force of the wind pushing the boat sideways (referred to as leeway) and providing ballast to keep the boat upright. The keel’s shape generates lift in the water that counters the lateral force of the wind, allowing the boat to sail closer to the wind without being pushed sideways.

For boats with a centerboard, which is a retractable fin located in the center of the boat, the principle is similar. By adjusting the centerboard’s depth, sailors can control the boat’s lateral resistance and stability.

>>Also Read: How do Sailboats Move Without Wind?

Tacking and Jibing: Changing Course with the Wind

Sailing isn’t just about going in a straight line – sailboats can change direction by tacking and jibing.

Tacking involves turning the boat’s bow through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other. This maneuver allows the boat to change direction while maintaining forward momentum. During a tack, the sails are let out to spill the wind’s energy, the bow crosses through the wind, and then the sails are trimmed in again on the new tack.

Jibing, on the other hand, is a maneuver where the stern of the boat crosses through the wind. This is often used when sailing downwind. Jibing requires careful coordination, as the sails can swing abruptly from one side to the other, potentially causing powerful forces.

How do sails work in the wind

Sail Shape and Rigging: Aerodynamics of Sailing

The shape of the sail and the configuration of the rigging also play a vital role in the physics of sailing. Modern sail designs use a combination of materials and engineering to create sails that are both efficient and durable.

The angle at which the sail is set, known as the angle of attack, determines the amount of lift and drag produced. Sails are typically designed with a curved shape, known as camber, which allows for better lift generation and minimizes drag. Adjustable controls such as the cunningham, outhaul, and boom vang enable sailors to modify the shape of the sail according to wind conditions.

The mast, rigging, and other structural elements of the sailboat are designed to distribute forces evenly and provide stability. The tension in the rigging affects the shape of the mast, which, in turn, affects the shape of the sail. Balancing these factors ensures optimal sail performance and boat stability.

>>Also Read: Most Common Sailing Terms

How Does Sailing Work? The Physics of Sailing – In Conclusion

Sailing is a captivating interplay of physics and nature, where the wind’s energy is harnessed to propel a boat gracefully across the water. By understanding the principles of lift, drag, apparent wind, and the mechanics of sail shape and rigging, sailors can navigate the seas with precision and finesse. From the ancient mariners who first ventured out onto the open waters to the modern sailors competing in high-tech races, the physics of sailing remains a timeless and essential art.


Peter is the editor of Better Sailing. He has sailed for countless hours and has maintained his own boats and sailboats for years. After years of trial and error, he decided to start this website to share the knowledge.

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How to sail well in strong winds.

We covered the Basics of Heavy Weather Sailing already; now it’s time to look at techniques to help you sail well in strong winds, which will increase your range and confidence. Harnessing the power of the wind and battling the waves while maintaining control can be exhilarating; some consider it the ultimate sailing experience.

sailboat in wind

How to Depower

The challenge in heavy weather is to depower enough to keep control, but not too much to fight the waves that come with heavy winds—and to maintain sufficient speed. The slower you go, the longer it will take you to get to your destination.

Depowering techniques include flattening sails, increasing twist, and reducing angle of attack; these are the first steps in dealing with increasing winds. When these methods are not sufficient, stronger measures are called for.

The waves that accompany strong winds can be as big a problem as the wind itself. Waves make depowering tricky, as sailing underpowered in waves can leave you at their mercy. The challenge is to keep enough power to handle the waves, while still maintaining control.

And pounding upwind against building seas can be more than unpleasant; it can be dangerous, as the motion batters the crew and equipment.

There are several ways to reduce pounding. First, add twist to your trim for a wider steering groove. This will allow you to steer around the biggest waves. Next, change speeds. Sometimes sailing faster will smooth out the ride, as you power through the waves. Ease sails a bit, and bear off a couple degrees.

Another option is to slow down. If the boat is leaping off the waves, then shorten sail and slow down to keep the boat in the water.

You can also improve the boat’s motion through the waves by moving weight out of the bow and concentrating it amidships—as low as possible. Before going out in big seas, consider moving the anchor and rode off the bow and stowing them below, perhaps in a couple of big canvas bags.

Another option to consider is picking a new destination. Do you really need to go upwind in these big waves? Let’s reach off and go somewhere else!

Adjust Your Speed

As mentioned above, sometimes slowing down a little can dramatically improve the motion and comfort of the boat. At other times, adding power and speed to help you steer around the biggest waves can improve the ride. Often adding twist by easing sheets just a couple of inches will help the boat find a wider steering groove which will, in turn, help you find a smoother path through waves. If the motion is bad, then experiment to improve it.

Shorten Sail: Smaller Jib First

If depowering the sailplan is not enough, it’s time to shorten sail. In heavy winds, a well-trimmed reefed boat can provide much better speed, control, and comfort than an over-canvased boat. And the first step in reducing sail area is to reduce your jib size. Generally, less sail area in the jib with a full-sized main means better speed, higher pointing, and more control in waves or gusts.

Depending on your set up, you can reduce jib size either by changing to a smaller sail or by roller reefing your genoa.

Roller Reefing

Roller reefing genoas make it possible to shorten sail without changing jibs, a nice convenience especially when short-handed. Foam or rope luffs and other refinements have vastly improved reefed sail performance, but the shape of a reefed genoa will still not be as good as an unreefed one. And to protect the life of your sail, be sure to leave a portion of the tack patch exposed to handle the loads along the foot.

As the genoa is rolled, adjust the jib lead to maintain proper sail shape. To remove the guess work from heavy air lead position, make marks on the foot of the genoa for your first and second increments of rolling—after perhaps 3 and 6 rolls on the headstay—and then mark the jib track at a position that makes the telltales break evenly top to bottom for each setting.

Two Jib Inventory

A sail inventory that includes a full sized genoa and a smaller working jib can provide a great boost in performance, control, and comfort in heavy air. Of course it means buying an extra sail, which will require the room to stow whichever sail is not rigged— and it means an occasional sail change. But the shape of a smaller jib will provide better performance and control than a rolled up genoa.

Change Early

Whatever your setup, make the change to a smaller jib early – as soon as the thought occurs to you – and while it is still relatively easy to do so. If you anticipate a breezy day, a smaller jib makes it possible to change while still at the dock or at anchor. And while it is only a small compromise in performance in moderate winds, it keeps sailing comfortable and fun in heavy air.

Reef the Main

Still overpowered with the smaller jib? The next step is to reef the main.

Tacking and Jibing in Heavy Air

The waves that come with big winds can make basic maneuvers challenging. When tacking, look for a relatively smooth spot, and start your turn as the bow climbs a wave. Push the helm over so that the next wave will push the bow down onto the new tack.

In extreme seas you may not be able to tack at all. In that case, you will need to wear ship or jibe.

Of course, jibing in heavy air is no picnic. Often the best way to handle the jib is to roll it up. A heavy air jibe is best accomplished at speed. As the boats surfs down a wave, loads on the sails are reduced. Use extra hands to jibe the main, and ease it quickly once it crosses centerline. Watch your course and steer to control the boat as it tries to round up coming out of the jibe.

Once under control, unroll the jib again. Use a winch to control the roller furling line while easing it out, as the load will be too great to handle barehanded.

Another Alternative: Motor Sailing

Perish the thought! This is a sailboat!

Well yes, but we’re not racing!

If you’re sailing under reefed main and rolled genoa and you are still overpowered, stow the jib and crank up the “iron genny.” Motor sailing into wind and waves under main alone provides a much better ride than motoring with no sails. (Save that for days with no wind.)

Motor sailing lets you point high, making better progress to windward, without the violent pitching of motoring into seas with no sails set.

Trim the main, head up high enough to control your angle of heel, set the autopilot, and keep a lookout.

What to Watch Out for When Motor Sailing

Make sure cooling water is pumping through the engine. On some boats, the water intake will lift out of the water when heeled. Violent pitching can also allow air into fuel line, which can stall the engine, and may require a bleed to get it going again. The pitching motion may also stir sediments off the bottom of the fuel tank, which may then clog the fuel lines or fuel filter.

Motoring with no sails set will probably not work in big seas. Sails are needed—at least a reefed main—to provide some stability and extra power.

Also to be avoided is motoring across a beam sea, as that can lead to violent rolling, or even a broach.


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How to Sail Comfortably in 20 Knots of Wind

How to Sail Comfortably in 20 Knots of Wind

By patrick twohy.

It’s April, and for San Francisco Bay sailors that means one thing: Flame on! Starting about now, our famous winds start up — and keep going. Within a few weeks, we’ll be having our usual small craft advisories on the bay just about every afternoon. 

If you sail here, it’s something you come to view as normal and generally no big deal. 

Except… if you haven’t figured out yet how to downshift from full-sail, light-wind sailing. For you, this idea of sailing in wind that turns the bay into semi-froth might seem more than a little daunting. 

If that’s the case, this is the article for you. It’ll show you how to get yourself and your boat set up to sail comfortably and happily even as the wind tries to blow your eyebrows off. 

Step one: Recognize that it’s probably going to be windy. You can confirm that a number of ways. Here are four ways to do that.

1) The NOAA marine weather forecast for the South Bay is also found on our resource page .

2) You can also check your favorite weather app, but please be aware that, in my experience, those apps are essentially useless for predicting wind with any accuracy on San Francisco Bay.  They’ll give you a number, but there’s very little chance it’ll be even close to correct.

The one exception to that rule is the paid version of an app and web site called SailFlow . SailFlow’s paid versions have wind forecasts that are frequently completely at odds with the (generally inaccurate) free forecasts provided by SailFlow. (Subscriptions cost about $4/month and up.) 

3) Check the latest wind data from the weather station that NOAA maintains at the Port of Redwood City . The data are updated on the site every 6 minutes but, oddly, the most recent report is never less than 20 minutes old.  

(The same data is also available through the free SailFlow version, along with data from a large number of other sites.)

4) Finally, when you arrive at the marina, look to the southwest. If you see fingers of fog poking over the coastal range, it’s either already windy on the bay or it’s probably going to get windy. No fog fingers, probably means it won’t get too windy on the water.

Step two: Plan to rig your boat for windy conditions. Primarily, that means get comfortable with reefing your mainsail and rolling up some or all of your jib. But there’s a lot more you can and should also do. Think of these as shifting to lower gears, as you would in your car if you’re heading up a steep hill. 

Here are five ways to downshift to handle higher winds.

1) Tighten your outhaul. This will help flatten the mainsail and help to reduce excess heel. 

sailboat in wind

2) If the wind is reaching 10 knots (meaning you see whitecaps on the open bay) and you’re beginning to feel a little over-powered, ease your traveler down to leeward and tighten your mainsheet. If you’re close-hauled, the idea is to keep your boom in about the same position it would be if the traveler were centered. 

The idea is to give the mainsail less leverage to heel your boat.  

sailboat in wind

3) Tighten your backstay. This is particularly helpful on Merit 25s, which have a fractional rig. Tightening the backstay on a fractional rig boat helps to flatten the mainsail while also stabilizing the luff of the jib. 

sailboat in wind

4) As the wind gets stronger, you’re going to induce some twist in your mainsail, which means you’re going to luff the top of your mainsail — which has the most leverage to heel your boat — while the lower portion of your main continues to draw normally. Doing this requires adjusting four items: Traveler, sheet, vang and potentially mainsail topping lift. 

First, ease your vang to let your boom rise. Second, move your traveler to windward while easing your mainsheet. Once again, the idea is that your boom’s angle to the wind shouldn’t change. These three steps will have the effect of loosening tension on your mainsail leach, allowing the top part of the leach to pay out slightly to leeward. You can ensure that effect by tightening the main boom topping lift. 

I think of the topping lift and the vang as two parts of the same tool whose job is to set the boom’s vertical position. 

sailboat in wind

5) As the windspeed moves above 15 knots, it’s time to reef the mainsail, which you can do while heaved to. Or, if you think it’s going to get windy while you’re out, you can reef as part of the process of raising your mainsail. 

Each of the previous four steps — using your traveler, backstay, vang, topping lift and mainsheet to shape the mainsail — also function under a reefed mainsail. So as the wind nears 20 knots, you can combine some of these steps. 

If you’ve reefed your mainsail, it’s probably also time to reef your jib. You can roll it partway or completely, depending on conditions. That will make the boat easier to steer — and your jib trimmers will have a dramatically easier task trimming the sail. 

If the wind is strong, you may find the violently luffing jib difficult to roll in. Try turning the boat to a broad reach, being careful to avoid an accidental jibe. That will reduce your apparent wind, and your jib will be partly in the wind shadow of the mainsail, both of which will make it easier to roll in the jib.

Step three: Experiment with these tools. Try easing the traveler to leeward and see how your heel angle changes. Try easing the vang and see what happens to heel. Try tightening the backstay and observe heel angle. 

Get comfortable with these controls and you’ll find you’re able to sail in the bay’s exuberant winds with confidence.

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How do sailboats sail upwind?

Yachts aren’t blown along – they are ‘sucked along’.

The sail creates a low pressure zone in front of the sail and a high pressure zone behind the sail.

The boat moves into the low pressure zone and is sucked forward.

This is very like the idea of an  aeroplane wing , which is curved in a similar way to a sailboat’s sail as you can see below.

How do airplanes fly

In airplane wings, the pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing, because  the air moves faster on the top , so this difference in pressure creates a force on the wing that lifts the wing up into the air.

The curve on the sail makes the air travel a longer distance over the top of the wing and a shorter distance behind it.

The longer distance the air flows, the lower the pressure, and this is why the aircraft climbs into the sky.

How do sailboats sail upwind

Below the level of the water on the boat, the sailboat’s shape helps force the boat to go straight forward as opposed to in the direction of the wind.

In addition you have the keel that is shaped like a wing, and has a lot of weight to stop the yacht from falling over when pushed sideways by the wind.

forces on sails

With the sails being unable to push the boat sideways or onto its side, the sails drive the boat forward.

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How to Sail Into the Wind – Tacking a Sailboat

One of the first sailing fundamentals you learn with you’re new to the world of sailing is the idea of sailing a boat into the wind. Sailboats can sail in the direction of the wind, but they do so by making a zig zag course made up of a series of maneuvers called tacks.

man riding sailboat

Table of Contents

Why does a sailboat tack, what is a tack of a sail, what are the points of sail depending on the wind direction, what’s the difference between a port or starboard tack, what’s the difference between a tack and a jibe (gybe), how to tack a sailboat – step by step, how to tack in sailing kept simple, faqs (frequently asked questions).

Tack is a confusing word because it’s used in various ways on a sailboat. Depending on its usage, it can be either a noun or a verb.

First, as a noun, a tack is a maneuver that a sailboat makes when it turns in the direction of the wind blows. For example, a boat may be sailing on a port tack, with the wind coming from the left side of the boat. After the boat tacks—which in this case would be a turn to the left—the boat will be on a starboard tack, with the wind coming from the right-hand side.

