How Do You Sail Against The Wind? Windrider of The Rockies

We all know that the wind direction has a great influence on the movement of sailboats. You can find it easy to sail a boat downwind, and the boat will move very fast. 

But the wind direction is not always favorable for sailing, such as in a storm. So, how do you sail against the wind?

You won’t be able to sail in the usual way when the wind is blowing against the direction you intend to go. You need to do a method called “tack” with your sailboat. 

You will adjust the boat and sail at 45° to the wind direction on each side in turn. The boat will accordingly move forward along a zigzag path.

Let’s move on with the detailed techniques to sail against the wind! Windrider of The Rockies.

How Do You Sail Against The Wind

You need to do a method called “tack” to sail against the wind

Why Can A Boat Go Against The Wind?

As we mentioned above, a sailboat can’t go directly against the wind. But it can still move forward if you adjust the sail in the right way. 

The reason for this possibility is the shape of the sail. It has the same construction as the wing of an airplane. 

When moving, the wings have the role of lifting the airplane and pushing it forward. Their shape makes the pressure difference between the air running on the top and bottom of the wing. This pressure is what lifts the airplane. 

The same thing happens with a sailboat when the wind blows against the boat.

The inflated sail has an airfoil-like shape and also creates the same difference in air pressure. The boat will move perpendicular to the wind’s direction due to this pressure. 

How Do You Sail Against The Wind

A boat can go against the wind due to its sail shape

By combining with the keel in the water, a sailboat can get the balance when moving upwind. The sail is a wing of the boat and the keen acts as its second wing. 

The drag from the boat’s keel keeps the boat diagonally in the wind’s direction. Therefore, the wind direction changes from blowing directly to blowing at an angle to the sail. 

In this way, the boat moves forward in a different direction from the sail’s force. 

How Do You Sail Against The Wind?

How Do You Sail Against The Wind

Now, let’s move on to the techniques to sail against the wind. 

In case of unfavorable wind directions, you can lower the sails and let the boat run with the motor. But if you want to continue sailing, you will need to tack. 

Tacking is an effective technique to sail a boat upwind. This technique makes the boat move sideward to the wind on both sides. So, the moving path of your boat when tacking will be a zigzag path. 

In tacking, you will make the boat’s bow turn through the wind. The boat will move diagonally against the wind on the starboard to the port and vice versa.

Tacking is an effective technique to sail a boat upwind

Requirements for tacking

Tacking is a complicated sailing technique, and you need some degree of expertise to perform it. Here are some things you should consider before performing a tack. 

High boat speed

You can only make a tack when your boat is moving. The rudder must be running when you push over the tiller. Otherwise, you can’t turn the boat. 

If your boat is at a low speed, you should turn it away from the wind to inflate the sails. When the boat speed is high enough to carry itself around through the turn, you can tack. 

Sail angle

Generally, you will tack back and forth between the two close-hauled courses. If you start tacking with the sail halfway out, the speed will decrease when you turn the boat. 

Thus, you need to have the sails trimmed in the middle of the boat before tacking from a reaching course. 

Space to tack

You will rotate your boat up to 90° when tacking. So, you have to ensure that other boats are far enough from yours before tacking. 

Steps to tack a boat with a mainsail

How Do You Sail Against The Wind

You should have two or three members in your crew to perform tack. One will be the skipper to take the helm. Then, follow the steps below to do a tack.

Step 1

Turn your boat gradually to the wind. If your mainsail boat has a traveler, adjust it to the center before tacking. You can take it back to its position after tacking stably. 

Then, use the tiller extension to push it towards the sail. A hiking stick can also do this job. Spread the mainsail to the fullest and steer the boat to a close-hauled course. At the same time, try to keep the boat speed high.

Step 2

If you are the skipper, announce to other members about the coming tack by shouting “Ready about!” When you hear them reply “Ready!” you can start tacking.

Some small boats don’t have any ballast. When tacking on these boats, you will stand on the old site and move to the other when the boat is spinning. You have to hold the main sheet and tiller extension during this process. 

To avoid boat capsize, the entire crew needs to move quickly across the boat while tacking.

Step 3

Start the tacking when the skipper yells: “Hard alee!” You will push the tiller away in the direction of the sail. Gather on the opposite side of the sail and keep your distance from the boom. 

After the first tack, the boom will be perpendicular to the mainsail. Winds will inflate the other side of the sail. 

Step 4

Adjust the tiller to the center to make the boat stop turning. Keep the boat stay on a straight line. 

Step 5

Move the hand after holding the sheet lengthways the mainsheet to reach the tiller extension. Hold the tiller extension with the previous sheet-holding hand and drop it with the previous tiller-holding hand. 

Step 6

In this step, you are holding both the tiller extension and sheet with the previous sheet-holding hand. It now becomes the new tiller-holding hand. Grab the sheet with the new sheet-holding hand. 

Step 7

You should trim the mainsail when you are out of a close-hauled course. To avoid capsizing, the boat should have properly trimmed and adjusted sails. 

How to keep your boat from “in irons”

How Do You Sail Against The Wind

If your boat gets caught “in irons”, it can’t move forward

“In irons” is the state that your boat faces the wind and can’t move forward. You may get caught “in irons” if you tack when the boat is at a low speed. 

To avoid this pitfall, you should keep in mind the following rules.

  • Only perform tacking when your boat gains enough speed.
  • Don’t tack from reach to reach to avoid slowing down the turning of the boat.
  • Trim the sails tightly and remember to start tacking from a close-hauled course all the time.
  • Swiftly turn the boat through the wind if there are rough waves. In this way, you can keep the boat momentum for the new tack. 

In case your boat is in irons, don’t be panic. You can handle this tough situation with some sailing skills. 

You should wait until the boat inclines enough to move backward. Once the boat moves, you will be able to point the bow away from the wind. Push the main boom aside and push the tiller close to it, and the boat will turn. 

You can also turn the boat by reversing the jib. Ask some crew members to hold the clew of the jib until it gets one side filled. Concurrently, you will push the tiller backward. 

How to control heeling

How Do You Sail Against The Wind

How to control heeling

Heeling is a common issue when you sail against the wind. When a boat heels, you may feel like it’s about to capsize. Here are some tips to control heeling when the wind gets heavy.


Pinching is an effective way to minimize the boat’s heeling. If you feel the boat heels too much, adjust the tiller a little leeward. 

The bow will be higher, and a quarter of the jib will luff. In this way, the boat will stop heeling and become more balanced. 

Loosen the sails

Too much wind pressure created by the sails is one cause of heeling. So, the solution is to loosen the sails and let them luff. This action will lower the wind pressure and make the boat heel less.

Keep the sails flat

You can also control heeling by depowering the sails. When sailing on a windy day, it’s better to keep your sails flat so that the boat won’t heel too much. 

Heeling may make sailors scared, especially beginner sailors. So, you should know what to do in case of a boat capsize. Also, don’t forget to wear a life jacket every sailing time for safety. 

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Final Words

Hopefully, through this article, you know how to sail against the wind. What you need to do is performing a tack. Tacking will deflect the boat from the wind at an angle, and you can sail upwind.

It requires many skills to tack, but it’s helpful when you encounter storms.

Thank you for following this post!

Reference: Boat Sail Upwind

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