Tacking When Sailing

Danielle Fletcher
• Monday, 08 March, 2021
• 10 min read

Basic sailing maneuver, where ship turns its bow through the wind Tacking is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing-vessel, whose desired course is into the wind, turns its bow toward the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other, allowing progress in the desired direction.

tacking sailing boat direction safe skipper wind safety boating crewing jollands simon skills comments
(Source: safe-skipper.com)


The opposite maneuver to tacking is called jibing, or wearing on square-rigged ships, that is, turning the stern through the wind. No sailing-vessel can move directly upwind, though that may be the desired direction, making this an essential maneuver of a sailing ship.

A series of tacking moves, in a zigzag fashion, is called beating, and allows sailing in the desired direction. This maneuver is used for different effects in races, where one ship is not only sailing in a desired direction, but also concerned with slowing the progress of competitors.

on starboard tack, turning too windward to begin the tacking maneuver or “preparing to come about”, headed into the wind; the sail luffs and loses propulsion, while the vessel makes way on momentum to provide rudder steerage, making way on the new port tack by sheeting in the mainsail, on port tack. See the accompanying image; the red arrow indicates the wind direction.

In practice, the sails are set at an angle of 45° to the wind for conventional sail ships and the tacking course is kept as short as possible before a new tack is set in. The opposite maneuver, i.e. turning the stern through the wind, is called jibing (or wearing on square-rigged ships).

In the accompanying figure, the boat is seen to tack three times while beating to windward. Racers often use this maneuver because most modern sailboats (especially larger boats with spinnakers and a variety of stay sails) sail substantially faster on a broad reach than when running “dead” downwind.

sailing tacking briefly reviewed tack zone go maneuvers
(Source: sailingyes.com)

Cruising boats also often tack downwind when the swells are also coming from dead astern (i.e., there is a “following sea”), because of the more stable motion of the hull. This does not influence the total distance travelled (though may impact the time required).

Path P2 involves fewer turns but a wider channel. Path P3 requires only a single turn but covers comparatively the widest channel.

Beating is the procedure by which a ship moves on a zigzag course to make progress directly into the wind (upwind). Beating allows the vessel to advance indirectly upwind.

In general, the closest angle to the wind that a ship can sail is around 35 to 45 degrees. Crosswind movement is not desired, and may be very much undesirable, if for instance the ship is moving along a narrow channel.

The interval between tacks depends (in part) on the lateral space available: in a small navigable channel, tacks may be required every few minutes, while in the open ocean days may pass between tacks, provided that the wind continues to come from the same general direction. In older vessels that could not sail close to the wind, beating could be an expensive process that required sailing a total distance several times the distance actually traveled upwind.

person boat sailing tack turning around
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Sailing courses laid out for racing purposes always have one leg directly to windward. This is where the highest sailing skills often form the essence of the race.

Sail trim and keeping the boat moving most efficiently are of the utmost importance. To keep this advantage the lead boat will often try to “blanket” the trailing boat(s) by maneuvering to keep them in the disturbed foul air she is creating to her lee.

This involves constant anticipation and balancing many dynamic factors. Conversely, the trailing boats will try to overtake or otherwise escape the bad air blanket created by the lead boat and head for clear air without losing too much speed or momentum.

This often involves bending, or breaking, the safety right-of-way-rules, and intentionally creating dangerous and threatening conditions between the dueling boats. Each skipper is trying to gain the lead and the advantage of clear air.

Modern rigs pivot around a stay or the mast, while this occurs. On certain rigs, such as la teens and luggers, the sail may be partially lowered to bring it to the opposite side.

moth foiling class sailing
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Once the ship has come about, all the sails are adjusted to align properly with the new tack. The ship may lose forward momentum (become caught in stays) and the rigging may fail from the wind coming from ahead.

Kite boards are designed to be used exclusively while planing; many are double-ended to allow an immediate change of course in the opposite direction. Retrieved January 23, 2014. At Internet Archive ^ a b Royce, Patrick M. (2015).

1–23, archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-04, retrieved 2017-06-16 ^ Seat, Walter W. (2013). The Kite boarding Manual: The essential guide for beginners and improvers.

The definition of tacking for this discussion is moving the bow of the boat through the wind. The idea of moving one’s bow across the wind becomes much more complicated when you learn the commands for proper tacking and than the physics of the maneuver.

Now draw a circle beginning at that arrow and go all the way, 360 degrees, either direction, around and back to the top. That is called “the luffing arc” and boats can’t sail in that direction by rules of physics so don’t even try.

sailing basics sail marine striving excellence flagstaff learning terms boating expands soldiers marina point points nautical
(Source: www.discoverboating.com)

To do that, your boat has to have enough inertia to sail directly up into the wind while maintaining forward progress and turn all the way through to the other side. To have enough inertia to complete a tack, your boat has to have enough speed at the start of the maneuver.

With practice and experience you will begin to recognize how much speed you need to complete a tack of your boat. You are not going to just willy-nilly turn your boat when you have a 40’ tartan with a Genoa jib the size of your backyard to heave across the deck.

They say, Ready About.” That means everyone gets to work and prepares the boat to turn 90 degrees through the wind. And down below if there is any real wind blowing, everything that is not lashed or stowed will come dumping down on the poor unfortunate soul who was making lunch.

