Learning the Points of Sailing

sailing-boats-1037709_960_720Sailing has been practiced for thousands of years. Over this time the boats have changed greatly as have the sailors themselves. Sailing, however, has not changed. Using the power of the wind to propel a boat relies on the laws of physics and the same concepts used by early mariners are still in place today. The most important part of sailing is knowing and understanding the points of sail.

The Points of Sail Explained

A sailboat cannot travel directly into the wind. The design of a sail is like an airplane wing, air must travel more quickly on one side than the other or no lift occurs. Sails will not fill with air and create lift if the boat is headed directly into the wind, so a sailor constantly steers at various angles to the wind. These points of sail are utilized to maximize wind power.

  • Running is the easiest point of sale to achieve. Running occurs when the wind is directly at the sailors back, or behind the boat. The boom is perpendicular to the boat on either side and the sail is full. Running is a slow point of sail and shifts in the wind can cause the boom to swing violently from one side to the other in an accidental jibe.
  • Broad Reach. As the angle of the wind moves from directly behind the boat the boom is moved in closer to the boat slightly. Now, a small amount of lift is being created by wind traveling on both sides of the sail.
  • Beam Reach. When the wind has angled almost perpendicular to the boat the boom is adjusted to accommodate. Although not especially fast, beam reaches produce a solid balance of lift and direct wind and can normally be sustained for long periods of time without adjustment.
  • Close Reach. When the boat is headed almost into the wind the boom is adjusted even more closely to the centerline of the boat in a close reach, or close haul. This point of sail creates much lift and is the fastest point of sail but least stable.

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