POINTS OF SAIL: A CLEAR EXPLANATION WITH DIAGRAMS

A definitive illustrated guide to help you understand the points of sail once and for all

What does “tack” mean in sailing?

A “Tack” is a nautical term for the direction of a boat relative to the wind flow.

A boat is on a “Starboard tack” when the wind is coming over the right side.

In this case the sails will be on the left side of the boat.

Starboard tack in sailing

And a boat is on a “Port tack” when the wind is coming over the left side.

The sails will then be on the right side of the boat.

To sail upwind a vessel must change from one tack to the other using a zigzag pattern.

This maneuver is called “Tacking”.

What does “in irons” mean?

A sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind, because the wind will pass equally down both sides of the sails. This point of sail is called “In irons”.

In irons in sailing

What does “close hauled” mean?

A boat can efficiently sail at no less than approximately 40 degrees to the wind’s direction.

This closest point of sail is called “Close hauled” and the sails should be “in tight”.

Close hauled in sailing

What does “close reach” mean?

The next point of sail is called “Close reach”.

For this one, the sails should be let out a bit.

Close reach in sailing

What does “beam reach” mean?

When the boat increases the angle up to 90° to the wind direction – the point of sail is called “Beam reach”.

The sails should be let about half way out.

This point is considered to be the best combination for speed and handling.

Beam reach in sailing

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What does “broad reach” mean?

The next point of sail is called “Broad reach”.

The sails should be about 2/3rds out.

Broad reach in sailing

What does “running” mean?

When the boat comes to the point of sail which is closest to the same direction the wind is blowing – it is called “Running”.

At this point the headsail will change sides, and the sails should be all the way out.

Running in sailing

What does “dead run” mean?

The last point of sail is called “Dead run” when the wind is blowing directly from the back of the boat.

This point of sail is considered a “Don’t go zone”.

⚠️ If you are not going to change the tack you are on – head up closer to the wind to prevent unexpected movement of the mainsail which can be a cause of an accident.

Dead run in sailing

Sailing on a "port" and "starboard" tack

One half of the diagram refers to sailing on a port tack,

while the other half refers to sailing on a starboard tack.

Port tack and Starboard tack

What does “jibe” mean?

The maneuver of changing tack with the wind coming across the stern is called a “Jibe” (or a Gybe).

To sail with a tailwind use a zigzag pattern which is called “Jibing”.

Jibe and jibing (gybe)

The "points of sailing" diagram

Now you clearly understand each point of sail on this complicated diagram. Congratulations!

The points of sailing diagram

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