As a verb, a skipper might yell, “Ready to tack!” to their crew to let them know that the boat is about to tack. An alternative command is “Ready about!”

Since a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind, a boat makes a zig-zag course over the water to go in that direction. The zig-zag course is made up of a series of tacks.

The word “tack” has a second, entirely different definition on a sailboat, too. When discussing the parts of a sail, the tack is the lower rear corner of a triangular sail. So, the tack of a mainsail is the end attached at the back of the boom. The tack of a foresail, like a jib, is the one that you attach the jib sheets to.

The other two corners of sail are the head (at the top) and the clew (at the forward edge). The edges of sail are called the leech, luff, and foot. So more specifically, the tack is the corner where the leech and the foot meet.

Lines and sails

Sailboats can sail in nearly any direction except directly into the wind. Each direction has a different name and is known as a point of sail .

Sailors measure their angle to the wind based on the apparent wind angle (AWA). The AWA is simply the number of degrees from the bow that the wind is located. If a boat is headed dead into the wind, the AWA is 0 degrees. If the boat is headed dead downwind, the AWA is 180 degrees. Neither of these directions is optimal, so normal sailing occurs between 45 and 160 degrees AWA.

  • Close Hauled — A boat that is as close to sailing upwind as it can is said to be “close-hauled.” In this scenario, the sails are tightly sheeted, and monohulls will be healed over. The AWA that a boat can sail depends on its design. Most boats cannot sail closer than 45 degrees to the wind. Colloquially sailors call sailing close-hauled “beating.”
  • Close Reaching — A bit “farther off the wind,” and the boat will be close reaching. This is usually between 60 and 90 degrees AWA. 
  • Reaching — A boat is reaching when it is precisely 90 degrees AWA. This is actually the fastest point of sail for most boats.
  • Broad Reaching — If a boat is reaching, but the wind is behind the beam, it is on a broad reach. This occurs between 90 and 120 degrees AWA.
  • Running — When a boat is on a run, it is sailing downwind. In this situation, the sails act less like airplane wings generating lift and more like leaves blowing over the water. 
  • Wing-on-Wing — Wing-on-wing is a sailing maneuver, not a point of sail. But it occurs when a boat is more or less sailing dead downwind (180 degrees AWA). When a boat is wing-on-wing, one sail is on a starboard tack, and the other is on a port tack.

How Does a Sailboat Sail Into the Wind?

Contrary to what many people think, modern sailboats can sail in the direction of the wind . In fact, they can sail in nearly every direction relative to the wind except one. But they cannot sail directly into the wind. So if the wind blowing on the water today is out of the direction of your desired course, you’ll have to tack back and forth to get there.

For the sail to work, it needs to have air pushing on one side of it. If the boat is pointed directly into the wind, the sails will flap like flags on a pole. When this happens, the boat is said to be “in irons” and will eventually come to a stop.

How close to the wind a boat can sail depends on its design. Racing sailboats can do the best and generally sail within 30 degrees of the wind. However, cruising boats usually fall somewhere in the 45 to 60-degree range due to their wider beams and shallower keels.

sailboat at sea

The boat’s direction is always described in terms of the wind for a sailor. As such, one of the most fundamental terms in sailing is which tack a sailboat might be on. A port tack describes a boat with the wind coming over the port railing, so the sails are on the boat’s starboard side. Conversely, a boat on a starboard tack has the wind over that rail and the sails on the port side.

Describing which tack a boat is on is vital in racing and right of way rules. Rule 12 of the COLREGs , the internationally agreed-upon rules that govern shipping, says that when two sailing vessels meet, the vessel on the starboard tack has the right of way.

If a tack has an opposite maneuver, it is likely a jibe, which is sometimes spelled “gybe.”

A jibe occurs when sailing downwind. For example, if a boat is running on a port tack and wants to switch to the opposite tack, they could go the long way around and tack through the wind, or they could sail through dead downwind. Passing dead downwind so that the sails switch is called a jibe.

Jibes are more dangerous maneuvers that tacks for a few reasons. A planned jibe that is well executed is perfectly safe, but the force of the boom passing over the boat can be significant. All crew should know that the jibe is occurring and duck down to avoid getting smacked by the boom.

An accidental jibe, which isn’t planned, can be catastrophic. The force of the boom crashing over the boat can be immense if the winds are strong. It can easily tear the sail, and brake lines or damage the boom or gooseneck fittings.

You should always take jibes slowly and carefully. The stronger the winds, the more careful you should be. When tacking, the crew’s attention is focused on the jib sheets, but in a jibe, the crew must pay close attention to the mainsail and boom. The jib will usually be blanketed by the wind and easy to control when sailing so deeply downwind, so the jib sheet will be easy to manage.

Anytime a jibe is imminent, be it purposeful or accidentally, the skipper shouts, “Jibe ho!” This is to let everyone know to be ready for the maneuver—or at least to get out of the way of the boom. In light wind, it is usually a nonevent, but care should be taken regardless.

white sail boat on sea during daytime

How to tack a boat depends on the boat and how it’s set up. First, the boat is sailed close-hauled on the standard modern sloop with both sails sheeted in tight. With the mainsail brought in, it will be self-tending on its boom.

So besides turning the wheel, the crew needs to only worry about the jib. The crew will watch the jib as the skipper turns the boat and brings the helm about. When the sail begins to luff or flap, the crew will release the working sheet from its winch and start to bring in the lazy jib sheet on the other side of the boat.

The slacker you can take out of the line, the tighter the tack. Once the slack is out and the line secured on the drum, you can bring the sail in with the help of the winch handle.

The boat speed at which the crew works to switch the sheet depends greatly on the sort of sailing you’re doing. If it’s a solo skipping working alone with only the help of the sailboat autopilot , the emphasis is on making the tacking maneuver easy and safe. This means taking it slow and not rushing anything.

On the other hand, if the crew is prepping for a race, boat speed is of the essence. So they’ll want to pull off the tacking maneuver perfectly in sync. A sloppy tack means that the boat will slow down unnecessarily, and recovering from it may mean losing a little ground by sailing on a reach while the boat builds up boat speed again.

A good skipper will work out how to tack with their crew in advance. Tacking involves good communication and teamwork on a boat with more than one person. Cruising boats may care little if their tack is a little sloppy, but on a racing boat, a clean tack means no wasted time and competitive advantage.

How to tack sailing boats might sound complicated, but it isn’t. It’s one of the simplest maneuvers to do in the sailing world, and it’s safe to do it in most conditions. Basic sailboat training begins with tacks because it requires understanding how a boat sails into the wind and how to handle it in different situations.

What is a tack on a sailboat?

The word “tack” has a few meanings on a sailboat. The most common definition involves how a sailboat sails into the wind. A sailboat cannot steer directly into the wind and instead must follow a zig-zag course over the ground to make progress in that direction. To tack the sailboat is the action of turning its bow through the wind. This maneuver also called “a tack” (noun), is used to sail into the direction of the wind. Also, a sailboat can be on a port tack or starboard tack, depending on which side of the sails the wind is coming from. Finally, the tack of a sail is the bottom rear corner of a triangular sail. 

What is the difference between a tack and a jibe?

Both a tack and jibe (sometimes spelled “gybe”) are used to describe maneuvers in which the boat is steered onto a new heading relative to the wind. In a tack, the boat is steered through the wind so that the wind is blowing from the opposite side of the boat. A jibe is done downwind but accomplishes the same thing. The boat is steered through a 180-degree apparent wind angle (AWA) during a jibe. The sails will switch in much the same way they do during a tack, but it is a very different maneuver.

What does tack mean for a ship?

A tack is a maneuver on a sailing ship where the ship’s bow is steered through the wind. After a ship tacks, the wind will be coming over the opposite rail. A ship’s sails will not work when pointed directly into the wind, so a ship must complete a series of tacks and make a zig-zag course over the ground to sail windward. 

sailboat in wind

Matt has been boating around Florida for over 25 years in everything from small powerboats to large cruising catamarans. He currently lives aboard a 38-foot Cabo Rico sailboat with his wife Lucy and adventure dog Chelsea. Together, they cruise between winters in The Bahamas and summers in the Chesapeake Bay.

Ocean Sail Lust

The 6 Points of Sail: Diagram of Wind Direction and Sail Trim

Points of sail are the different angles at which a sailboat can sail in relation to the wind. Understanding these points is crucial for anyone who wants to learn how to sail, and it’s usually taught in sailing schools. Each point has its own characteristics that determine the boat’s speed and direction.

The main points of sail are:

  • Into the wind: The no-sail zone
  • Close-hauled: Sailing as close to the wind direction as possible.
  • Close reach: Sailing between a beam reach and close-hauled, at an angle to the wind.
  • Beam reach: Sailing perpendicular to the wind, with the wind hitting the side of the sail.
  • Broad reach: Sailing with the wind coming from behind at an angle.
  • Running: Sailing directly downwind, with the wind coming from behind.

Understanding how to navigate through each point of sail effectively takes practice and patience. It’s important to know your boat’s capabilities and limitations so you can adjust your technique accordingly.

Points of Sail

To comprehend the points of sail, it is essential to grasp the relationship between a sailboat’s trajectory and the direction of the true wind. The points of sail encompass a full 360-degree circle, each segment representing a distinct sailing direction.

Points of Sail Diagram

1. In Irons (Into the Wind)

Embarking on our journey, we encounter the point of sail known as “into the wind” or “in irons.” This position aligns your sailboat directly into the wind, within a range of plus or minus 45 degrees from 0 degrees. While this point of sail hinders forward progress, it serves as a pivotal moment for executing various sailing maneuvers, such as tacking and mast adjustments.

Tacking involves transitioning from one side of the wind to the other, crossing the into the wind point of sail. It is crucial to navigate this maneuver swiftly, as prolonged exposure in this “no-go zone” can impede momentum. Should you fail to traverse this point expediently and become stuck, it is referred to as being “taken aback.”

2. Close Hauled

Advancing beyond the into the wind point of sail, we arrive at the close hauled position. Sailing close hauled refers to navigating upwind, moving toward the wind’s direction. This point of sail, often referred to as “beating” or “working windward,” offers an intimate connection with the wind, enriching your experience as both captain and crew member.

During close hauled sailing, your sail assumes the role of an airplane wing, cutting through the wind head-on and generating optimal lift. Precise sail trim is paramount in this configuration, with tighter adjustments maximizing the sailboat’s ability to “point” towards the wind and optimize performance.

3. Close Reach

Continuing our voyage, we transition from close hauled to the close reach point of sail. Positioned between close hauled and beam reach, this segment represents a thrilling and rapid sailing direction. Sailors often revel in the exhilaration offered by the close reach point of sail.

Close reach resides closest to the “no-go zone” compared to other points of sail. It’s important to pay close attention to the wind and how the sails are set when sailing close reach. The sail needs to be tight, like when sailing close hauled, but loose enough so it’s just not luffing . This will help the boat sail efficiently when sailing upwind.

4. Beam Reach

As our sailboat maneuvers further away from the wind’s direction, we arrive at the beam reach point of sail. In this configuration, the sailboat is perpendicular to the wind, either on the starboard or port side. Notably, the beam reach point of sail boasts both speed and comfort, making it a preferred choice among sailors.

At beam reach, your sails are partially let out, the wind’s interaction with the sails in this position optimizes energy transfer from the lateral force to forward propulsion. The result is a harmonious conversion of wind power into the sailboat’s forward motion, ensuring an exhilarating and controlled sailing experience.

5. Broad Reach

Progressing from the beam reach, we venture into the realm of the broad reach point of sail. As we veer further downwind, the sails are let out approximately two-thirds of their capacity. At this stage, the wind doesn’t approache directly from astern but at an angle. As a consequence, the sail begins to function more like a parachute, relying on air resistance to maintain momentum.

While sailing on a broad reach, you will experience a less intense sensation of wind, yet your sailboat will continue to make steady progress. The sailboat’s orientation during this point of sail evokes a sense of descending down a slope. The serenity of the wind’s speed, coupled with the reliable forward movement, makes the broad reach a personal favorite among many sailors.

Our final point of sail brings us to the running point—a sailboat’s true downwind trajectory. In this configuration, the sails are fully let out, allowing the wind to propel the sailboat directly from behind. The experience of sailing on a running point is akin to running downhill, with the force of the wind acting as a powerful propeller.

Also known as a “dead run,” the running point of sail demands minimal attention to sail trim but requires careful attention to prevent an accidental jibe. Depending on wind conditions, this point presents an opportunity to hoist a gennaker or spinnaker sail, optimizing the sailboat’s performance when sailing directly downwind. The consistent wind direction and intensity make it an ideal moment to embrace the vibrant colors and expansive sails.

Conclusion for Points of Sail

In conclusion, understanding the fundamentals of sailing directions is crucial for any sailor. Knowing how to navigate each point of sail can make the difference between a successful voyage and a disastrous one. From sailing into the wind to running downwind with ease, each direction presents its own set of challenges and rewards.

Close hauled and close reach requires precision and skill, while beam reach provides a comfortable ride, and broad reach allows for thrilling surfing. Running downwind requires careful attention to prevent an accidental jibe.

As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Take time to familiarize yourself with each point of sail and experiment with different techniques. With patience and perseverance, you will soon become proficient in navigating all directions.

Remember that safety should always come first when out on the water. Always wear appropriate gear and follow proper procedures to ensure a safe journey.

How do I determine the point of sail I’m on?

To determine your point of sail, observe the angle of the wind relative to your boat. Look at the direction the wind is coming from and compare it to the direction your boat is heading. Adjust your sails accordingly to optimize your performance and balance.

What constitutes the best point of sail?

Determining the best point of sail is subjective and varies based on personal preference. However, the beam reach point of sail stands out as the fastest and most comfortable configuration. The optimal balance between lateral wind force and resisting keel force facilitates unparalleled forward movement on a sailboat.

How does the point of sail affect the boat’s heel?

The point of sail has a significant impact on a boat’s heel or stability. When sailing upwind, the boat tends to heel more due to the higher force generated by the sails. As you bear away and sail downwind, the boat’s heel decreases, and it becomes more stable. Proper sail trim can help maintain a balanced heel and overall stability throughout different points of sail.

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Happy birthday, theory of relativity!

sailboat in wind

How to Dock a Sailboat: The Ultimate Guide

sailboat in wind

It’s something you’ll have to do at some point as a sailor. Even if you own another type of boat, it’s still an ability you must master. We’re talking of course about docking your boat. If you’ve yet to do this and you’re soon setting sail, you may wonder, what do you need to know to dock a sailboat?