One way I try to help my students to remember how to turn the helm is the phrase “tiller towards the sail when tacking.” You won’t have any confusion about what happens next because it’s pretty dramatic. As the bow of the boat swings toward the wind, the sails will come to life flapping (aka luffing) If your pit crew is on their game, the second the jib collapses into fit of rage they will be ready to release the jib on one side and pull it in on the other side.

The helm will turn the boat 90 degrees and once on the desired course is achieved, they will center the rudder and allow everyone to catch up. You can sound like a superstar when you are happy with the direction of the boat by telling the pit crew to “Trim to course” in the saltiest voice you can manage.

(Source: writofwhimsy.blogspot.com)

So do yourself a favor and don’t wait too long to do your first tack on every new boat you sail. Catamarans, shoal draft keels and anything that has more than one mast can be a challenge to tack, and you should plan accordingly.

One strategy I find that helps even the most stubborn tackers is called “back winding the jib.” This occurs when your pit crew holds the jib a bit longer on the winch as the boat noses through the wind and allows the wind to fill the back side of the jib before releasing it to the new working side. Try it and I think you’ll find it’s a nice little helper in a pinch when you are stuck in the luffing arc some day.

Many choose to install a Windex at the top of their mast to help them “see” the wind and there're all kinds of new apps and gadgets you can install on your cell to help you learn about the wind and weather while you're starting out. At the top you have a ton to learn and as you get to the bottom you come to an infinitely finer point.

Attempting to progress on the path to enlightenment without first mastering the key elements is a recipe for failure. When I started out on my sailing journey, I wondered what tacking a sailboat meant.

On the web, I couldn’t find an all-in-one resource that could teach me everything I needed to know about this important maneuver. To grasp the concept thoroughly with all its technical terms and how to employ it, we need to dive a bit deeper into this topic.

(Source: www.offcenterharbor.com)

You will only experience a lift or forward force if you remain outside No Sail Zone which is typically 45 degrees away from the direction of the wind. For instance, In order to sail from point A to point B upwind, (see above image) sailboats have to use tacking maneuver, that is, changing direction by turning back and forth in a zigzag fashion until destination reached.

So, you may find yourself tacking pretty regularly to reach your desired destination. Main sheet: Rope that is attached to the boom, and is used to control the mainsail.

Port Tack: If the wind hits the left side of the boat. Starboard Tack: If the wind hits the right side of the sailboat.

When the helmsman hears the confirmation that the crew is indeed ready, he shouts Helm To Lee to indicate that he is about to initiate the tacking maneuver followed by turning the steering either to port side or starboard side. The helmsman now waits for the crew to prepare for the sheets and lines for managing the sails.

In the meantime he is estimating the lay line: This is a crucial step, not to be forgotten. Before turning the steering the helmsman looks and estimates where the boat is going be pointing after the tack, generally, if you sail upwind, it is 90 degrees to your left or right from where you are now.

expedition escape sailboat 1998 flowery branch georgia
(Source: www.sailingtexas.com)

When the helmsman hears the confirmation “All clear” or “Ready” from the crew, he then shouts “Helm To Lee” or Hard Lee” to indicate that he is about to initiate the tacking maneuver followed by turning the steering either to port side or starboard side. It is when the wind starts blowing the jib to the lazy-sheet, that is the time to stop turning.

As the sailboat is turning through the eye of the wind, there will be a moment when the bow of the sailboat will be facing the direct wind, the smaller sail (a.k.a. the jib) and the mainsail both will be fluttering. Once the sailboat has successfully performed a full tack, the vessel begins to pick up speed at approximately 90 degrees off from the original course.

Stalling is mainly caused by sailboat’s lack of speed and momentum when turning and carrying out the tacking maneuver. During tacking, turning the rudder too quick and sharply will act as a brake and causes the boat’s speed to reduce dramatically.

Turning the vessel too slowly will also contribute to the lack of speed and momentum. If the working sheet is released slowly ahead of time that will cause the speed to drop as well.

If the sails are not trimmed properly, the sailboat can lose its speed and momentum and its efficiency very fast. The sailboat must have an adequate amount of momentum and speed to be able to carry itself through the whole tacking action.

farrier trimaran fram ian
(Source: www.fram.nl)

Avoid turning the vessel sharply as this will not only be dangerous but will also cause your boat to lose speed and land in stall position. This will not only give your boat with an easy and manageable turn, but it will also allow the crew to control the jib sheet and main sheet properly.

It is better to have the wind fill the jib sail to create lift initially and once the boat has picked up speed and momentum after tacking then trim the jib sail properly. A key component of a successful tack is no doubt trimming of the sails.

Most of us spend a lot of efforts into pulling in the lines on the new side of the sail that we almost forget that it is very crucial to get this step right. As you are sailing into the wind (close-hauled), one of the most important maneuver to cruise efficiently and at the same time to keep your momentum and speed high would be proper trimming.

As the primary control on a sailboat is the jib sheet, I would like to have marks on the jib sheet so that I have a valid basis to work with and return to when I either tack or when the wind shifts in speed. In order to control halyard properly you want to have it tighter in stronger winds and also the back stay needs to be tighter in stronger winds to flatten the sail.

One of the main tasks of the traveler is controlling the angle of the boom to the centerline. As the wind increases, it is best to ease the traveler to keep the sailboat balanced at the right angle of heel and with correct.

ok dinghy sailing classes racing
(Source: waldringfieldsc.com)

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