Where Are We Going: Understanding Points of Sail

By: Learn To Sail, Sailing Tips

The direction of the wind dictates the direction a sailboat can sail. Understanding the points of sail is vital to understanding how sailors orient themselves relative to the wind. The Points of Sail describe the range of courses a sailboat can and cannot travel.

Understanding the Points of Sail

It is physically impossible for a boat to sail directly into the wind but how do you describe that? This “no-sail” zone is approximately a 90-degree zone dead into the direction of the wind. While this zone varies in size depending on the boat and the wind speed it is a universal fact of sailing that a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. This can be described as being “in irons.”

That leaves a sailor with 270 degrees of options to move the boat with the aid of the wind. At either edge of the no-sail zone are the two close-hauled courses a sailboat may travel. On these courses, the sails are hauled as close to the boat’s centerline as possible.

As the boat’s course turns away from the wind it is described as reaching. Reaching is the process by which the wind is coming across the boat. Reaching can be divided into three different courses, Beam Reaching, where the wind comes across the boat at a 90-degree angle, Close Reaching as the course gets closer to close hauled and Broad Reaching where the course is further downwind beyond the 90-degree mark.

If the boat is sailing directly downwind the course is said to be running or simply downwind.

Each of these points of sail has its own corresponding sail trim and technique for steering.

Points of Sail Diagram

Learning the points of sail, and how the sails look and the boat feels on each one, is fundamental to becoming a competent sailor.

Do you want to learn more about the Points of Sail?
Take a look at the Sailing Challenge App. The Points of Sail module is a great tool to mastering your knowledge of the subject. The Sailing Challenge app is a cutting-edge gaming app designed as a fun learning aid to help illustrate the principles of sailing in a rich interactive and entertaining format. Available on Windows | MaciPads | iPhones.

Sailing Challenge App - Points of Sail

Online Sailing Course