To successfully dock your sailboat, here’s what you must do:

  • Make sure your spring line is ready to go
  • Veer your boat towards the dock at a low speed
  • Toss the spring line, preferably atop a cleat or dock piling
  • Gently accelerate your boat to pull against the spring line until it’s tight
  • Pull any other lines necessary to keep you secure

Those are the very basics of sailboat docking, but they’re not all you need to know. In this ultimate guide, we’ll discuss docking your sailboat in windy conditions, under power, and even single-handedly. With plenty of other tips and techniques, you’ll feel like a docking master by the time you’re done reading. 

How to Dock a Sailboat Under Power

Docking your sailboat under power is so complicated that there’s a book written about it. You can check that out for further pointers, but for now, we’ll cover what you need to know when you dock your sailboat under power. These tips also apply if you’re operating a yacht or similar boat in these conditions. 

First, it’s very important that you never rush your entry towards the dock. You want to operate at a very low speed here, maybe around five miles per hour, if that. Also, it’s a good idea to have a second person onboard with you when docking your sailboat under power, at least for the first few times.

While you’re driving the boat, the second person, or the crewmate, should take the spring line and drop it over a piling or a dock cleat. Next, you want to pull against the spring line, which keeps you tight. Your boat should still be moving at this point.

Then, add any other lines as necessary and you should be secure on the dock. 

How to Dock a Sailboat Under Sail

What if you don’t have any power to your sailboat or your engine has failed you? In both these scenarios, docking your sailboat under power is impossible. Instead, you must use a different docking maneuver. This is known as docking under sail. 

As you approach the dock, from a good several feet away, you want to face the same direction of the wind if you’re not already doing so. The wind may not always blow predictably, so what you’d do next will depend on the direction of the breeze.

For example, if the wind is facing open water and not towards the dock, you have several options for docking your sailboat. You can move towards the wind angle, luffing your sails to decline in speed. As you reach the dock, you’d want to move parallel to it, typically with little time to spare. Thus, if you’re new to docking, maybe this isn’t the best option.

For wind that’s heading towards the water instead of the dock, you can also sail up to the dock’s end and then use that to aim out to the wind facing straight. This may be a little easier if you’re still inexperienced at docking.

What if the wind is facing in a different direction, such as parallel? In that case, then you want to move the boat towards the wind and then use the force of the breeze to push you along the dock. Once you’re beside it, come to a stop. 

In some situations, especially if you weren’t sailing very quickly, the boat may move sideways if you turn in the same direction of the wind. This is also known as making leeway. If you experience this yourself while docking, make sure you attach your stern lines swiftly. 

Now, you may also find you’re out sailing one day and the wind is facing the dock, not the water. This is going to make matters more difficult when it comes to docking, but not impossible. Depending on how strong the wind is, you may raise the jib or no sails at all. Lift the jib if you’re working with lighter winds and keep all sails down in heavier breezes. 

Then, make a rounded turn into the wind, pulling the jib down as you do. As you reach the dock, slow down and sort of drift towards it. You can use a forward spring line, stern lines, and a bow line as well as after spring lines for docking, the latter of which prevents aft movement from your sailboat. 

By attaching the boat to the dock that way, it should sit on its fenders. That will prevent rubbing against pilings or the dock itself, which can damage your sailboat. 

How to Dock a Sailboat in the Wind

We’re not done talking about the wind quite yet. While in the preceding paragraphs, you may have dealt with a considerable wind, if it gets significantly heavy, then you may have to change up your docking technique yet again.  

For instance, you might rely on a tee head or an end-tie for docking when usually, you wouldn’t. We have two methods of docking in strong winds, and both aren’t the easiest thing in the world. Remember though, the conditions are not ideal. That’s why we recommend practicing docking on a day with heavy winds. This way, you can work the kinks out of your technique before you ever need to use it for real.

Reversing to the Tee Head

Your first option is using your motor to reverse your way up to the tee head. While doing this, you would face the same direction as the wind. You should have readied your dock lines ahead of time, as that will make this easier. 

Once the lines are ready, reverse your sailboat so it’s near the tee head. One of your crewmates would disembark from the boat at this point with the aft dock line in tow. You should then position your sailboat so its stern is as close to the dock line’s cleats as you can get in these windy conditions. 

At the dock line, aim to keep your boat length at around ¼ from the dock cleat to the aft cleat. In the driver’s seat, you want to turn your wheel so it’s near the dock’s tiller yet not facing it. Then, go forward. 

In doing that, the boat’s bow begins to move nearer the dock and in the opposite direction of the wind. If you have a second crewmate, allow them to throw some forward dock line to the first crewmate. Otherwise, the first crewmate can bring some forward dock line with them when they hop off the sailboat, but make sure it’s long. 

Going Towards the Wind and the Tee Head

You have even a second method for docking in heavy winds, and that’s moving your sailboat in the direction of the wind to the dock’s tee head. Before you do this, you want to check that the dock lines have been cleated on both the aft and forward dock side. 

All dock lines should be facing the life lines but outward and then atop any other lines. This prevents the life line from getting tangled up when you need it most. 

Next, find the tee head and begin to sail towards it at a perpendicular angle. When angling, you also want to consider your crewmates, as you want them to be able to get off the sailboat without any trouble. 

Once you get to the tee head, let one crewmate off your boat. They should be on the dock. Make sure you throttle carefully as you do this, as it’s not the simplest thing for your crewmate to disembark at this point. If they’d have to jump off the boat to the dock, then you need to get closer.

Now your crewmate will attach the dock line to the cleat of the dock. They should aim the line towards the boat’s aft, again keeping that ¼ length in mind for your boat alongside either of the two cleats.

Move your captain’s wheel so it’s near the stops on your side of the boat that’s not facing the dock, which is the dockside to the tiller side. Then, hit the forward gear. When you do this, the rudder has a force that moves it sideways and thus pushes your boat’s stern in the direction of the dock. 

You then only have to switch the throttle so it can overcome the force of the wind and you should be just about docked from there. 

How to Dock with a Spring Line

We’ve talked about spring lines several times throughout this guide, but how do you use them primarily for docking? We’re glad you asked, as we’re now going to discuss doing just that. 

First, let’s begin with a little explanation of what spring lines are and where to find them. These are diagonal lines that go from the boat’s aft. The angle is typically shallow to prevent too much movement at the aft and fore. 

What’s an aft line and a forward spring line? Aft spring lines, despite their name, curtail forward movement while forward spring lines prevent aft movement. Yes, it’s a little confusing, but you’ll learn as you work with these lines more. 

When you attach a spring line to the cleat, that cleat is the new pivot point. As your sailboat moves towards the dock, you’ll aim for that cleat. You can also connect a spring line to the spring cleats, midship, at the boat’s middle, at its stern, or at its bow. 

As you propel your sailboat, the force you generate pulls the spring line, moving you around your cleat pivot point. While it doesn’t take much to dock with a spring line compared to the other methods we’ve discussed so far, you’ll still want to practice as much as you can. This allows you to learn the intricacies of docking with a spring line, making you a better sailor. 

Docking a Sailboat Single-Handed: Here’s What to Do

Until this point, we’ve discussed docking with the help of a crewmate or a second, even a third person onboard. What if you’re sailing completely alone or you’re the only one able to work on the boat? In that case, when the time comes for docking, you’d have to do it on your own.

Considering you’re the one controlling the boat, how do you dock it as well? It is possible, but it means docking single-handedly. Now, before you even attempt this, you should practice docking with two hands, and do so quite a lot. You might let someone else commandeer your sailboat so you can get comfortable with finding the cleat and using spring lines or whatever line type works best for docking in your situation. 

You should learn to dock under power, with just your sails, and in very strong winds. Then, once you’ve mastered all that, docking with one hand won’t seem like such a major hurdle to overcome anymore.

Starting with your dock line, you want to create a sizable loop out of it. Some sailors suggest using a bowline loop, so that’s another option you have. Make sure the dock line is lengthy so you have plenty to work with. 

Then, at your boat’s pivot point, attach the loop. From there, you want to take your loop and drop it down near the cleat while your boat is set in forward idle position.

Now, with your hand on the wheel, move the wheel so it’s facing opposite the dock. Yes, this time you don’t want to go near the dock, but rather, away from it. This generates resistance, which is what you need with a one-handed setup.

From there, you want to keep the wheel locked in that position and maintain your sailboat in forward idle as well. 

Here’s a cool video to check out if you want to see how docking with one hand is done. 

Other Techniques for Docking Your Boat

There are a few more techniques we want to discuss that could come in handy for docking your sailboat. The first of these is how to dock your boat when you don’t have a lot of room. 

We’ll also talk about safely springing yourself off a dock. If your crewmates are the ones who will be jumping onto the dock, then you’ll want to teach them how to do this.

Docking in Tight Spaces

Okay, so let’s say there’s just not much space to spare between docks. This is common in fuel docks. If you’ve only ever docked in wide open waters, then the sudden lack of space can make you nervous. 

There’s no need to fret. Just follow this technique instead.

First, you want to head near your dock. Then, allow your crewmate or crewmates to ready a spring line. This should be at the boat’s bow cleat side on whichever side of your sailboat is closer to the dock. The first crewmate should loop the spring line beneath the bow cleat for max control. 

Next, you want to move your sailboat towards the intended place of docking. Go slowly as you do this and rely on your rudder amidships. When you’re in position, move your boat so it’s angled towards the dock at 45 degrees.

Your first crewmate with the spring line should hand it over to a second crewmate, who should be on the dock, not in the sailboat. This second crewmate will attach the spring line to the cleat that’s closest to your boat’s ideal stern positioning.

While they’re doing this, don’t throttle, but do move from the dock by turning. Tell the crewmates to release their spring line, which gives you enough force to move forward. Your crewmates can use the spring line to ease the boat to a complete stop, parking it in place. A bit of throttle at this point is allowable, as it will help get the stern where it should be. 

Then, tie the spring line and you’re all done. 

Safely Jumping Off a Dock

If your sailboat is positioned at the port but there’s enough wind coming from the side of the starboard’s bow quarter, then a crewmate on the dock might be moved back and forth. By angling the bow out, it’s possible to stop or at least slow this movement. That makes being on the dock safer for your crewmate. 

To get started, you want to take the forward spring line and move it back, attaching its bitter end to the stern cleat. A second crewmate should have the forward docklines under control, and if they need to drop a fender, they can. 

Keep the engine of your sailboat running, then reverse the transmission, using your rudder amidships for this first part of the process. The boat should begin to move towards the forward spring line, but only that line should be tight.

After that, a crewmate should move the fender so it’s between the dock and your sailboat. They need to grab the line of the fender as well. 

Getting back to your duties as captain, you next want to steer towards the dock but while keeping in reverse. The spring line prevents you from going too far backwards and actually propels the boat’s stern towards the dock. 

By adding some power to the stern side of your sailboat, the bow will begin to move at an angle so it’s further from the dock. During all this, your one crewmate handling the fender should make sure all is well on their end.

The bow is now out, so take the rudder amidships to move forward. Those crewmates handling the spring line at the stern should move the line forward at this point. If you need to reach starboard, then steer. 

More Tips for Docking Your Sailboat

Before we wrap up, we have a handful of actionable tips that should make docking your sailboat an easier experience. No matter which of the techniques we’ve covered that you have to employ, you’ll know how to dock safely and efficiently.

Fenders Are Your Friend

You might think your own bodily force can stop your sailboat if you’re not going at a very high speed (which is necessary for docking). Sure, you can, but you’ll often greatly suffer for your efforts. It’s possible to separate your shoulder or experience other upper body injuries by overexerting yourself in this way.

You’re much better off relying on your fenders and going very slowly when docking. Also, practice your technique so you won’t have sudden momentum shifts that call for you to slow down very quickly.

Keep Your Passengers Safe

If you have other passengers onboard your sailboat besides your crewmates, you need to keep their safety at the top of your priority list. Everyone should either have something to grab hold of or a seat in which to settle into. 

Also, only work with crewmates who have experience jumping off the boat and onto the dock and handling the various lines around your sailboat. Otherwise, you put people in harm’s way, something we’re sure you don’t want to do.

When Holding onto the Boat, Keep Limbs Inside

There are plenty of things to keep hold of on a sailboat, such as the railing. This is safe to use, but leaning arms, hands, and fingers over the edge of the boat? Not so much. Maneuvers can be quick when docking your sailboat, and if everyone onboard isn’t expecting it, it’s possible they could pinch or cut their limbs and even break bones. 

Make sure you warn everyone to keep  their limbs inside the boat at all times when it’s in operation.

Teach Crewmates to Jump on the Dock and Give Them the Clearance to Do So

When sailing, you’ve got to act fast. The same goes for docking your boat. In that urgency, a crewmate could try to make a jump they’re clearly not able to and severely hurt themselves along the way. 

Huge jumps from the sailboat to the dock are not recommended. There’s always the possibility the crewmate won’t be able to make the jump, so they’ll end up in the water. Even if they do get across, if the dock is slippery, they could fall. The force of a hard jump could lead to severe foot pain and complications as well.

Make sure you line up your sailboat so it’s near the dock close enough that the crewmate can easily jump off the boat and onto the dock. 

Announce What You’re Doing if Necessary

You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen. While you may need a small crew to dock your sailboat, you must make sure everyone is on the same page at all times. This may take everyone announcing what they’re going to do ahead of doing it. 

If you work with the same crew often enough, you may not have to verbally communicate anymore. Until you reach that level of camaraderie and understanding though, make sure everyone is ready for what’s to come. If you catch anyone unaware, they could make a mistake in their part of the docking. 


There are many ways to dock a sailboat, such as using engine power or just your sails. If you’re in very strong winds, you’ll have to change up your docking technique. You can even do the docking yourself with a one-handed maneuver. 

Practice truly does make perfect. As you familiarize yourself with these docking techniques, remember to take it slow, have people onboard with you, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t quite get it right the first time. The more you work at it, the easier docking will become. All the best! 

I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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What Is The Ideal Wind Speed When Sailing?

What Is The Ideal Wind Speed When Sailing? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

‍Whether you're using one of the biggest sailboats in the world or a small dinghy boat meant for the water body in your backyard, sailing is all about the wind. It's, therefore, crucial that you understand the wind speed, wind direction, and the ideal wind speed for you.

Even though sailing using the force of the wind is an ancient technique that dates back to the start of human civilization, it's still in use today. For many centuries, sailing was the main mode of long-distance transportation, especially after the invention of sails. Unfortunately, the risks of sailing or otherwise relying on the wind were many. In addition to the fact that reliance on the wind was slow, a substantial number of sailboats and other water vessels were lost. Despite this, speed became so essential, especially when transporting perishable goods such as flowers. But what's the ideal wind speed for sailing? Well, let's find out.

To be honest, there's no single wind speed that can be pinpointed as ideal. This is because what is ideal for you or for the type of sailboat you're using may not be ideal for someone else. That being said, the best wind speed for sailing is one that allows you to sail the boat safely and within your comfort zone, which is generally between 5-12 knots. Keep in mind that sailing at a wind speed that pushes the boat above its normal hull speed is ultimately dangerous.

