Home > POINTS OF SAIL – How to ‘Drive’ your sail-boat on the seas…

Points of sail describes a sailing boat’s course in relation to the wind direction. There is a distinction between the port tack and the starboard tack. If the wind is coming from anywhere on the port side, the boat is on port tack. Likewise if the wind is coming from the starboard side, the boat is on starboard tack. Except when head to wind, a boat will be on either port or starboard tack while on any point of sail.

Head to Wind – At this point of sail the boat is headed directly into the wind. A boat turns through this point of sail as it performs a tack. The boat is on neither port nor starboard tack.

In irons – The boat is pointed too close to the wind for the sails to generate any power (unless they are backed, see above). The sails will be luffing (“flapping”) in the breeze and making noise, like a flag.

Close hauled – A boat is sailing close hauled when its sails are trimmed in tightly and it is sailing as close to the wind as it can without entering in irons. This point of sail lets the boat travel diagonally upwind. This is a precise point of sail.

Reaching – When the boat is traveling approximately perpendicular to the wind, this is called reaching. A ‘close’ reach is somewhat toward the wind, and ‘broad’ reach is a little bit away from the wind (a ‘beam’ reach is with the wind precisely at a right angle to the boat). For most modern sailboats, reaching is the fastest way to travel.

Close Reach – This is any upwind angle between Close Hauled and a Beam Reach. “Fetch” (or “fetching”) is a synonym in many English-speaking countries for a close reach.
Beam Reach – This is a course steered at right angles to the wind on either port or starboard tack. This is a precise point of sail. Sails are put out at roughly 45 degrees.
Broad Reach – The wind is coming from behind the boat at an angle. This represents a range of wind angles between Beam Reach and Running Downwind. The sails are eased out away from the boat, but not as much as on a run or dead run (downwind run).

Running downwind – On this point of sail (also called running before the wind), the wind is coming from directly behind the boat. Because running is the most difficult point of sail for modern yachts, and can be dangerous to those on board in the event of an accidental jibe, it is often called the “don’t go zone”.