Points of sail

Points of Sail: The Ultimate Guide

The points of sail are very important to any sailor, but can be a little confusing to the novice sailor. In this posting we will go over each point of sail in detail and explain what it means to you when you are sailing.

Basic Sailing Zones

To start off with, let’s talk about some of the basic sailing zones. Each one of these zones is defined by the direction the wind is coming.

Points of Sail

No Go Zone – When the wind is blowing directly on the bow (front) of the boat or directly in your face, then you are in the “no go” zone. This zone is about 45 degrees on either side of the direction of the wind. Sails won’t work when they is no angle between the wind and the sail. How a sail works is discussed more here.

Close Hauled (Sailing upwind) – At this angle, you are sailing as close to the direction of the wind as you possibly can. This point of sail is called close hauled because the sails are hauled in as close to the boat as possible. It is also known as pointing or beating.

Beam Reach (Sailing Crosswind) – In this zone you are sailing at a 45-degree angle to the wind. When the wind is blowing across the boat, you are reaching. This is usually the fastest and the most comfortable points of sail.

Broad Reach (Sailing Downwind) – At this angle you are sailing downwind as close as you can without running directly downwind.

Running Downwind – In this zone you are sailing directly downwind and the sails are acting more like a parachute than they are a wing. This is also a dangerous zone to sail in because of the possibility of an accidental jibe.

Detailed Points of Sail

This is a picture with a little more detail. These are all of the basic points of sail that you will ever need to learn. Let’s talk about each in detail.

Points of Sail

In Irons (Into the wind) – When you are trying to sail directly into the wind, you are considered “In Irons”. You will hear this term a lot when you are learning to sail. When you are in irons, you lose all forward momentum and can come to a stop. When turning the boat, you will go through this zone and must keep up your momentum to make it all the way through. If you are anchoring or need to stop the boat for any reason, man overboard for instance, the first thing you will want to do is turn into the wind. This is also the zone that you will go to when raising or lowering your sails, since it takes all the pressure off the sail.

Close Hauled – This is as close to sailing into the wind as you can get. You pull the sails in close the boat and point the boat just to the port (left) or starboard (right) of the wind direction.

Close Reach – At this point of sail, you are still sailing in the direction of the wind, but you are a little more to the port (left) or starboard (right) of the wind direction. As you can tell from the diagram, you have to let the sails out a little to still get lift from the wind.

Beam Reach – When you are sailing 45 degrees to the wind, you are on a beam reach. As you can see in the diagram, the sails have to be let out, even more, to still provide lift. The true wind will be coming directly across the boat if it was sitting still.

Broad Reach – At this point of sail, you are starting to sail downwind and the sails are starting to act as a parachute instead of providing lift like a wing. When sailing downwind, this is the safest angle to be doing it at.

Running – When you are sailing directly downwind, you are considered running. Your sails are acting as parachutes and the wind is pushing you. This is the most dangerous way to sail downwind or basically to sail at all. When you are running and the sails are out to each side like this, it only takes a little shift of the wind to make the sail switch sides. This is called an “accidental jibe” and it can be devastating if you are in the path of the boom as it changes sides of the boat. If you look at the two sailboats, in the above image, that is both “running”, you will see that the sails are on different sides of the boat. This is very easy to make accidentally happen. So remember, don’t sail directly downwind unless you have too and if you do, pay close attention to the wind!!

Got any questions about the points of sail or just want to add more to what I have written? Leave a comment below and help make this post even better!

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