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Points of Sail

This page contains a brief description of the points of sail. "Points of Sail" basically means the direction of a boat with respect to the direction of the wind. Sailing vessels can not be taken directly into the wind. If you go too close to the wind the boat will stop, as the sails can not get energy from the wind. The sailing ships of the past (the tallships or square riggers) could get only 65 degrees to the wind. Modern vessels can get a lot closer, usually about 40-45 degrees. You can of course go upwind by taking a zig zag course.

sail point

In Irons: When a boat is in irons it is pointing into the wind, or is too close to the wind to make headway. In other words it is stopped dead in the water. In smaller dinghies (without a jib) you have to push, push and pull, pull. That is, push the boom and the tiller away from you, which reverses and turns you, and then pull in the mainsheet and pull the tiller towards you. With larger dinghies and yachts (i.e. boats with jibs) you just back up the jib. That is, sheet in the jib on the windward side (so long as you are not directly into the wind). The jib catches the wind and pushes the bow away from it. When you are far enough away, sheet the jib in on the leeward side.

Beat: A beat is as close to the wind as you can get. With most modern sailing boats it is at about 45 degrees to the wind. On a beat, mainsail should be close hauled and centerboard/daggerboard should be fully down. You can move upwind by beating on one tack and tacking to the other. This is known as tacking.

Close Reach: Anything between a reach and a beat. Mainsail and centreboard are at intermediate positions.

Reach: Moving perpendicularly across the wind. Mainsail should be at 45 degrees to the keel and centreboard/daggerboard should be half raised.

Broad Reach: Moving at a slightly downwind angle across the wind. The mainsail should be let out a more than 45 degrees.

Training Run: Moving downwind, but not directly downwind. The sail no longer acts like a wing but more like a parachute, catching wind. With some larger dinghies and most yachts a spinnaker is provided.

Run: Moving directly downwind. Mainsail should be fully out to one side, with the jib out on the other (the jibsheet should be let out so that the jib takes a more balloony shape). Spinnaker should also be out. Centreboard/daggerboard should be fully up. Boats move fastest when running, but if you are on a run you would feel the wind has dropped; it has not, you are just travelling with it.

Summary of Points of Sail

Point of Sail
Centreboard/Daggerboard Position
Sail Position
Fully down
Pulled in tight
Half up
45 degrees to keel
Fully up
Fully out

Last Updated October 12th, 2007 QUB Sailing club