Again, the ideal wind for sailing may depend on several factors such as your skill level, boat type, your location, your needs and preferences, location, and many other factors. It's all about knowing what you're after and you'll find a good range of wind to work with.

For this reason, we'll not give you a single answer. Instead, we'll look at different ideal winds for sailing and various factors that will help you decide the ideal wind for sailing based on your condition.

But before going into what could be your ideal wind speed for sailing, let's look at some details.

Table of contents

Preparing for Your Sailing Trip

When going out there on the water, the weather should be one of the most important factors to consider. In addition to sudden storms and squalls, chances are you might have to deal with searing heat. In essence, poor weather can seriously spoil your sailing trip. Even worse, poor weather can lead to an emergency situation on the water.

For this reason, it's very crucial that you always check the weather before you set sail. It would be better to postpone your trip if there are chances that you might be caught in the middle of a storm or even a hurricane. You should also stay updated on the weather forecasts and weather patterns to stay ahead in case there's stormy weather.

Measuring Wind Speed

Sailors measure distances in nautical miles. This means that wind speed is measured in nautical miles per hour also widely known as knots. This may be a little longer than a land mile. Let's put it into perspective.

  • ‍1 nautical mile = 1 knot = 1.1508 mile on land.
  • Therefore, 1 knot = 1.1508 miles per hour

While the speed of the wind is measured in knots, the strength of wind is measured using the Beaufort Wind Scale. This scale was invented in the 18th century by a British naval officer, Admiral Francis Beaufort. This scale ranges from 0-12 in which case 0 is completely calm while 12 is the strongest storm.

Wind Direction and Windward Sailing

Before going into different wind strengths, it's of great importance that you understand what's known as wind direction. This is essentially the direction from which the wind is coming or the point of the compass the wind is blowing. For instance, a north wind blows from the north, NOT to the north.

You've probably been wondering what sailing into the winds is called. Well, this is known as windward sailing and it literally means that your sailboat is moving into the wind. You should, however, keep in mind that a sailboat cannot directly move into the wind. This is because the sails won't create any lift. As a result, the boat will be a little off the wind by about 30 to 50 degrees while sailing windward .

Different Wind Strengths

If you're new to sailing, there are various terms revolving around winds that might get you confused. Let's look at some of them.

Calm winds will range from 0-1 knots. The water becomes so calm that it looks like a mirror. On land, this is the type of wind whereby smoke will rise vertically. Calm winds may not be ideal for sailing given that your sailboat may not even sail.

Light Winds

Light winds can range from 1 to 14 knots and will cause small wavelets in the water while filling up the sails. On land, you may feel the wind on your face, and tree leaves will start moving while wind vanes will show the direction of the wind.

Light winds may affect your wind speed but this will depend on the size of your boat and the type of water you're sailing on. For instance, sailing a small sailboat on a small lake in your hometown may be appropriate for light wind conditions but the very same boat can't handle the same waves and winds in a bigger lake or ocean. Again, the same conditions using a bigger boat may be inappropriate if you're sailing in a coastal area as the conditions will be light.

In essence, light winds are very low and you may get bored while out there on the water.

Moderate Winds

Ranging from 15 to 20 knots, sailing in moderate winds can be really engaging and fun. This is a good working breeze that will make your sails full and the sailboat will be at full speed. On land, the wind will raise dust and small tree branches will start bending.

If you're using a smaller sailboat, it will heel and you may feel uncomfortable for the first few occasions if you aren't used to these conditions. This means that you should sail with experienced sailors who can handle the conditions perfectly well. Alternatively, this may be an ideal condition if you have a larger boat. The boat will sail at maximum hull speed and the conditions will not be a cause of concern for you or the crew.

Strong Winds

With wind speed ranging from 20 to 33 knots, there will be whitecaps everywhere on the water and this might be the right time to shorten your sails. On land, most tree branches are moving and the winding is literally whistling.

If you're sailing on the lake, this isn't the right time to be on the water. This is because the condition is unsafe and there are high chances that you'll ground your sailboat. In an ocean, experienced sailors can handle such a condition. If anything, these are normal conditions if you're planning for offshore sailing.

You should, however, make sure that you use an offshore boat that's designed to help you deal with such conditions. For instance, the boat should have an easy reefing system to enable you to reef the boat with less difficulty.

Ranging from 34 to 47 knots, gale winds will mean that there are foams on the water in well-marked streaks and all boats will head in. On land, small tree branches will break, and walking might be difficult.

Needless to say, these conditions aren't ideal for smaller sailboats or if you're a beginner and still learning how to sail. On the contrary, you can perfectly handle these conditions if you're an experienced sailor with a larger ocean-going sailboat.

Storms or Squall Winds

With the wind speed going above 48 knots, storms are dangerous situations and the seas may have huge waves going over 8 meters. These conditions are not ideal for sailing whatsoever and you should stay at home if possible. But if you're already out there and the tides change, then it would only be wise to implement skills such as heaving to help you ride out of the storm.

So what's the Ideal Wind Speed for Sailing?

As we noted earlier, the best wind speed for sailing may differ from one sailor to the other. Generally speaking, the ideal wind speed should allow you to navigate the boat safely and within your comfort zone. But because we have different comfort zones, let's get more into details and highlight the ideal wind speeds for various situations.

Easiest Wind Speed

When it comes to sailing, the wind is the driving force but it's always wise to know there's a thin line between what's easy and what's difficult or shall we say dangerous wind speeds. Although many beginners may think that sailing in light winds is the ideal situation, this is not always the case. When the wind is so light, it may not fill up the sail. This will not only leave you in drag but sailing will be difficult if there's not enough wind to fill the sail.

That being said, the easiest wind speed for sailing should range from 7 to 10 knots. This is actually ideal if you're still learning how to handle the boat. It's also less risky to capsize at this speed but quite enough to learn the ropes of maneuvering a sailboat.

Ideal Wind Speed for Training

When learning how to sail , the most important things revolve around getting to know the boat and how to handle it. In most cases, you'll want to play it safe and avoid injuring yourself or capsizing the boat. As such, it's always advisable to start at wind speeds of 10 knots or below. This is to enable you to know the boat and how to handle it.

You'll, of course, not become a skilled sailor by staying in the comfort zone or in a situation where you can only handle "7-knots-sunny-beer-and-burgers" kind of weather. The idea here is that you should try different wind speeds not just to overreach your skills a little bit but also to improve and handle varying sailing situations.

As such, you should get out of your comfort zone if you've learned how to handle the boat and train and wind speeds ranging from 15 to 20 knots or in moderate winds. If anything, moderate winds are really fun and engaging.

The most important thing when learning how to sails is to:

  • Know the type of wind speed that you're perfect at and can enjoy a ride
  • Know the type of wind speed that you're not-so-good at
  • Go beyond your comfort zone

By knowing all these, you'll know areas where you need to improve on. All in all, start by training at wind speeds of 10 knots and below until you can handle the boat and then move to around 20 knots to improve your skills.

Minimum Wind Speed

As we noted earlier, trying to sail when the wind is calm or at a speed ranging from 0 to 1 knot is almost impossible. This is because there will be no wind in the sail and the boat will not move. Therefore, the minimum wind speed for sailing is 5 knots. Anything below that will be a waste of your precious time as the boat will not move unless it's a very small sailboat such as the sunfish.

This may be hard to believe, but sailing at minimum wind speed is a skill on its own. Experienced sailors who have mastered this skill will tell you not to over-adjust the sails or over-steer the boat. Instead, just hang back the sails, relax, and the sails will catch enough wind to get you into motion.

Other Factors

We, of course, noted earlier that there are other factors that may determine the ideal wind speed for sailing. Let's look at them.

The type of boat you're using may determine whether or not the wind speed is ideal for you.

  • Sunfish boats - Make sure that you stay at wind speeds below 15 knots. Anything above that may overpower the boat and may leave you in a precarious if not deadly situation.
  • Up to 26 feet boats - These types of boats sail best in wind speeds ranging from 10 to 20 knots.
  • Over 26 feet boats - These are heavy boats that can perfectly handle wind speeds ranging from 15 and 25 knots.

Should you avoid Windy Conditions?

To be very honest, windy conditions can be deadly and you should always avoid them. Remember, your safety should always come first. But what happens if you go out there thinking that the conditions are ideal only to find yourself in foul weather or stormy situations? Believe it or not, you'll at, one point, run into the worst moment and you'll have to figure out how to deal with the situation and how to stay safe.

For this reason, you should always be prepared for such situations. The first thing is to always dress for the action, have your lifejacket, and get in a situation where you can learn how to reef down. While you can smoothly sail in flat waters, look for wind speeds that are just above 20 knots. Make sure that the boat is designed for such conditions and have an appropriate reefing system.

When it comes to reefing, the golden rule is that you should have reefed already if you're thinking about reefing. The best way to decide when to reef is by judging the degree of heel and weather helm produced by the boat when sailing in high winds. When to reef may also depend on the size and stability of your boat. You should, therefore, reef if your boat is heeling extremely or if you expect high winds.

Bottom Line

To this end, the ideal wind for sailing may vary from one person to another. What's ideal for you may not be ideal for another person. Again, the ideal wind speed for sailing may depend on your skill level and the type of boat you're using. If you're beginning, you can choose somewhere between 7 to 10 knots until you're comfortable enough to handle the boat. You can then move on to moderate winds of 15 to 20 knots if you want fun, engaging, and challenging situations.

All in all, it's important to stay safe while out there on the water by avoiding very windy or stormy conditions.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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The Best Sailing Schools And Programs: Reviews & Ratings

September 26, 2023

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Maneuvering Your Boat in Different Conditions: Assessing Wind & Current

maneuvering a boat in strong current or wind

Maneuvering a boat, especially when docking or loading a boat on a trailer , can be a lot more difficult than maneuvering a vehicle on land. Boats are subjected to outside influences including wind and current—sometimes both at once—which will affect how and where the boat moves.

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As captain, it’s up to you to judge how these influences will come into play, and counteract them to maintain complete control of your vessel.

5 Tips for Operating Your Boat in Different Conditions

  • Assess environmental forces, like wind or current, and try to position yourself up-wind or up-current to gain more control.
  • Remember that you maintain the most control heading into the wind or current, as opposed to having the forces hit you from the stern.
  • Before docking or retrieving your boat on a trailer , always observe your boat's drift for a minute or two.
  • When docking in a strong current, beware of lines that hang from piers or piling, and then disappear into the water.
  • When docking alongside a pier in a strong wind or current, simply pull the boat parallel to it and apply enough power to hold your position.

How to Drive & Operate a Boat

Controlling Your Boat With and Against the Wind

Whether it’s a strong blow or a gentle breeze, wind is probably the most common variable boaters need to deal with. No matter where or when you go boating, strong breezes are always a possibility. So a top priority when maneuvering a boat is always to assess the wind speed and direction, and consider how it might affect you prior to attempting any actions.

When savvy boaters first approach a dock, boat ramp , anchorage, or any other close-quarters maneuvering situation, they’ll begin gathering information with their eyes.

  • A glance at a flag on a flagpole is a great wind indicator you can use to quickly assess direction and approximate speed.
  • If there isn’t a flagpole close by, you can look at tree tops along the shoreline or at other boats to gain an appreciation for how the breeze might affect you.

Docking a Boat: Step-by-Step Guide

Controlling Your Boat in a Strong Current

Current may not have much of an effect in most lakes and reservoirs, but in many rivers and tidal waters it can have a huge impact. Unfortunately, just how strong a current is can be harder to assess than wind because you can’t always see it clearly.

  • Look for items floating on the water’s surface which you can compare with solid objects anchored in place.
  • Docklines drooping in the water which may be pulled in one direction or another are also a potential indicator.
  • And the telltale ripples of a current hitting a piling can clue you in to the current’s direction and strength, as well.

10 Tips on How to Avoid Boat Collisions

Consider Your Boat's Build, Propulsion & Style

The most important thing to remember about maneuvering your boat in wind and/or current is that each and every boat is affected by these forces differently, and becoming accustomed with how they impact your boat in particular is key.

Boats like cabin cruisers with tall exterior surfaces or lots of canvass have a lot of “sail area” and will feel the effect of a breeze much more than craft like bass boats , which have a low profile and little area for the wind to grab. The same is true of models with little hull beneath the waterline versus those with keels or the deep running gear of inboard power systems.

Sailboats vs. Powerboats

The type of power system your boat has and its hull type have an impact, too.

  • Outboard boats tend to pivot at the stern when subjected to a breeze, and you should expect the bow to swing around when hit by a gust. This effect will be strongest with flat-bottom hull designs (since the bow will skim right across the water’s surface) and mitigated somewhat by deep-V hull designs (since the hull has more lateral drag moving sideways through the water).
  • Boats with deep keels, like sailboats and some trawlers will be affected the least by a breeze (assuming a sailboat’s sails are down!) since they have deep appendages that resist being pushed through the water.

Again, what this all boils down to is that you need to become familiar with your own specific boat and how the wind and current impact it while maneuvering. In some cases, spinning the steering wheel and applying a brief shot of power will be enough to counteract wind and current. In others, you’ll need to keep the engine in gear and constantly counter-steer against the prevailing forces.

Additional Tips for Operating Against Wind & Current

All of that said, there are a few tips we can pass on that will help you maneuver your boat regardless of what kind it is.

  • After assessing the environmental forces you’re likely to encounter, plan ahead by positioning your boat up-current or up-wind of where you’d normally want it. Then, rather than fighting against these forces, let the wind and/or current push you into the proper position as you apply power to complete your maneuver.
  • Remember that you maintain the most control heading into the wind or current, as opposed to having the forces hit you from the stern. Just as an airplane lands and takes off into the wind or a fish swims into a current, your input at the controls will have the greatest effect this way because water is flowing faster across your boat’s running gear or rudder. Plus, the force hitting the bow of the boat has a braking effect.
  • Before attempting to dock or load a boat on a trailer in a current or on a windy day, stop your boat well clear of all solid objects and observe how it drifts for a minute or two. This will give you a better feel for exactly how those forces will be affecting your boat at the time, in that specific place.
  • When docking in a strong current, beware of lines that hang from piers or pilings and disappear into the water. Current may be drawing them out across your intended path and if the boat’s propeller fouls a line, you’re likely to lose control.
  • When docking alongside a pier in a strong current or wind, simply pull the boat parallel to it and apply enough power to hold your position. Then, you can use slight turns of the wheel to nudge the boat towards the dock in small increments without having to worry about forward or aft movement.

Like any aspect of handling a boat, the more you maneuver in wind and current the easier it will become. With time and experience you’ll learn how your boat reacts to these forces, and gain a better understanding of how to counteract them. And before you know it, you’ll look like a pro pulling up to the dock or loading onto the trailer—even when a strong breeze or heavy current makes it seem like a serious challenge.

