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The course on which a boat is sailing can be described by its angle to the wind, not to be confused with its compass heading. The different angles to the wind are known as the points of sailing.

A number of sailing terms collectively known as the points of sail are used to describe a boat’s course relative to the wind direction. On each point of sail, adjustments need to be made to the sails in order for them to work efficiently. 

The points of sailing are:

  • Close-hauled – as close to the wind as possible. Sails are pulled tight. The boat heels away from the wind but is prevented from being blown over by the counter balancing effect of the keel.
  • Close reach – the wind is forward of the beam. Sails are eased out a little. The boat continues to heel.
  • Beam reach – the wind blows directly across the side of the boat. The sails are eased further out. The boat continues to heel.
  • Broad reach – the wind comes over the rear quarter, aft of the beam. Sails are eased well out. The boat no longer heels.
  • Training run – the wind is almost directly behind the boat. Sails are eased well out. The boat does not heel but may rock from side to side, known as yawing.
  • Run – the wind is directly behind the boat. The sails are eased right out and the head sail is pulled onto the opposite side to the main so it can catch the wind. The boat may continue to yaw from side to side.

Head to wind

A sailing boat cannot sail directly into the wind as its sails do not fill, begin to flap and have no effect. When this happens the boat is referred to as head-to-wind and the boat slows down and stops. Depending on the design of sails and boat, the sails will not usually fill until the boat is pointing at an angle between 40º and 45º away from the direction of the wind.

In summary

Aside from being head-to-wind, a boat can sail at any other angle relative to the wind. In order to sail at these angles to the wind, a boat’s sails have to be adjusted to create the best aerodynamic shape for the sails to work efficiently.

Tip:

Although you can’t see the wind, you can definitely feel it on your cheeks, nose and ears. Try turning slowly around on a windy day and you can easily tell where the wind is coming from. If you look directly into the wind, you will feel the wind blowing on both cheeks and onto your nose. As you rotate your head you will feel the wind favour one of your cheeks and ears, then directly into one ear, then the back of your head. Being fully conscious of the direction of the wind in this way helps when helming a boat and avoids the need to be constantly checking the instruments.

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