THE BASICS OF SAILING TO GET YOU STARTED

A brief comprehensive guide on the basics of sailing to help you understand yacht structure, nautical terminology, safety measures and more
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The basics of safety on a boat

1. THE THREE POINTS OF CONTACT RULE

When you’re on a boat, the first rule is to always have three points of contact.

This means that you should always have either two feet on the deck and one hand holding on to something, or be in a sitting position.

The boat can swing at an unexpected moment and in an unexpected direction, so the three points of contact rule is to prevent the possibility of accidentally falling overboard.

three point of contact

2. CARE TO BE TAKEN WHEN SAILS MOVE

One of the causes of a man overboard accident, is when a boat is maneuvering, the sails can suddenly change positions, throwing an unaware person into the water. So care should be taken in the area of the sails’ movement.
3 point of contact

3. SAILING LIFE JACKET ESSENTIALS

A life jacket worn on board is mandatory. In the event of falling overboard a lifejacket is designed to keep the head face-up above the water even if the person is unconscious. This is as important as wearing a seatbelt in a car.

Failure to do so can cost a life. A lifejacket must be correctly sized for every single person including children, and must be worn at all times when sailing. There must be enough life jackets for each person on board.

the basics of sailing
Two types of life jackets / lifejacket

The two main types of life jackets are: Solid and Inflatable. Most often inflatable ones are used because of their convenience. They do not hinder movement while working with sails and ropes.

They have a built-in inflation device with a compressed gas cylinder, which will automatically inflate the jacket when in water. A life jacket equipped with a whistle and flashlight is preferable, so the person will be able to signal for help.

lifejacket and PFD

⚠️ Note that a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is not the same as a Life Jacket – it will not turn your body face up in an emergency.

⚠️ When using a Solid life jacket, before jumping into the water, wrap your arms around it and hold it tightly to your chest. Otherwise the direction of your body into the water versus the flotation of the life jacket will create an opposing pull which could injure your neck.

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Nautical terminology introduction

1. THE FOUR SIDES OF A BOAT

Marine terminology exists to understand exactly what is being spoken about. This is necessary in extreme conditions that can happen at sea. There are many terms which are used on a boat on a regular basis.

The front of the yacht is called the Bow and the rear is called the Stern. The left side of the yacht is called the Port and the right side is called the Starboard.

These terms are used to avoid misunderstanding about where left and right, front and back are, no matter where a person is standing.

sides of the boat
sides of the sails

2. THE SIDES AND CORNERS OF A SAIL

  • Each sail has a top corner – Head,
  • leading corner– Tack
  • and a rear corner – Clew.
  • As well as a leading edge – Luff,
  • back edge – Leech
  • and a bottom edge – Foot.

Knowing nautical terminology is necessary for effective communication and cooperation with other seafarers.

Yacht structure basics

bermuda loop

1. THE BERMUDA SLOOP DEFINITION

The Bermuda sloop is the name of the most popular sailing vessel configuration. A sloop is a sailboat with a single mast and two sails that are called a Mainsail and a Headsail. Headsail, Foresail and Jib – are all names for the sail in front of the mast.

The Mast is a tall pole on a boat that supports its sails. The Boom is the horizontal part attached to the mast which can move horizontally and vertically.

forestay and spreaders

2. STANDING RIGGING EXPLANATION

The system of cables and ropes that are attached to the mast and sails are known as “Rigging”.

Standing rigging are fixed wires which hold the mast in place. These are the Forestay, Backstay and Sidestays (or Shrouds).

Shrouds go through the crosstrees on the mast, these crosstrees are called “Spreaders” – they spread the load from the height of the mast to the width of the hull. The width of the hull would have to be much larger without them.

Mast, Boom, and Spreaders together are known as a “Spar”.

Halyards

3. RUNNING RIGGING EXPLANATION

Running rigging is all ropes and lines which are used in boat operation.

The ropes that hoist up the sails are called Halyards. There are the Main halyard, Jib halyard and usually a Spinnaker halyard as well.

mainsheet

The ropes that adjust the angle of the sails to the wind are called Sheets. The Mainsheet controls the Mainsail by adjusting the angle of the boom to the wind.

workign sheet and lazy sheet

To control the angle of the Jib there are two Jib sheets that are attached to the jib’s clew. The line which is being used is referred to as Working sheet and the other one is referred to as Lazy sheet.

toppping lift

A line that secures the boom in a horizontal position and prevents the boom from falling is called a Topping lift.

⚠️ It is important to secure the Topping lift before releasing the mainsail to prevent injuries should the boom unexpectedly fall.

Wind direction terminology

1. WINDWARD AND LEEWARD

The side of a vessel which is facing the wind is known as the Windward side, and the side which is away from the wind is known as the Leeward side.

winward side
leeward side

2. PORT TACK AND STARBOARD TACK

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

starboard tack
port tack

A boat is on a “Port tack” when the wind is coming over the left side. In this case the boom will be on the right side of the boat.

And a boat is on a “Starboard tack” when the wind is coming over the right side. The boom will then be on the left side of the boat.

By the way, the waves – are an excellent guide to know where the wind is coming from.

3. POINTS OF SAIL DIAGRAM

In irons in sailing

A sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind, because the wind will pass equally down both sides of the sails, which causes them to simply “flutter”. This “Point of sail” is called “In irons”.

Close hauled in sailing
Close reach in sailing

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

Beam reach in sailing
Broad reach in sailing

When the boat is up to 90 degrees the point of sail is called “Beam reach”. This point is considered to be the best combination for speed and handling. The next point of sail is called “Broad reach”.

Running in sailing

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

The points of sailing diagram

The last point of sail is called “Dead run” when the wind is blowing directly from astern, 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 boom which can be a cause of an accident.

In conclusion

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