Points of Sail & Sailing Directions

Lesson 1.4 - Learn how to sail

Points of Sail & Sailing Directions

Next lesson -> Man Overboard Procedure Index: Learn to sail

Lesson 1.4 - Learn to Sail

Points of Sail & Sailing Directions

Next lesson -> Man Overboard Procedure Index: Learn to sail

Points of Sail

The degrees quoted for points of sail are based on where the boat is going in relation to where the wind is coming from. So for example if the boat is heading directly into the wind that is 0 degrees and directly away from the wind is 180 degrees. Points of sail are the same on either side of the wind. So if the wind is off the port side and you are 90 degrees it is a beam reach, off the starboard bow the same point of sail would be at 270 degrees.

  • Beam Reach - Across the wind at 90 degrees. This is typically the fastest point of sail. The sails are at around 45 degrees to the wind. In this point of sail the sail is acting like a wing.
  • Close Reach - 60 or 300 degrees approximately. The boat will heel more at as it sails closer to the wind (more upwind), because of the sideways force of the wind. The keel is and underwater wind and helps to counteract this force by keeping the boat from falling over and from sliding sideways.
  • Close Hauled- 30-40 degrees. How well the boat goes to windward depends on a number of factors of the boat design, modern boats tend to be able to sail closer to the wind (close to 0 degrees) at around 35 degrees. Older boats, especially older catamaran designs could only sail as close as 45 degrees to the wind. In this point of sail monohul boats will heel (lean over) the most and with a catamaran the forces on the rigging etc. are quite heavy. This is not the most comfortable point of sail. Besides the boat heeling over, it's usually rougher going and water tends to splash up on deck. As the saying goes, gentlemen don't sail to weather.
  • Broad Reach - Between a run and a beam reach, this point of sail is at around 135 degrees. It's a more comfortable point of sail because you are going about in the direction of the waves and wind and not heeling over so much as going upwind.
  • Run - Away from the win, running with the wind. This is at about 180 degrees but usually a bit off 180 degrees because there is the possibility of an accidental jibe if you are heading dead downwind. An accidental jibe is when the boom and mainsail swing round to the other side as the boat crosses the wind. This can be dangerous for sailors and the rigging. For this reason a run is usually close to 170 degrees.
  • Wing on Wing - This is a run but with a different sail configuration. Where the jib is usually poled out to the opposite side of the main sail. The reason for this is so that the main does not block the wind reaching the jib. An alternative to this is to have two jibs off the fore stay, on either side, with no mainsail set, thus eliminating the chance of an accidental jibe.This is usually done on cruising boats that are running with the trade winds that can blow steadily in from behind for many days at a time.

Sailing Directions

The terminology used to indicate direction is important for communication with the crew on a vessel. Directions on a sailboat are in relation to where the wind is coming from.

  • Heading up - The boat is turning toward the source of the wind.
  • Bearing Away or Falling Off - The boat is turning away from the wind.
  • In Irons- This is the no-go zone on a sailboat. If you learning to sail you are bound to get stuck in irons at some point and there are simple techniques to get out of irons.The no-go zone will be different for different boat but it's usually about 320-0-40 degrees.

Next lesson -> Man Overboard Procedure Index: Learn to sail