Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

The most difficult part of sailing for many a beginner sailor is learning the points of sail; it seems there is no easy way to learn the differences. They all seem so similar, and are named so closely. Here’s a bit of help.

How Points of Sail Are Determined

Points of sail are measured from the bow; at what angle the wind is hitting the boat in relation to the bow, reported in degrees. I’ll start with the easiest to learn, and progress to the ones that are harder to remember!

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

In Irons / Dead Zone

When the bow is pointing straight into the wind, you are in the “dead zone” or “in irons.” This is one of the two easiest points of sail to learn. The boat also will be hobby-horsing; rocking up and down fore and aft, like a rocking horse.

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Downwind / Sailing by the Lee

When the wind is directly behind you; this is sailing downwind. If the wind is a little teeny bit from one or the other side of the stern, you might be “sailing by the lee.”

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Beam Reach

Beam reach is the next easiest; when the wind is on your beam – perpendicular to the boat – you are on a beam reach. This is 90° from the bow.

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Close Hauled

Now it gets a bit tougher; now you have to remember the difference between apparent and true wind!

You are sailing as close to the wind as the boat will allow, usually around 30° with a roller furling main, maybe closer with a main with full battens, full roach, lots of head helping you sail closer to the wind.

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Close Reach

Close reach is at 60° off the wind. This one is much harder to judge initially because the name has close, like close hauled, and it has reach, like beam reach – so – it’s in between!

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Broad Reach

With the wind off the “broad” part of the boat – if you were looking at her from behind, and moved a bit to the side to see the broadest part of this “broad lady,” that is your broad reach. In degrees, this angle to the wind is 120°, or, 30° abaft a beam reach.

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Points of sail closer to the wind will be more affected by a distortion between true and apparent wind. Once the wind is behind you, it will be more obvious from which angle to the boat the wind is approaching.

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

Training Run

Some people include a training run at 150° from the bow – I suppose you are training to be able to sail on a run without an accidental gybe!

Each point of sail is 30° from the next.

Sailing Reference Materials

The ASA – American Sailing Association has some wonderful reference books. When you sign up for a 101 Basic Keelboat Sailing Certification class, this is the book you will receive. If you prefer to read well in advance, many ASA schools will deduct the cost of the book from your class registration if you already have it.

That means no penalty for studying ahead! Click this link to find Sailing Made Easy and a few other good choices for beginning reading.

, Points of Sail – An Easy Way to Learn the Points of Sail

What to read next: Teaching Sailing on Small Boats

Or: Reds and Greens – Distinguishing Channel Markers

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