During your first sailing experience you'll learn about the points of sail, which is the position of your craft in relation to the wind.On a boat there is a wind vane on top of the mast. It tells you which way the wind is blowing. Then you have to strategically position yourself to move in the direction you want. To simplify things, we're going to break down each point of sail and review the important points of each sail position.

Downwind sailing: There are two downwinds, the tailwind and the tail. We name them thus because the wind carries you opposite to the upwind.

Point of sail:Running downwind

Running downwind

If the wind comes from behind the boat, simply give the sails some slack so they billow out a maximum and allow moving forward. To be even more efficient at this point of sail, it is possible to let out the spinnaker. This sail has a larger surface and picks up the wind much better.

Point of sail:Broad reach

Broad reach

Two options are available to you at this point of sail: You can adjust the mainsail and the genoa or drop the genoa to put up the spinnaker. If you want to change direction with the spinnaker up when out on the water - i.e. go from a starboard tack to a port tack and vice versa - you need to jibe by passing the spinnaker from one side of the boat to the other.

Point of sail:Beam reach

Beam reach

When you sail perpendicular to the wind, we say you are on the reach. The goal of this point of sail will be to well adjust the sails using the telltales so they take the wind by the side. 

Point of sail:close haul


If you luff - that is, you get closer to the wind - you're sailing close-hauled. This point of sail will serve you to go upwind. You have to tack successively from one side then the other to move forward.

Point of sail:Headwind


This does not work! It is not possible to sail straight into a headwind. If you want to reach a point that is into the wind, you will have to sail close-hauled: By tacking (= zigzagging) you will reach your destination!

Point of sail:Luff and Bearing Away

Luff and Bearing Away

These are not points of sail but movements you will make to transition from one to the next. Luff means you get closer to the wind, bearing away means you move further away. These two technical terms are very useful on board, they will tell you what to do at the helm!

Embark with Anaïs for her first lightweight sailboat lesson: Unai explains the points of sail and the basics of navigating. You can revise your points of sail on the fly!