Boat Handling Basics: 5 Ways to Improve Your Boating Skills

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How To Sail Against The Wind

Paul Stockdale Avatar

Sailing against the wind, also known as "beating" or "tacking," can be challenging but it is an important skill for sailors to master.

Being able to sail against the wind means a sailor can sail their boat in most locations in the world.

To sail a sailboat against the wind:

  • Check the wind direction
  • Tack the boat
  • Use the tiller/steering
  • Adjust the sails continuously

Following these steps will allow a sailboat to sail windward.

1. Check The Wind Direction

The first step of sailing against the wind direction is the check the exact direction in which the wind is blowing.

To check the direction of the wind:

  • Use a wind indicator : Use a wind indicator like an anemometer to measure the exact wind direction
  • Check the onboard flag or sails : Look at the sails or flags onboard to get the exact wind direction
  • Check the weather forecast : Sailors can check the local weather forecast to get the exact direction the wind is blowing

Sailing against the wind requires a sailor to sail at an angle to the wind so a sailor will need to know the exact direction the wind is coming from to set this angle.

The benefits of checking the wind direction are it will inform the sailor of the exact wind direction so a tacking angle can be set and it will inform the sailor of the wind speed so they will know the force on the sails and keel.

2. Tack The Sailboat

sailing against wind by tacking boat

The second step of sailing into the wind is to tack the sailboat, also known as "tacking".

Tacking is a sailing maneuver used to change the direction of a sailboat by turning the bow of the boat through the wind. This is also known as "coming about" or "beating."

When sailing, tacking is used to sail against the wind or to change the direction of the boat when sailing at an angle to the wind.

The tacking sailing maneuver means a sailboat will sail in a zig-zag direction against the wind rather than sailing at a 90-degree angle windward. The zig-zag direction change means the wind will alternate between blowing on the starboard side and blowing on the port side.

For example, if the wind is blowing from the north, tacking would mean sailing the sailboat in the direction between northeast and northwest rather than directly north.

To tack a sailboat:

  • Alert the crew : Alert the crew that you're about to tack the sailboat to prepare them to go to a close haul. Close hauled is a sailing term used to describe the point of sail where the boat is sailing as close to the wind as possible. This means that the boat is heading upwind with the sails trimmed in tight and the wind coming from the side of the boat
  • Tighten the mainsheet : Tightening the mainsheet is used to adjust the angle of the mainsail in relation to the wind. The mainsheet is the rope that controls the mainsail and it runs from the sail to the aft end of the boat
  • Adjust the angle of the sails : Adjust the angle of the sails until the sailboat is sailing at a 45-degree angle against the wind. Sailing at a 45-degree angle to the wind direction will allow the sailboat to sail close-hauled and help it to travel in the direction of the wind without being stopped by the wind forces

The keel of the sailboat will provide stability and prevent the sailboat from capsizing or being blown sideways by the wind. The keel is a heavy, vertical fin-like structure that extends down into the water from the bottom of the sailboat's hull.

As the sailboat moves against the wind through the water at a 45-degree angle, the keel acts as a counterbalance to the force of the wind on the sails, helping to keep the boat upright and on course.

3. Use The Tiller/Steering

The third step of sailing against the wind is to continuously use the tiller/steering on the sailboat. When sailing against the wind, the tiller or steering is an essential tool that the sailor uses to maintain the boat's course and angle to the wind.

Using the tiller/steering system when sailing against the wind will:

  • Keep the boat close-hauled : When sailing against the wind, the boat needs to be pointed as close to the wind as possible. This is known as close-hauled sailing. To achieve this, the sailor must use the tiller or steering to keep the boat pointed upwind which helps the boat maintain its course and speed at a 45-degree angle to the wind direction
  • Balance the boat : When sailing against the wind, the boat is heeled over to one side as the force of the wind pushes against the sails. The sailor should use the tiller or steering to balance the boat and prevent it from tipping over. This involves making small adjustments to the boat's angle and direction to maintain a stable and controlled sailing posture. The keel will also help with the balance of the boat in the wind
  • Maintain forward momentum : Sailing against the wind requires a delicate balance between pointing the boat upwind and maintaining forward momentum. The sailor should use the tiller or steering to maintain the boat's speed and ensure that it is moving steadily forward even when sailing directly into the wind. Getting the right balance between sailing in a zig-zag pattern and maintaining boat speed is crucial

With practice and experience, sailors can become skilled at using the tiller/steering to navigate against the wind and enjoy the unique challenges and rewards of sailing upwind.

When steering the boat against the wind, a sailor should avoid:

  • Turning the boat too slowly : When steering the boat against the wind, avoid turning too slowly when tacking as this can cause the sailboat to get caught in irons which can halt any progress when sailing against the wind
  • Oversteering : When steering the boat against the wind, avoid steering it too much (oversteering) as this can result in the sailboat not pointing at a 45-degree angle against the wind and instead have the point of sail close reach or broad reach which will halt progress when sailing against the wind
  • Tangling the jib sheet : Jib sheets might tangle with some fixtures on the fore deck and will need to be unwrapped. To prevent this from happening, close all fore deck hatches, keep some tension on both jib sheets before and during the tack and clear off any item that may snag the sheets

4. Adjust The Sails Continuously

Point of sail when sailing against wind

The fourth step of sailing against the wind is to continuously adjust the sails as the sailboat progresses upwind.

To adjust the sails when sailing against the wind:

  • Trim the sails : To sail efficiently upwind, the sails need to be trimmed in tight. This means pulling the mainsail in close to the centerline of the boat and tightening the jib sail to bring it as close to the wind as possible. This will help the boat maintain its course and speed and reduce the amount of sideways drift.
  • Watch the telltales : The telltales are small strips of ribbon or yarn that are attached to the sails and help the sailor gauge the airflow across the sail. When sailing against the wind, the telltales on the jib sail should be flowing straight back indicating that the sail is at the proper angle to the wind. If the telltales are fluttering or streaming forward, the sail may need to be adjusted
  • Use the boom vang : The boom vang is a line that runs from the bottom of the mast to the boom and helps control the shape of the mainsail. When sailing upwind, the boom vang can be tightened to flatten the mainsail and reduce its draft. This can help the boat sail more efficiently and maintain forward momentum
  • Adjust the traveler : The traveler is a device that runs across the cockpit or deck and allows the mainsail to be adjusted from side to side. When sailing upwind, the traveler can be moved windward to help keep the boat on course and maintain a balanced sail plan

Overall, adjusting the sails when sailing against the wind is a delicate balance between maximizing efficiency and maintaining control.

With practice and experience, sailors can learn to adjust the sails to suit the prevailing wind conditions and sail upwind with confidence and skill.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most commonly asked questions about sailing against the wind.

How Long Does It Take To Learn How To Sail Against The Wind?

It will take a beginner sailor 3 to 5 attempts to properly sail a sailboat against the wind without any supervision. The timeframe of this is typically within 1 week of practicing 3 to 5 times. However, some sailors may take longer.

What Are The Forces When Sailing Against The Wind?

When sailing against the wind, there are four forces at play:

  • Wind Force : The wind is the primary force that is opposing the motion of the sailboat. As the boat sails into the wind, the wind exerts a force on the sails that resists the forward motion of the boat
  • Lift Force : The sails generate lift which is a force that propels the boat forward. When sailing against the wind, the lift force is reduced as the sails are not able to generate as much lift as when sailing with the wind
  • Resistance Force : As the boat moves through the water, it creates a resistance force which is the force that opposes the forward motion of the boat. This force is influenced by the shape of the hull, the size of the boat, and the speed of the boat
  • Friction Force : The friction between the water and the hull of the boat generates a force that opposes the forward motion of the boat. This force increases as the speed of the boat increases

When sailing against the wind, the opposing forces of wind and resistance become more dominant making it more difficult for the boat to move forward.

Sailors use the tacking technique which involves zigzagging back and forth across the wind to make progress against the wind. This allows the boat to use the lift force of the sails more effectively while minimizing the resistance force.

What Are The Benefits Of Sailing Against The Wind?

The benefits of sailing against the wind are:

  • Improved sailing skills : Sailing against the wind requires more skill and technique than sailing with the wind. It can be a great way to improve your sailing skills as you learn how to adjust the sails, steer the boat, and navigate more effectively
  • Access to more destinations : When sailing with the wind, a sailor's options for destinations may be limited by the wind direction. However, when sailing against the wind, a sailor can access more destinations that may have been previously out of reach
  • Greater control : Sailing against the wind requires more attention and focus but it gives a sailor greater control over the boat. A sailor can fine-tune the sails and the boat's position to optimize the speed and direction without issues or limitations
  • Challenge and adventure : Sailing against the wind can be a thrilling and adventurous experience. It requires mental and physical toughness and the satisfaction of successfully navigating against the wind can be very rewarding

Overall, while sailing against the wind may require more effort and skill, it can also provide a unique and exciting sailing experience with its own set of rewards.

What Are The Risks Of Sailing Against The Wind?

The risks of sailing against the wind are:

  • Increased risk of capsizing : When sailing against the wind, the boat may be more prone to capsizing due to the combination of wind and waves. The boat may be more difficult to control in these conditions and sailors will need to be prepared for any issues with the sailboat capsizing
  • Fatigue and physical strain : Sailing against the wind requires more physical effort and can be more tiring than sailing with the wind. This can lead to fatigue and physical strain which can affect a sailor's ability to navigate safely
  • Navigation challenges : Sailing against the wind may require more careful navigation and planning as sailor may need to navigate around obstacles and adjust their course more frequently. This can be challenging especially in unfamiliar waters or adverse weather conditions
  • Increased wear and tear on equipment : Sailing against the wind can be more taxing on the sailboat equipment as the sails and rigging are subject to greater stress, force, and strain. This can increase the risk of equipment failure or damage

To mitigate these risks, it is important to be prepared and to have the proper training and experience to handle sailing against the wind. This includes ensuring that the sailboat and equipment are in good condition, understanding the weather and navigation conditions, and taking appropriate safety precautions. It is also important to stay alert and attentive while sailing and to make adjustments as needed to ensure safe navigation.

What Should Be Avoided When Sailing Against The Wind?

When sailing against the wind, sailors should avoid:

  • Pinching : Pinching is a term used in sailing to describe the act of sailing too close to the wind. When sailing against the wind, the boat needs to sail at a 45-degree angle to the wind to maintain forward momentum and speed. Sailors should avoid pinching when sailing against the wind
  • Sailing in irons : Sailing in irons is when a sailboat is sailing directly against the wind. This will prevent the boat from moving forward against the wind and instead the sail angle will need to be adjusted to close haul to progress further
  • Turning too slowly or oversteering : When sailing upwind, avoid turning the sailboat too slow or oversteering it as this can affect the ability of the boat to travel against the wind effectively

Sail Away Blog

Discover the Ideal Wind Speed for Sailing: How Much Wind Do You Need?

Alex Morgan

sailboat in wind

Sailing is a popular recreational activity that harnesses the power of the wind to propel a sailboat through the water.

The wind plays a crucial role in determining the speed and performance of a sailboat, making it essential for sailors to understand how much wind is needed to sail effectively.

In this article, we will explore the relationship between wind and sailing, along with the factors that affect sailing speed.

To begin, let’s delve into the basics of sailing and how wind powers a sailboat.

Understanding the physics behind sail propulsion is key to comprehending the impact of wind on sailing.

Several factors come into play when determining the speed of a sailboat.

Among them, wind speed holds significant importance.

The force and velocity of the wind directly influence how fast a sailboat can travel.

Other factors such as sail area, boat design and weight, the angle of the wind, and the conditions of the water also affect sailing speed.

When it comes to sailing, there is a minimum wind speed required to get the boat moving efficiently.

This article will outline the minimum wind speeds necessary for different sailing conditions, ranging from light air to moderate breeze.

Different types of sails are designed to cater to varying wind speeds.

Being aware of the types of sails suitable for different wind conditions is crucial for sailors to optimize their sailing experience and performance.

We will explore strategies and techniques that can be employed to sail effectively in light wind conditions.

Proper sail trim, the use of specialized sails like the spinnaker or code zero, as well as mastering tacking and gybing techniques, can greatly enhance the sailing experience in light wind situations.

We will provide essential safety guidelines for sailing to ensure a secure and enjoyable experience on the water.

By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of how much wind is needed to sail, along with valuable insights and techniques to optimize your sailing experience based on the wind conditions.

  • Sailing with wind power: Wind power is what propels a sailboat forward, and understanding how wind affects sailing speed is crucial for sailors.
  • Factors influencing sailing speed: Elements such as wind speed, sail area, boat design, weight, wind angle, and water conditions determine the speed at which a sailboat can travel.
  • Minimum wind speed for sailing: Different wind speeds, such as light air, very light breeze, light breeze, gentle breeze, and moderate breeze, are required to effectively sail.
  • Types of sails for varying wind speeds: Different types of sails are used to maximize performance in light, moderate, or strong winds.
  • Strategies for light wind conditions: Proper sail trim, using a spinnaker or code zero, and employing tacking and gybing techniques help navigate in lighter wind conditions.
  • Sailing safety guidelines: Adhering to safety measures and guidelines is essential for a safe and enjoyable sailing experience.
  • Conclusion: Identifying the ideal wind conditions ensures optimal sailing performance and enjoyment for sailors.

How Does Wind Power a Sailboat?

Wind power propels a sailboat forward by creating aerodynamic lift when it hits the sail. This lift is generated by the curved shape and angle of the sail. As the wind flows over the sail, it creates a pressure difference, generating lift similar to an airplane wing.

The wind’s force on the sail enables the sailboat to move forward. Sailors can control the lift and, consequently, the speed and direction of the boat by adjusting the sail angle. The wind provides the energy needed to overcome water resistance and propel the sailboat.

So, how does wind power a sailboat? The effectiveness of wind power depends on factors like wind speed, sail area, sail shape, and the angle of attack. Higher wind speeds generally result in increased lift and greater speed. Larger sails capture more wind and provide more force, but finding the right balance is essential to prevent tipping or capsizing.

Factors Affecting Sailing Speed

When it comes to sailing , there are several factors that can affect your speed on the water. From wind speed to sail area, boat design, and weight, even the angle of the wind and water conditions can play a significant role. In this section , we’ll dive into these crucial elements, exploring how they impact the speed and performance of sailboats. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or just starting out, understanding these factors will help you harness the power of the wind and navigate the waters more effectively.

Wind Speed is essential in sailing and can significantly impact a sailboat’s speed and performance. Here is a table showing wind speeds and their descriptors:

Understanding wind speed is crucial for sailors as it helps them select the appropriate sail plan and sailing strategies. Lighter winds, like calm or light air , may require careful sail trimming and the use of lightweight sails such as spinnakers or code zeros to maintain momentum. On the other hand, stronger winds, like a moderate breeze , can provide more power and speed, but sailors need to be cautious and adjust their sails to avoid overpowering.

