Basic Sailing Techniques for Beginners

29 March 2021

Sailing is an activity that can be truly fun for many different reasons. Whether it be a relaxing leisurely activity, a high competitive sport or a lifestyle, millions of people enjoy around the world.

For beginners, it is important to know the basics of sailing, particularly the technical aspects and terminology involved with the activity. Knowing how to sail is one thing but ensuring the safety of everyone on and around the yacht must be a priority while sailing. The fun side of sailing, after all, can only be maximised and experienced if one can sail the boat properly and safely.

If you are new to the sailing world, then here are some techniques that you should know and carry out.

Understanding Wind Direction

One phenomenon of sailing is that as the boat speeds up or slows down, the wind seems to change direction and force. That’s because there are two types of wind. Theses types of wind are ‘true wind’; which is the velocity of wind on a still object and ‘apparent wind’; is the velocity of wind on a moving object, which means the sails are trimmed to the apparent wind, as the yacht is moving.

There are a number of crucial aspects you must know and understand about wind when sailing is to know and understand the impact of wind direction on your sails as it determines your points of sail. Firstly, you only ever sail directly into the wind if you want to slow down / stop or if you are hoisting or lowering the sails. The direction to steer your yacht depends on the direction you wish to travel in and the direction the wind is coming from. Your sailboat can be sailed in a 180 degree direction from across the wind in either direction, at a broad angle off the wind, and directly downwind. When sailing up wind (into the direction the wind is coming from) you must sail at about a 45 degree angle away from the wind direction on port or starboard tack, in a zig-zag fashion, whist continuously trimming the sails and adjusting the steering direction to find the optimal sailing direction and speed.

Hoisting the Sails

When hoisting sails it is always important to have the bow (front) of the yacht facing directly into the wind or the direction the wind is coming from. This ensures that the sails will flap from side to side loosely, allowing the slides, bolt rope or cars to slide up the track or groove smoothly and with the least amount of friction as possible. If this is not carried out properly the sail will bear of one side of the track creating more friction the further the sail is hoisted. The sail can also catch on lazy jacks, spreaders, stays and other parts of the yacht and can lead to ripping the sails or causing damage to other parts of the yacht.

Basic Steering Principles

When steering your sailboat, you must make sure that you are sitting on the side of the boat where the wind is blowing/coming from. Depending on the size of boat, steering on this side will help prevent it from capsizing, given that the wind against your sails will make your boat lean over in small boats case and so your body weight can be used to counteract the yacht leaning and will improve performance. Doing this also provides you with the best possible view of the surrounding water, wind gusts and the sails ahead, as you will be higher and the sails will be on the other side of the yacht.

When manoeuvring a yacht it is important to understand the terminology and the difference between jibing and tacking, as these both involve the processes of turning the boat, when the current direction of travel is no longer possible or safe. Tacking refers changing to or from starboard to port tack when heading upwind, so that the bow(front) passes through the direction the wind is coming from. A gybe or jibe is refers to the same process but is conducted when you are heading downwind, so the stern (back) passes through the direction the wind is coming from to either port or starboard.

When heading up wind the mainsheet is usually tensioned quite tight, so tacking is a simple process because the mainsheet (line controlling the angle of the mainsail) doesn’t need to be adjusted much, if at all. Jibing on the other hand is more complex and can be dangerous if not carried out properly. This is because when travelling down wind the boom and main are usually out to one side of the yacht, which means when you jibe the boom and mainsail has to change from all the way out on one side to the other. If this manoeuvre is carried out correctly by pulling on the mainsheet to the middle of the yacht and then slowly eased out to the other side, the boom can swing across to the other side and take anything or anyone out along the way. If done incorrectly enormous shock loads can cause damage or break parts of the yacht.

Trim the Mainsail and the Jib

Trimming is the term used for adjusting the sails through the use of sheets (in most cases, lines that control the shape and angle of the sails). It is often conducted to make the boat sail relative to the wind direction and speed to speed up or slow down the yacht.

To learn more basic sailing techniques, feel free to contact us at Riggtech.

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