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't be taken directly into the wind.  If you go too close to the wind the boat will stop, as the sails can't 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 with the triangular sails (demonstrating my considerable ignorance) can get a lot closer, usually about 45 degrees.  You can of course go upwind by taking a zig zag course.

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's 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 and off you go.  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're not directly into the wind). The jib catches the wind and pushes the bow away from it. When you're far enough away, sheet the jib in on the leeward side and off you go.

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

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're on a run you'd feel the wind has dropped; it hasn't, you're just travelling with it.

Summary of Points of Sail

  Point of Sail  



Sail Position


Fully down

Pulled in tight


Half up

at about 45 degrees to the keel


Fully up

Fully out


Last updated: 1330 Monday 17-08-1998.