To make the most of different wind speeds, sailors should accurately read wind conditions, practice proper sail trim techniques, and familiarize themselves with various sail types suitable for different wind speeds. Following safety guidelines is always crucial for a secure sailing experience.

The sail area affects the speed and performance of a sailboat. It is the total surface area of all the sails used on the boat. A larger sail area generates more power from the wind, allowing the boat to move faster. Sail area is measured in square feet or square meters .

The sail area should match the size and weight of the boat. If the sail area is too small for a larger boat, it will struggle to catch enough wind to move effectively. Conversely, if the sail area is too large for a smaller boat, it may create excessive heeling and become difficult to control.

An example highlighting the importance of sail area is a sailor who participated in a race with a small sailboat. Despite his sailing skills, he couldn’t keep up with other competitors because his sail area was too small. After upgrading to a larger sail, he experienced a significant increase in speed and improved his competitiveness.

Choosing the right sail area is crucial for optimal performance and speed. Consider factors such as boat size, weight, and wind conditions to select the appropriate sail area and enhance your sailing experience.

Boat Design and Weight

Boat design and weight are critical factors that greatly influence the performance of a sailboat. The proper hull shape and keel of a well-designed boat allow it to effectively utilize wind power and smoothly navigate through water, minimizing any resistance and maximizing its speed. It is also important to carefully manage the weight distribution of the boat. A properly balanced boat not only sails more smoothly but also becomes easier to handle, resulting in enhanced overall performance .

The design and weight of a sailboat also play a significant role in determining its stability. A sturdy and well-balanced boat is less prone to tipping or capsizing, thus ensuring the safety of those on board. The weight of the boat has a direct impact on its maneuverability. Lighter boats are highly responsive and agile , enabling quick and effortless changes in direction.

When considering boat design and weight, it is essential to align them with the intended use of the sailboat. Racing sailboats prioritize speed above all else , which is why they feature sleek designs and lighter weights. On the other hand, cruising sailboats prioritize comfort and stability , leading to different design considerations and weight requirements.

Angle of the Wind

When sailing, the angle of the wind is crucial for determining the boat’s speed and direction. The angle of the wind refers to the direction from which the wind is coming in relation to the boat’s course.

To optimize sailing performance, it’s important to understand the impact of the wind angle. When the wind is directly behind the boat, known as a downwind or running angle, the sails catch the wind to maximize speed. Sailing directly into the wind, called a weather or upwind angle, is not possible as the sails would luff.

The most efficient sailing angle is a close reach , where the boat sails at a slight angle to the wind, usually between 30 to 45 degrees . At this angle, the sails generate maximum lift and the boat moves forward with maximum speed and efficiency.

Trimming the sails by adjusting the boat’s angle to the wind is critical. By fine-tuning the sail positions, sailors can optimize their performance and navigate different wind conditions.

It’s important to note that the wind angle is not the only factor affecting sailing speed. Other factors like wind speed, sail area, boat design and weight, and water conditions also matter. Therefore, sailors must consider the wind angle along with these factors to achieve the best performance on the water.

Water Conditions

Water conditions can significantly impact sailing. Factors such as wave height, current, and turbulence all play a role in the speed and maneuverability of a sailboat.

Here are some effects of different water conditions on sailing:

– Calm and smooth waters allow for smooth and efficient sailing. It is easier to control the direction and speed of the boat in these water conditions.

– Rough and choppy waters make sailing more challenging. Waves can cause the boat to pitch and roll, making it harder to maintain balance and control. Navigating through the waves can also affect the boat’s speed.

– Turbulent waters, caused by strong currents or obstacles, pose risks to sailing. Sudden changes in direction or unexpected obstacles may require quick adjustments to maintain safety and control.

Sailors should be aware of the water conditions they will be sailing in and adapt their techniques accordingly. This may involve using different sail configurations, adjusting the boat’s trim, or modifying navigational plans to navigate challenging water conditions safely and efficiently.

Minimum Wind Speed to Sail

Sailing enthusiasts , listen up! We’re about to dive into the exciting world of harnessing the wind to navigate the open waters. Today, we’ll focus on the minimum wind speed needed to set sail and experience the thrill of gliding across the waves. From light air to moderate breeze , each sub-section will unveil the ideal wind conditions required for smooth sailing adventures. So strap in, hold on to your hats, and let’s explore the magical realm where wind and sea collide!

Light air is a term used to describe a very low wind speed, ranging from 1 to 3 knots on the Beaufort scale.

In these conditions, sailing can be challenging as there is not enough light air to fill the sails and propel the boat.

To maintain forward momentum, sailors must adjust the sails to capture any available light air through proper sail trim.

Using specialized sails like a spinnaker or code zero sail can provide an extra boost to the boat’s speed in light air.

Changing the direction of the boat relative to the light air through tacking and gybing techniques can help sailors find pockets of slightly stronger light air.

Sailing in light air requires patience and a keen understanding of light air changes.

Small adjustments in sail positioning and boat handling can make a significant difference in maintaining progress in light air.

Very Light Breeze

A very light breeze, referring to a wind speed of 1 to 3 knots, can still be utilized for sailing despite its gentle nature. To make the most of this very light breeze , sailors must focus on optimizing their sail trim. By adjusting the sails to capture even the slightest amount of wind, they can maintain forward momentum. It is crucial to ensure that the sails are properly trimmed in order to maximize the available wind energy.

In such light wind conditions, using a spinnaker or a code zero sail can be advantageous. These specialized sails harness the slightest breeze and provide additional propulsion, allowing sailors to gain extra speed and maintain momentum.

Tacking and gybing techniques can also help sailors navigate through a very light breeze. These maneuvers involve changing the boat’s direction in relation to the wind, helping sailors find the most favorable angle for capturing wind energy.

It is essential for a successful voyage in a very light breeze to adapt to the weather conditions and adjust sailing techniques accordingly.

Light Breeze

A light breeze , which is a wind speed from 4 to 7 knots, is perfect for leisurely sailing or enjoying a calm day on the water.

When sailing in a light breeze , make sure to adjust your sails and trim them properly to effectively utilize the power of the wind.

It is important to pay attention to the wind angle and modify your course accordingly in order to optimize your speed.

To capture the limited wind energy, it is recommended to use specifically designed for lighter winds.

These sails have a larger surface area and are more efficient.

Techniques like tacking and gybing can assist in maneuvering and maintaining momentum in light breeze conditions.

Sailing in a light breeze can provide a serene and enjoyable experience, enabling you to appreciate the peacefulness of the water and the gentle strength of the wind.

Gentle Breeze

A gentle breeze , also known as a favorable wind condition for sailing, refers to a wind speed range of 8 to 12 knots or 9 to 14 miles per hour . Sailing in a gentle breeze compared to lighter winds makes the activity easier . The gentle breeze delicately fills the sails and gently propels the boat forward, without overpowering it.

When sailing in a gentle breeze , it allows for a smooth and comfortable cruising experience. The boat can effortlessly maintain a steady speed and easily maneuver, making it enjoyable for both experienced sailors and beginners. Key to optimizing this experience is properly adjusting the sails to efficiently capture the wind. Sail controls are utilized to achieve the correct shape and tension in the sails, effectively harnessing the wind’s power and enhancing the boat’s speed.

In addition to sail adjustments, sailors should also take into consideration the weight and balance of their boat. A well-balanced boat performs exceptionally well in a gentle breeze, enabling smoother sailing . Selecting the appropriate sails for the conditions is crucial. Lightwind or medium wind sails are particularly suitable for a gentle breeze as they generate maximum power in these conditions.

Moderate Breeze

A moderate breeze is a favorable wind condition for sailing. It refers to wind speeds ranging from 11 to 16 knots , equivalent to 13 to 18 miles per hour or 20 to 28 kilometers per hour . In a moderate breeze, sailing becomes more exciting and efficient as the wind is strong enough to propel the sailboat with good speed.

In a moderate breeze, sailors can easily control their sailboat. They can trim the sails to catch the wind at the best angle, allowing for smooth and steady acceleration. The boat can reach its maximum speed and maneuver easily.

A moderate breeze is generally manageable for experienced sailors. The boat remains stable, and the risk of capsizing or losing control is relatively low compared to stronger winds. It is still important to follow safety guidelines and be vigilant on the water for a safe sailing experience.

To make the most of a moderate breeze, sailors can adjust their sails for maximum efficiency. Proper sail trim, using a spinnaker or code zero sail , and mastering tacking and gybing techniques can enhance the boat’s performance in this wind condition.

Types of Sails for Different Wind Speeds

When sailing, it is important to use different types of sails depending on the wind speed. Here are the various types of sails for different wind speeds:

  • Light Wind (0-5 knots): To catch the minimal breeze in light wind conditions, it is necessary to use a light and large sail such as a genoa or a drifter sail. These sails have a larger surface area, allowing the boat to catch even the slightest wind.
  • Moderate Wind (6-12 knots): For moderate winds, a mainsail and a jib are suitable. The mainsail provides primary power, while the jib helps control sail shape and balance. Together, these sails enable efficient sailing in moderate wind conditions.
  • Strong Wind (12-20 knots): As the wind increases, it is advisable to use a smaller jib called a storm jib, in addition to the mainsail. The storm jib is designed to handle stronger winds and reduces the force exerted on the boat. This combination provides more control and stability.
  • Heavy Wind (20+ knots): In heavy wind conditions, it is recommended to use a smaller mainsail known as a trysail instead of the regular mainsail. The trysail reduces the sail area and provides better control in strong gusts. Reefing the mainsail, which involves reducing the sail’s size by folding or rolling it, is also common in heavy winds.

When selecting sails for different wind speeds, it is crucial to prioritize the safety and comfort of the crew. It is advisable to assess the sailing conditions and make appropriate adjustments. Seeking guidance from experienced sailors or sailmakers can offer valuable insights and recommendations based on the specific boat and sailing objectives. Using the appropriate sails for the prevailing wind conditions enhances the overall sailing experience and ensures a smoother journey.

Strategies to Sail in Light Wind Conditions

When it comes to sailing in light wind conditions, knowing the right strategies can make all the difference. In this section, we’ll dive into some effective techniques that can help you glide through those calm breezes. From proper sail trim to utilizing a spinnaker or code zero , we’ll explore various approaches to optimize your sailing experience. We’ll uncover the secrets of successful tacking and gybing techniques that can give you the edge you need when the wind is playing hard to catch.

Proper Sail Trim

Proper sail trim is crucial for optimizing performance and speed while sailing. To achieve proper sail trim, follow these steps:

  • Adjust the mainsail using the halyard, cunningham, boom vang, and mainsheet. This will help control the shape and angle of the mainsail .
  • Trim the headsail using the jib sheets . Aim for a smooth and even shape, without any wrinkles or luffing.
  • Ensure that the headsail matches the wind angle. Use the telltales on the headsail as a guide.
  • Make necessary adjustments to the sails throughout the sail to accommodate changes in wind direction and speed. Continuously maintain optimal trim.
  • Balance the mainsail and headsail by adjusting the sheets and sail angle. Find the right balance for your boat.

By following these steps, you can ensure proper sail trim for maximum power and efficiency. Remember to continuously monitor and adjust the sail trim with changing wind conditions. Happy sailing!

Using a Spinnaker or Code Zero

Using a Spinnaker or Code Zero while sailing maximizes speed and performance in light wind conditions.

To understand the benefits of using a spinnaker or code zero , refer to the following table:

Using a spinnaker or code zero significantly enhances your sailing experience by maintaining speed and maneuverability in light wind conditions. Experts recommend using a spinnaker for sailing downwind, as it boosts speed by capturing more wind. On the other hand, a code zero is a versatile sail that allows efficient sailing at angles closer to the wind.

Tacking and Gybing Techniques

Understand the difference between tacking and gybing techniques. Tacking is when you change the boat’s direction by turning into the wind, while gybing is when you change the direction by turning away from the wind.

To execute a tack , release the mainsail sheet and turn the boat’s bow through the wind. As the wind changes sides, quickly release and pull in the mainsail sheet to catch the wind on the opposite side.

When performing a gybe , ensure there is enough space behind the boat to safely complete the maneuver. Slowly turn the boat away from the wind, as the mainsail swings across the boat to the other side. Control the movement of the boom to avoid sudden jolts.

Timing is crucial when employing tacking and gybing techniques. Steer the boat smoothly and efficiently to maintain momentum during the maneuver.

Practice these tacking and gybing techniques in different wind conditions to gain proficiency. Light winds require finesse and precise movements, while stronger winds may necessitate quicker adjustments.

True story:

I remember a time when I sailed on a calm summer day. The wind was light and variable, providing a perfect opportunity to practice tacking and gybing techniques. As we turned the boat into the wind to tack, there was a momentary lull before the wind filled the sails on the other side, propelling us forward. With each maneuver, our timing improved, and we glided smoothly through the water. It was a valuable experience, highlighting the importance of mastering these tacking and gybing techniques to navigate effectively in different wind conditions.

Sailing Safety Guidelines

When sailing, prioritize safety. Follow these guidelines:

  • Always wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) on the water for safety, especially in unexpected incidents.
  • Check weather conditions before sailing to avoid risks from strong winds and storms.
  • Maintain your boat well to prevent mechanical failures while sailing.
  • Inform someone onshore about your sailing plans, including destination and return time.
  • Stay alert , watch for other boats, obstacles, and hazards to prevent accidents.
  • Follow right-of-way rules and navigation regulations to avoid collisions.
  • Carry navigational tools like a compass, charts, and GPS for safe navigation.

A true story underscores the importance of following safety guidelines. A group of sailors didn’t wear their life jackets while sailing. Even with calm weather, their boat capsized due to a strong current. Thankfully, another boat rescued them. This incident highlights the significance of prioritizing safety on the water.

Some Facts About How Much Wind Do You Need To Sail:

  • ✅ The ideal wind speed for comfortable sailing is 5-12 knots. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ Absolute beginners should aim for wind speeds under 10 knots to prevent capsizing. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ Heavy offshore boats can handle wind speeds of 20-25 knots. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ Wind speeds of 25 knots and above are considered rough for small to mid-sized boats. (Source: Our Team)
  • ✅ Checking the forecast before sailing is crucial as wind gusts can be up to 40% faster than the average wind speed. (Source: Our Team)

Frequently Asked Questions

1. how much wind is needed to sail comfortably.

The ideal wind speed for comfortable sailing varies depending on factors such as the boat type, skill level, and personal preferences. Generally, wind speeds between 5 and 12 knots are recommended for a comfortable sailing experience.

2. Can novice sailors handle higher wind strengths?

Novice sailors are more comfortable in lighter winds. It is advisable for them to start with wind speeds around 6 to 10 knots to learn the basics of sailing. As they gain experience and confidence, they can gradually handle higher wind strengths.

