How-To-Sail Guide

How to Sail a Boat: A Simple and Clear Guide Supplied with Definitions and Pictures
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This article is the first step for those who are just starting to learn how to sail. It will help you understand the basics of sailing, learn the necessary terms, and also get an idea of the main positions of a boat in relation to the wind direction.

How to sail a boat for beginners

1. Mast and Boom explanation

The Mast is a tall pole used for hoisting sails. It is attached to steel cables running from the top to the four sides of the boat. The cables pull each on its side, thus supporting the mast fixity. There are lines (they are fastened to sails) that come through the mast. To raise the sail, you need to pull the appropriate line.

The Boom is a horizontal pole that attaches to the mast through a movable joint. Its far end can be turned left or right, down or up—you can adjust its position with special lines (for more on lines, read below).

⚠️ Note that all the ropes on the boat are called lines

Mast and Boom explanation

2. What are the Halyard and Sheet

The Halyard is a line that heaves the sail. The halyard is attached to the top corner of the sail with one end, and its other end goes through the mast to the back of the boat, where the steering wheel is. This gives a skipper control over the sail height by tightening the halyard or easing it out.

The Sheet is a line fastened to the back corner of the sail and used to adjust the angle: pull the sheet in to hold the sail closer to the boat and ease the sheet out to release the sail. To know how the wind fills the sails, read the text below.

What are the Halyard and Sheet

3. What are the front and rear sails called

The Headsail is a sail located in front of the mast. It’s also called the Foresail, but the most common term is the Jib.

The Mainsail is a sail located behind the mast. As the name implies, this is the main sail, which can be alone sufficient for sailing in some cases.

What are the front and rear sails called

How to control the sails

To have control over the sails, you need to know that they are handled with the lines. So we can only pull the rope on ourselves, while the sail pulls it back in thanks to the wind.

1. How the sails are fixed on the boat

As you can see, the headsail and mainsail are fixed differently.

The leading edge of a headsail is fixed on a steel cable that holds the mast in front, while the leading edge of a mainsail is fixed in a special groove in the mast, which is called a track.

Also, the bottom edge of the headsail fits freely, whereas the mainsail’s bottom edge is fixed in a boom track.

How the sails are fixed on the boat

2. How to set up sails

Handling the mainsail is not the same as handling the headsail. Typically, the headsail furls and unfurls, while the mainsail goes up and folds down. However, there are old boats with headsails that are lowerable, and there are such mainsails on new boats that can furl into the mast.

The sail trim setting also differs a bit. To control the headsail, there are two jib sheets: when one of them is tightened, it’s considered as the working sheet, while the other is considered as the lazy one, and vice versa. And to control the mainsail, we have the Mainsheet that releases or pulls the boom, thus setting the trim of the sails.

The Mainsheet that releases or pulls the boom

Therefore, if you ease the sheets out, the sail will get filled with wind, and vice versa. When the wind blows from the left side of a boat, the boom will be over its right side. When the wind blows from the right side, the boom will be over the left side of the boat. This is how the sail control works.

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What are the Points of sailing

1. Port tack and Starboard tack

When the wind blows from the right side of the boat, it means the boat is on a Starboard tack, and when it blows to the left side, the boat is on a Port tack.

Port and Starboard tack

2. Eight points of sail diagram

Making the boat head to wind will result in the wind flowing along both sides of the sails evenly and the boat’s inability to sail. This point is called In irons.

The opposite one is called Dead run, and it’s also not the best option since the wind can unexpectedly throw the boom from one side of the boat to the other, and cause injuries to untrained sailors.

Between them, there are three main points of the boat relative to the wind: Close reach, Beam reach, and Broad reach.

⚠️ Pay attention to the position of the sails

Eight commonly used points of sail

How to sail a boat against the wind

Despite the common misconception that the boat can travel only with the wind blowing in its sails, it goes on because the sail takes the shape of a wing. As a plane takes off because the wing produces lift, the sail pulls the boat forward even in an upwind.

So the boat can sail against the wind as well. However, as we’ve already said, it will not go directly into the wind, but at some angle. To sail a boat into the wind, use a zigzag pattern called Tacking.

How to sail a boat against the wind

How to learn to sail for free

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