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Sailing Directions – Understanding Points of Sails



Knowing Sailing Directions – Why Points of Sails is Essential When Learning to Sail

New York (USA), September 02, 2017

Points of sail are specific terms that explain direction of a sailing boat with reference to its angle to the wind. Each point of sail exhibits tailored characteristics. A thorough knowledge of every point of sail is essential when learning to sail. Some points of sail increase boat speed while some pose problems. A clear understanding of each point of sail, and about how best you can use them to increase efficiency of your boat will ensure a smooth sailing experience. You have to make many adjustments to centerboard, sails, and crew persistently every time your boat changes course. It then becomes easy to harness wind for easy sailing on seas.

Understanding Points of Sail

Wind strength and direction is important for setting sails and controlling boat movements. To understand points of sail, a clear distinction between starboard tack and port tack is necessary. If wind is blowing from the port side, boat is on port tack. If wind is blowing from starboard side, boat is on starboard tack. Boat is normally on either starboard or port tack while on any point of sail. The only exception is when boat is head into wind.

Wind could be true wind or apparent wind. True wind is perpendicular to the waves and indicates direction of wind. Apparent wind sails the boat. Difference between apparent and true wind is greatest when boat speed and wind velocity is greatest. If sailing with the wind, apparent wind has less force than true wind. If sailing against wind, apparent wind has greater force than true wind.

Hence, sails are trimmed or pulled closer to midline of the boat if you sail close to the wind. Sails are let out progressively as you sail away from the wind. Speed and direction of apparent wind decides exact position of sails.

Five Points of Sail

There are five main points of sail. The wind, or no go zone, is around 35° either side of the true wind in upwind direction. The best angle for easy and efficient sailing upwind is 50° to 55° to the true wind. A boat cannot sail directly into the wind. Trying to do so is luffing.

The five points of sail from edge of no go zone to directly downwind are:



1. Close-hauled (22° to apparent wind)
2. Close reach (halfway between close-hauled and beam reach)
3. Beam reach (90° to apparent wind)
4. Broad reach (22.5° away from directly downwind sailing)
5. Running (directly downwind)

Close-Hauled

This is a precise point of sail. It is sailing as close to wind as possible, normally at an angle of around thirty-five degrees without entering the No-Go Zone. The exact angle of boat in relation to wind direction differs from boat to boat. When sailing close-hauled, sails of a boat are trimmed in tightly and boat travels diagonally upwind. Boat needs to make many zigzags to proceed upwind. Turns in-between zigzags are called tacking. If your boat starts luffing slightly while sailing along close-hauled efficiently, it is pinching.

Close Reach

This is any upwind angle between Close-hauled and Beam reach. This is same as fetch or fetching.

Beam Reach: This is a precise point of sail. It indicates sailing across the wind and is a faster point of sailing. Your boat is steered perpendicularly to the wind. Sails are put out at roughly forty-five degrees. Sail produces greater lift and therefore boat speed increases. At this point of sail, it is possible to point exactly in which direction you want to sail.

Broad Reach

At this point of sail, wind comes from behind the boat at an angle. This is a range of wind angles between Beam reach and Running downwind. Sails remain eased out from the boat as much as possible. This is almost similar to running downwind except that sail is still working. This point of sail is the fastest if winds are very strong.

Running Downwind

This is the slowest point of sailing as you are sailing dead before the wind. This is a precise point of sail. This is also referred to as ‘Don’t go Zone’ as steering and trimming are extremely difficult. As wind is coming from behind, boat can gybe accidentally if lee-side of sail catches the wind. Although sails push your boat in this direction, it is best to complete this direction by tacking downwind. This means you should sail closer to the wind and gybe to remain in desired course and thereby avoid running downwind. This is the most difficult point of sail for all modern yachts. Stability of your boat is least at this point of sail as main sail remains eased out at maximum possible limit.

Guide to Sailing and Ocean Cruising in a Medium Sized Yacht
The Complete Reference Guide to Sailing and Ocean Cruising in a Medium Sized Yacht


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