3. How does wind impact different boat types?

Different boat types have varying ideal wind speeds. For example, smaller dinghies and catamarans perform well in lower to moderate wind speeds, while heavier keelboats can handle stronger winds. It is important to consider the boat’s design and characteristics when determining the suitable wind speed for sailing.

4. Is it dangerous to sail in high wind conditions?

Sailing becomes dangerous at wind speeds of 20 knots or higher. The risk of capsizing or damaging the boat increases significantly. It is important to prioritize safety and avoid sailing in high wind conditions, especially for less experienced sailors.

5. How can I check the weather before sailing to avoid emergencies?

Checking the weather forecast before setting sail is crucial to avoid poor weather conditions and emergencies on the water. Utilize weather forecasts, online resources, or mobile apps to stay updated on wind strengths, squall winds, and other weather patterns that may impact your sailing trip.

6. What is the Beaufort Wind Scale and how is it useful for measuring wind strength?

The Beaufort Wind Scale is a measurement system used to gauge the strength of the wind. It ranges from 0 (calm) to 12 (strongest storm). This scale helps sailors assess wind speeds and make informed decisions about whether to postpone a trip, adjust sail configurations, or navigate through different wind strengths.

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Modern architecture and ocean liners are close cousins, if not immediate siblings. A revolution in one discipline tends to signal that change is coming for the other.

In Towards a New Architecture , Le Corbusier revealed his obsession with the RMS Aquitania—a 3,230-person cruise ship designed by Leonard Peskett that first set sail in 1913. For Corb, the gargantuan vessel represented the modern movement’s potential. The Swiss master used RMS Aquitania as a foil to show how far industrial design had come, and how far architecture lagged behind.

Now, a recent development by Cargill, the global food corporation, signals a new paradigm shift in naval architecture that Corb or Buckminster Fuller probably would have written home about. Cargill recently debuted the Pyxis Ocean , the world’s first ever wind-powered ocean liner. The new ship model, Cargill said, could move the global shipping industry towards a net-zero future with its new wind assisted propulsion technology.

Pyxis Ocean with WindWings® sailing in ocean

The global shipping industry annually accounts for 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. And today, there are approximately 5,600 cargo ships sailing from port to port worldwide. To help buck this trend, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has a new greenhouse gas strategy: to have up to 10 percent of energy come from very low carbon sources by 2030.

Toward that end, Cargill has developed new wind sail technology that officials say is a milestone for helping the IMO reach its 2030 targets . In March, Cargill rolled out a new technology they call WindWings ® together with BAR Technologies that can be easily attached to existing vessels.

During a six month trial period starting last August, Cargill attached WindWings ®  to existing vessels in its fleet, the MC Shipping Kamsarmax, to see how it performed. For the simulation, the ships went back and forth from the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, North and South Atlantic, and passed Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.

WindWings ® resemble large airplane wings. They measure at 120 feet in height. They’re installed vertically to catch the wind and propel the ship forward, allowing the vessel’s engine to be turned down. This enables ships to travel at the same speed using much less fuel. The wings are controlled by a touch panel, and a traffic light system tells the crew when to raise or lower the sails, Cargill said. Moreover, the system is totally automated: Onboard sensors measure the wind, and sails self-adjust to optimal configuration.

Pyxis Ocean with WindWings®

After the six month trial period, analysts ultimately concluded that WindWings ® are up to snuff: They achieved performance consistent with the equivalent of using 3 tons of fuel per day, or 14 percent of the amount of fuel the ship regularly consumes. This is the equivalent of removing 480 cars from the road. The technology, experts say, could increase the fuel efficiency of vessels in excess of 30 percent.

“The results of the Pyxis Ocean’s first voyage with WindWings ® installed clearly demonstrate that wind assisted propulsion can secure significant fuel savings and emissions reduction, said John Cooper, CEO of BAR Technologies. “For example, in near optimum sailing conditions, during an open sea voyage, the Pyxis Ocean achieved fuel savings of 11 tonnes per day. And while the Pyxis Ocean has two WindWings ® , we anticipate the majority of Kamsarmax vessels will carry three wings, further increasing the fuel savings and emissions reductions by a factor of 1.5.”

construction of ship and sails

Looking ahead, officials from Cargill and BAR Technologies hope to integrate WindWings ® more broadly into the global maritime system on a wider scale. “Cargill is creating ways for all WAP [Wind-Assisted Propulsion] vessels—not just the Pyxis Ocean—to operate on global trade routes,” said Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s ocean transportation business. “So far, we’ve engaged with more than 250 ports to find ways of enabling vessel with large scale WAP to berth. This complexity is where Cargill truly excels, and how we can leverage our unique role in the maritime industry. We are not afraid to be a development partner and invest, share risks with partners, and to make a difference in transforming the industry.”

Cargill officials noted that the corporation will continue testing and experimenting operational, technical and commercial aspects of the Pyxis Ocean to scale up the model for wider usage.

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Sail Cargo co-founder John Porras pictured in the cargo hold of Ceiba, a three-masted topsail schooner under construction in Punta Morales, Costa Rica. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)

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If you need to move a dishwasher or a new TV from a factory in Asia to a store in California, a container ship is the cheapest way to do it.

These vessels are as long as several football fields and can carry tens of thousands of individual 20-foot containers. According to the United Nations, more than 11 billion tons of stuff was shipped by sea in 2021.

Container ships use heavy fuel oil called bunker fuel. They’re more efficient than trains, trucks and planes. But bunker fuel is highly polluting, and container ships produce about 3 % of the world’s emissions.

Shipping by sea wasn’t always this way. There was a time when boats used the power of the wind to ferry goods across the globe.

And today, as the world looks for ways to cut back on planet-warming emissions, some shipbuilders are traveling back in time to find a solution to a modern problem.

“Sometimes it's actually better to use a simple system,” says Brad Vogel, a fellow at the Center for Post Carbon Logistics. “Wind moves a vessel. People have known that since Egyptian times.”

A shipyard in Costa Rica

Workers building Sail Cargo’s wooden sailing vessel at a shipyard in Punta Morales, Costa Rica. (Courtesy of Sail Cargo)

In the tropical forest of Costa Rica, a company called Sail Cargo is building a wooden cargo schooner from scratch.

At the shipyard, a short walk from the Pacific coast, piles of hardwood are scattered about like overturned matchsticks. Just on the other side of a towering white guanacaste tree, the frame of a 45-meter wooden sailboat comes into view.

“Some people say that it’s an art piece,” says Sail Cargo’s Alejandra Terán.

Co-founders John Porras, Lynx Guimond (left) and staff member Alejandra Terán pictured inside the cargo hold of Ceiba, a 3-masted top-sail schooner under construction in Costa Rica. (Peter O'Dowd/Here &amp; Now)

It’s a marvel to see a ship this size out of the water, perched on wooden blocks. The ship is a three-masted topsail schooner that looks like it came from another era. Its name is Ceiba, in honor of a tree that carries cultural significance in Latin America.

Work started in 2018, but the ship’s exterior still isn’t sheathed.

“So you can see all the ribs,” says Sail Cargo co-founder Lynx Guimond, the French-Canadian carpenter and sailor who is responsible for building it. “She looks like a big beached whale carcass, but beautifully crafted out of wood. Anybody who's been a sailor knows your boat is a living being. It has its own soul.”

To get on board, Guimond climbs the steps of a wooden scaffold, past solid beams of tamarind and Spanish cedar harvested in the nearby jungle. For every tree used to build this ship, Sail Cargo plants 25 more.

Ceiba can carry 250 tons of freight — the equivalent of nine containers. It will transport “anything from coffee to cacao, to electric vehicles. Hopefully sustainable clients, but we can also ship tires or pineapples or whatever else,” Guimond says.

Sail Cargo’s wooden sailing vessel Ceiba is under construction at a shipyard in Punta Morales, Costa Rica. (Peter O'Dowd/Here &amp; Now)

Work on the ship has paused while the company raises more money. With another $2 million and two years of work, Ceiba will be ready to sail, Guimond says. Sail Cargo already has a contract to move green coffee beans from Colombia to New Jersey — a journey that will take four days longer than a traditional container ship.

Electric batteries will give it a boost if the wind doesn’t blow.

There’s “incredible demand” for Ceiba’s services from companies that want an ecological solution to shipping goods around the world, Guimond says.

“Shipping is one of the most polluting elements on our planet today,” he says. “But we always say: ‘What’s the real cost of cheap shipping?’ We are paying for it with our planet.”

When ordering products to our doorsteps from far away countries, Guimond hopes a project like Ceiba will prompt people to ask: ‘Do you really need it?’

Momentum and headwinds

There are about a dozen commercial wind ships delivering freight around the world, and a handful of other high-profile projects under development , says Steven Woods, a U.S.-based sail-freight expert watching Ceiba’s progress with interest.

Wooden dhows have been navigating off the coast of Africa for centuries.

But Woods says Sail Cargo is the only company building a large wooden cargo schooner from scratch.

“I am a bit worried,” he says, “because they have been under construction since 2018, on a ship that a shipyard in Maine 100 years ago would have turned out in about six months.”

Woods says banks are reluctant to finance unique projects like this. Plus, there’s a shortage of skilled sailors and shipbuilders necessary for a robust global sail-freight industry.

In the 1970s, in response to the oil crisis, there was a similar interest in revitalizing wind-powered shipping. But when a 96-foot sailing vessel called the John F. Leavitt sank off the coast of New York in 1979 as a result of suspected negligence , “it sent the movement back decades,” Woods said.

In today’s climate-conscious era, he says that Sail Cargo creates a new opportunity.

“If they succeed, it’s fantastic,” says Woods. “They’ll be sailing right into New York. They’ll be seen by a huge number of people. That would be a huge kickstart to any of these types of projects.”

Sailing the Hudson River

There is one high-profile sail freight company in the United States.

On a warm April morning — at a shipyard near the Hudson River in Kingston, New York — Sam Merrett is slapping a fresh coat of paint on the Schooner Apollonia.

When the summer season gets underway, Capt. Merrett will sail the steel-sided Apollonia up and down the Hudson, carrying products like malted grain to local breweries on its way to New York City.

Captain Sam Merrett, (left) prepares the Schooner Apollonia for the upcoming season. The boat will sail up and down the Hudson River delivering cargo to ports between Kingston, New York, and New York City. The roundtrip journey takes about two weeks. (Samantha Raphelson/Here &amp; Now)

“It takes us about a week to get down, and about a week to get up,” Merrett says. “So we're kind of like leapfrogging down and then back up the Hudson River, picking up cargo and dropping off cargo almost every day.”

Just like Ceiba, the trip take longer and cost more than typical methods.

But without using trucks to move the products, the Apollonia offers a clean alternative that some businesses are eager to use.

“The whole idea is to actually get trucks and fossil fuels out of the equation,” Merrett says.

Most of Apollonia’s clients are right near the river, so the crew can use a bicycle and a trailer to move the cargo to its final destination.

The Apollonia has been sailing freight since 2020, and the economics are tough, says Merrett.

“Paying for fuel is cheaper than paying for people,” he says. “I need a crew of four to six. It’s more expensive to pay them a living wage than to just buy some fuel for a truck.”

Using wind to move container ships

Apollonia carries up to 10 tons of cargo, a fraction of what Ceiba will hold in Costa Rica, and infinitesimally small compared to the 11 billion tons of freight moved around the world in a year.

That’s why massive container ships are the focus of the International Maritime Organization. Last year, the IMO set a goal for the industry to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 . Just slowing the engines down saves energy. And even the biggest ships on the planet can use sails to catch the wind.

“They operate like airplane wings. They’re 37 meters high — absolutely ginormous,” says Lauren Eatwell, head of WindWings at BAR Technologies.

Pyxis Ocean retrofitted with WindWings setting sail for its maidenvoyage, August 2023. (BAR Technologies)

The company has developed adjustable wings that can be placed on cargo vessels. Each wing saves a ton and a half of fuel every day and “that reduces the carbon footprint,” Eatwell says.

According to the IMO, about 30 large cargo vessels are using wind technology to reduce emissions, with more on the way. Eatwell believes future ships will use a combination of wind, clean fuels and sleeker hulls to meet climate goals. And despite the difference in scale, she says there is a role for smaller projects like Ceiba and the Schooner Apollonia.

“I love the move back toward sailing,” she says. “There are all kinds of different vessels and purposes out there. All of these technologies are needed.”

‘Best energies’ from nature

At the shipyard in Costa Rica, the Sail Cargo team is trying to finish one of those vessels.

With Ceiba’s frame looming in the distance, co-founder John Porras is banging away on a beat box that’s been made with left-over scraps of wood — part of the company’s ethos to build as sustainably as possible.

Outside Sail Cargo’s shipyard and headquarters in Punta Morales, Costa Rica. (Peter O'Dowd/Here &amp; Now)

“The solution is here in Costa Rica,” he says, adding that the world is starting to understand that “the best energies [are] from nature.”

Sail Cargo still needs to raise the money to complete the ship, and the company is also looking for a new CEO after a recent turnover in leadership. But Porras and his team are undeterred.

“This project is so hard,” Porras says. “It’s the maximum goal to show the world how the industry can change. All the eyes of the country [are on] our project right now.”

Here & Now’s Samantha Raphelson contributed reporting from New York.

This segment aired on April 24, 2024.

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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.

More from Here & Now

These 150-foot-high sails could help solve shipping’s climate problem

Harnessing the power of wind could both reduce emissions from cargo ships and extend the life of these vessels.

sailboat in wind

A previous version of this article said Norsepower's rotor sails typically help ships save 8 to 10 percent on fuel. Those numbers came from one trial onboard the Maersk Pelican; the company says a better estimate for typical fuel savings across all ships is 5 to 25 percent. The article has been corrected.

To cut costs and carbon emissions, cargo ships are putting a new spin on an ancient technology: the sail.

These aren’t the sailboats of yore. Modern sails look more like airplane wings, smokestacks or balloons, and they use artificial intelligence to catch the wind with little help from mariners who long ago forgot the art of hoisting a mainsail.

Sails can reduce an existing ship’s fuel consumption — and greenhouse emissions — by something like 10 or 20 percent, according to maritime experts, making them an attractive option for ship owners looking to cut costs or comply with environmental regulations.

Ships burn some of the world’s dirtiest fuels and generate roughly 3 percent of global emissions, a share that’s only expected to rise over time , according to the United Nations. The European Union created a cap-and-trade system for shipping emissions earlier this year, and the U.N. International Maritime Organization is finalizing its own emissions rules now that would penalize the owners of dirty vessels.

Rather than sending those dirty vessels to the scrapyard, companies can install sails to clean up some of their emissions and extend their ships’ lives. And as the industry eventually moves toward alternative fuels that are low-carbon but high-cost, saving money on fuel will become even more important.

There are now 39 large commercial ships with sails, according to the International Windship Association, an industry group that represents sailmakers, ship owners and ship designers. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the roughly 100,000 cargo ships plying the seas , but the technology seems poised to take off as sails move from test projects to real-world use. Sailmakers are building new factories to meet the expected demand.

“We’re at an inflection point,” said Matthew Collette, a professor of naval architecture and marine engineering at the University of Michigan. “We’re going to see this coming very quickly to a larger number of ships.”

Here are some of the strange sails that may one day push your online orders across the seas.

Ships with wings

One of the most versatile sail designs looks and works a lot like an airplane wing.

“All we’ve done is taken that wing and put it vertically,” said John Cooper, CEO of BAR Technologies, a company that manufactures this type of sail, “so instead of creating lift, we’re creating thrust.”

On an airplane, wind flows over the wings and creates air pressure differences that push the plane up. On a ship, the wings work the same way — except they’re angled to push the ship forward.

The wings come with sensors that measure weather conditions, and they automatically change their angle and shape to catch the wind. These sails can typically be used for most of a voyage, but they fold down to the deck if the wind blows faster than 30 knots, or when the ship is docking or loading cargo.

Last year, BAR Technologies installed two of its wings on a 43,000-ton ship designed to carry dry bulk cargo such as grains, coal or minerals. Over its first six months, the ship saved 14 percent on fuel as it crisscrossed the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, according to the ship’s owner.

The return of the rotor sail

At first glance, rotor sails may look like smokestacks rising from the deck, but they’re actually tall, rotating cylinders that use wind to push a ship forward.

When the wind is blowing at the right angle, an electrical motor spins the rotor sails, speeding up the air flow on one side of the sail and slowing it down on the other. That creates an air pressure difference that pushes the ship forward.

Norsepower, the biggest rotor sail manufacturer, says they typically help ships save 5 to 25 percent on fuel.

Rotor sails are more than a century old; German inventor Anton Flettner patented the idea in 1922 and an experimental cargo ship fitted with rotor sails crossed the Atlantic in 1926. But Norsepower, which is based in Finland, says the sails have come a long way since then, thanks to lightweight composite materials and AI systems that adjust to the wind to make the sails more efficient.

“We can make a much better sail than Mr. Flettner did in the 1920s,” said Tuomas Riski, Norsepower’s CEO.

The Michelin Man sail

Michelin is developing a more experimental inflatable sail which, appropriately, looks a lot like the company’s mascot.

Michelin’s design works similarly to a classic sail, made to catch the wind and redirect its power forward. The main difference is that its sail is made of inflatable fabric instead of a canvas sheet, and its mast can retract down to the deck. The sail can change its size depending on wind conditions.

Like the other sails, Michelin’s product operates by itself. “It has to be fully automated because today’s sailors have no time and no particular knowledge about sails,” said Gildas Quemeneur, who is leading the project.

sailboat in wind

Where do birds go offshore? The answers may be blowing in the wind

A wind turbine in the ocean

How far do birds travel when they migrate? How long do they live? How are their numbers changing over time? 

For centuries, people have tracked birds to answer questions about their lives and populations. But although tracking technology has evolved rapidly in recent decades — from aluminum leg bands with embossed numbers to light-sensitive geolocators — researchers who study bird behavior and migration still face a big obstacle: the ocean.

“We really have no way to know where birds are when they’re offshore,” said Emily Argo, fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and recovery lead for the federally protected red knot and piping plover in Virginia.

a piping plover stands on the beach with a green leg band

Now that’s starting to change with the emergence of another kind of technology. 

Along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., where wind speeds are consistently high, and the continental shelf is relatively wide, flat, and shallow, offshore wind farms are starting to come online to support the transition to renewable energy. 

Thanks to the growing collaboration between conservation agencies and energy developers, offshore-wind infrastructure is generating new opportunities to track birds and bats when they're far from shore. 

Eyes on the skies

Twenty miles off the coast of Virginia, two 600-foot-tall wind turbines — about the height of the Washington Monument — rise out of the open ocean. In 2020, Dominion Energy, Inc., built the structures as a pilot for a commercial-scale offshore wind farm scheduled to break ground this year.

To monitor the pilot project’s impacts on wildlife, Dominion installed a surveillance system with microphones, infrared cameras and daylight cameras capturing the spinning-blade zone on both turbines. 

The primary purpose of audio-visual monitoring is to estimate activity patterns of birds and bats at wind-energy facilities, and the footage collected at the pilot turbines is encouraging. 

An image showing the tracks of birds avoiding wind-turbine blades

“We have video of birds and bats flying through the area, but they avoid the turbines,” explained Matt Overton, a biological consultant for Dominion. “It’s clear they can see the blades spinning, and they’re flying around them.”

The footage also revealed something unexpected.

“Unbeknownst to us, at certain times of year, there are large numbers of insects out in the lease area, and we have video of bats foraging the insects around the turbines,” said Scott Lawton, environmental technical coordinator for Dominion. “They use the masts to trap them.”

Flight tracking

While the surveillance equipment provides surprising snapshots of bird, bat and even bug activity that scientists can use to generate new research questions, another monitoring device can shed light on where these creatures are going. 

After discussions with Argo and colleague Pam Loring from the Service, Dominion agreed to install a wildlife-tracking system called Motus on both turbines at the end of the required monitoring period. Motus uses antennas to detect signals from birds and bats tagged with tiny radio transmitters.  

side-by-side images showing antennae mounted on platforms of wind turbines

Since the Motus network launched in 2015, more than 30,000 birds, bats and butterflies have been tagged, but the majority of the 1,500 antennas are on land. Meanwhile, many species migrate over the ocean.

Extending the Motus network offshore can help managers identify migration paths as well as stopover habitat on land, where birds fuel up before long flights over open water. Conserving those areas is critical, as migration is the most perilous time in a bird’s life cycle, due to the physical demands. 

Knowing more about where migratory species do and don’t go can also inform the design and placement of future wind farms to ensure they don’t interfere with these arduous journeys.

To gather more information about the flight paths of the red knot and piping plover, Dominion agreed to fund a two-year project in Virginia, tagging these species with Motus transmitters that weigh just a fraction of an ounce. 

Motus nanotag on a persons hands

Biologist Katie Oliver at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge led the tagging effort for piping plovers, coordinating with other partners along Virginia’s coastal islands and Eastern Shore.  

Larry Niles of the nonprofit Wildlife Restoration Partnerships led the effort to tag 15 red knots — seven at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Cod, and eight in New Jersey. 

Just one year into the study, we’re starting to see results. 

“We had two tagged piping plovers picked up by the receivers on the turbines, so we know these birds are out in that space,” Argo said.

High as a whimbrel

When the commercial-scale wind farm is built out, Dominion will install additional Motus stations, giving researchers more precise information about where tagged birds are in space, including how high they’re flying. A Motus transmitter doesn’t communicate a specific point — it gives off a radio wave signal, which is picked up by the antenna on a radio receiver. The more antennas you have in a given area, the better you can narrow down where that signal coming from.

The hope is that these birds are flying well above the turbines, and research on another migratory species indicates many of them are. 

Dominion partnered with the Center for Conservation Biology at William and Mary College and The Nature Conservancy to fund a two-year tagging effort for whimbrels. Researchers used a different kind of tracking technology, solar-powered GPS tags, which use satellites to triangulate a signal and provide precise coordinates. 

A pair of hands hold a brown and white bird with a long, curved bill that has a small device attached to its back

These tags have their limitations. For one, they’re too heavy for small-bodied birds like piping plovers to carry. One of the reasons researchers chose whimbrels for the study is they’re relatively big (about the size of a crow). They were also a strategic choice because other studies suggest they’re among the lowest-flying migrators — meaning they may be at greater risk for collisions. 

But the study results show that, of the 30 tagged whimbrels, the majority maintained an altitude of 3,000 feet when flying near the turbines.  

“There were a few that flew lower, but it’s mostly good news,” Overton said. 

Setting the stage

The partnership between the Service and Dominion will carry over to the commercial site, where 176 800-foot-high turbines will produce 2.6 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power more than half a million homes each year. 

“We will continue to work closely with the Service to monitor birds and bats,” Lawton said. “This is just the beginning.”  

It’s also a preview of what’s to come. Offshore wind developers throughout the region plan to install systems like Motus as part of long-term monitoring in their lease areas, and the Service has worked with the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management and other partners to set the stage for their success. 

A person wearing a red shirt, black flotation vest and tan cap holds a yellow, red and orange kite aloft while standing in the bow of a boat

In collaboration with the Biodiversity Research Institute, the University of Rhode Island and Birds Canada (the developers of Motus), Loring led an effort to optimize and standardize the use of Motus at offshore wind farms by testing the technology at one of the first facilities to become operational in the U.S. , Block Island Wind Farm. 

The products of that effort, including a guidance document and an interactive study design tool, were released in 2023 and are available online. 

“Now wind energy developers are starting to come to us for technical assistance,” Loring said.

The Biden administration has committed to approving 16 offshore wind farms by 2025, with the hopes that offshore wind energy will power 10 million homes by 2030.

To be prepared, the Service recently used funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to hire five renewable energy biologists. The new staff will provide technical support for these projects and assess the impacts of offshore wind energy on migratory birds. 

"There’s still lots we don’t know,” Loring said. “With this added capacity, we can identify information gaps and start to address them through research studies with partners.” 

Blowing in the wind

Additional offshore wind leases have already been proposed in the central Atlantic region, including one directly east of Dominion’s, creating the potential to ask more questions about migratory species. The answers may be blowing in the wind.  

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Nethra Kumanan secures India’s second Paris 2024 Olympics quota in sailing 

Indian sailor Nethra Kumanan.

The Indian sailor bagged the quota under the Emerging Nations Program banner at the Last Chance Regatta, an Olympic sailing qualifier, in France.

Tokyo Olympian Nethra Kumanan obtained India’s second quota in sailing for the Paris 2024 Olympics at the Last Chance Regatta in Hyeres, France on Friday.

Competing in the women’s dinghy (ILCA 6), Nethra managed 67 net points to finish fifth on the overall leaderboard. However, she secured the Olympic quota as the top performer among sailors from the Emerging Nations Program (ENP) who had not yet obtained a quota.

World Sailing, the world governing body for the sport, aims to help athletes from less well-known sailing nations make an impact on the highest level through its ENP programme.

The top three sailors first secured the Olympic quotas in the women’s dinghy - Romania’s Ebru Bolat (36 net points), Marilena Makri of Cyprus (37 net points) and Slovenia’s Lin Pletikos (54 net points). Six-time Olympian Tatiana Drozdovskaya (59 net points), competing as an individual neutral athlete, came fourth and missed out.

The Last Chance Regatta was the final qualifying event in sailing for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Kumanan, who represented India at the Tokyo Olympics, competed at last year’s Asian Games, the Asian Sailing Championships and this January’s ILCA6 Women’s World Championships but failed to obtain the quota from those meets.

A total of 17 Indian sailors competed at the Last Chance Regatta 2024 from April 21 to 26. However, only Kumanan finished in the top 10.

Tokyo Olympian Vishnu Saravanan secured India’s first quota in sailing for the Paris Olympics in men’s dinghy at the ILCA 7 Men's World Championship 2024 in Australia in January.

However, the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games, athletes' participation at the Paris Games depends on their NOC selecting them to represent their delegation at the Summer Games.


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Nottingham Forest docked four points for breach of Premier League rules

The commission said Forest took a risk by effectively ignoring the danger before the January 2023 transfer window, adding players rather than selling them, and knew it was "sailing close to the wind", meaning the league had to issue an appropriate punishment.

Monday 18 March 2024 19:12, UK

sailboat in wind

Nottingham Forest have been docked four points for a breach of the Premier League's rules on profitability and sustainability.

The deduction puts the team in the relegation zone, in eighteenth place, one point from safety with nine games to go, having narrowly avoided the drop last year.

Forest were charged in January after confirming they were in breach of the rules for the assessment period ending 2022-23.

sailboat in wind

The six-point deduction Everton received for similar breaches - reduced from 10 on appeal - is regarded by some as a benchmark punishment. Everton also face a second charge which has not yet been adjudicated on.

Forest said they are "extremely disappointed" with the decision, which "raises issues of concern for all aspirant clubs".

"We were extremely dismayed by the tone and content of the Premier League's submissions before the commission," a club statement read.

"After months of engagement with the Premier League, and exceptional cooperation throughout, this was unexpected and has harmed the trust and confidence we had in the Premier League."

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A statement from the Premier League said: "Nottingham Forest was referred to an independent commission on 15 January, following an admission by the club that it had breached the relevant PSR threshold of £61m by £34.5m.

New Premier League rules

"The threshold was lower than £105m as the club spent two seasons of the assessment period in the EFL Championship.

"The case was heard in accordance with new Premier League Rules, which provide an expedited timetable for PSR cases to be resolved in the same season the complaint is issued.

"The independent commission determined the sanction following a two-day hearing this month, at which the club had the opportunity to detail a range of mitigating factors.

"The commission found that the club had demonstrated "exceptional cooperation" in its dealings with the Premier League throughout the process."

The ruling shows the Premier League pushed for a six-point sanction - with eight points as an initial figure to account for Forest's excess over the threshold being 77% greater than Everton's, but discounted by two points to reflect Forest's early plea and co-operation.

Forest argued that any points deduction should be "minimal", because they turned down several lower offers for striker Brennan Johnson last summer, before eventually accepting a bid of £47m from Tottenham, meaning their PSR breach was a "near miss".

'Sailing close to the wind'

With all the money earned from selling Johnson, an academy product, going down as a profit, the club argued their approach was designed to make them more sustainable, but the commissioners did not accept this reasoning.

It said in its ruling: "When a club like Forest took the risk of effectively ignoring the PSR warning from its finance director before the January window in 2023, and rather than looking to sell players, it added players to its squad, ultimately leaving itself with just two weeks to sell Player A (Brennan Johnson) in the summer 2023 window, such risk-taking and 'sailing close to the wind' needs a proportionate sanction to maintain the integrity of the Premier League."

Read more: Everton saga 'shows league can't regulate football' PL scrambles to secure £836m New Deal British South Asian referees PL game for first time

Calling the breach "serious", the commission said in its conclusion the sanction was not meant to punish Forest "so much as it is to be fair to the other clubs; to give the public confidence that when a club invests as Forest did to compete in the Premier League, it still needs to comply with the PSR threshold for losses."

The club have yet to say whether or not they would appeal.

Under the 'standard directions' for dealing with PSR complaints, any appeal outcome must be known prior to 1 June, when promoted clubs receive their Premier League 'shares', which effectively confirms their place in the league.

The punishment comes two days after Forest were held to a 1-1 draw by fellow strugglers Luton Town, who scored a late equaliser.


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