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Can Sailboats Go Against The Wind? Here’s How!

Can Sailboats Go Against The Wind? Find out at Boating.Guide

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Can sailboats go against the wind? Let’s find out! There is a saying that you can’t change the direction of the wind and would have to adjust your sail; how true of it. One cannot alter the wind’s current by will or any other method; that is why one should adjust their sail accordingly. 

Generally, no sailboat driven by the force of the wind can travel against it per se, but there is a loophole, a mathematical conjecture that allows you to travel against the wind at an angle. 

Can Sailboats Go Against The Wind?

With exemplary mathematical prowess, one may be able to maneuver a sailboat against the current of the wind. Downwind sail is more straightforward and hassle-free as the wind is by your side; as for the upwind sail, it is not only challenging but requires a lot of practice and patience to get right. 

You must know a thing or two about sailing upwind if, by any chance, you encounter a storm or strong currents of wind that won’t allow you to get to the shore. Learning the sailing techniques against the wind will come in handy. 

Mechanism Of Action Going Against The Wind

A sailboat can go against the wind at a 45-degree angle on either side. In the upwind movement, the push becomes available due to the airfoil like the shape of an airplane’s wing adopted by the sailboat, which allows the heavy air or air with more significant pressure to blow on the upper of the foil than on the downward side. It propels the boat against the wind at a perpendicular angle.


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The pressure difference on the foil’s upper and lower sides compels the boat to move against the wind’s speed. Although there is no way for the sailboat to go against the wind, the sail is possible at each angle corresponding to the wind’s opposition in perpendicular directions. To go in the wind direction, you must sail as close to the wind as possible, as boats are close-hauled. (source)


A much more appropriate method that will allow you to stay consistent in sailing speed is the movement at each perpendicular side of the wind for a while before changing to the other side and continuing sailing; many refer to it as tacking. There should be consistent repetition in shifting the action of the side until the boat reaches its desired destination. 

A sailboat’s possible direction will depend on the water’s resistance and the force of the wind. This proportionate effect of the current and water propers the craft perpendicular to the wind. Two things are helping a sailboat make sail, i.e., the sail wing that corresponds to the sail in the wind and the keel below water and is responsible for sail below it. The keel takes the strong wind’s force, which compels it to move at a perpendicular angle, thus making the sailboat go perpendicular. (source)

The sailboat does extract energy from wind by slowing its speed concerning the water. Then this energy is used to drag and then accelerate the boat in a forward direction perpendicular to the wind’s direction.    

Tacking Explained

If you want to sail against the wind, you have two dedicated motions that you can probably consider, such as rowing with your hands or using a motorboat or engine to propel further. But if the wind’s speed is too much, you will only be stuck in the middle, traveling nowhere due to the applied resistance. 

Tacking is a sophisticated yet straightforward process in which the vessel which wants to travel in the direction of the opposing wind turns its bow towards the wind. The wind current will alter from one side to another, allowing the sailboat to move into the opposed wind direction. 

But with tacking, there is a minimal twist: you will continue to change the side of the sailboat in direction with the wind, which is perpendicular to both the left and right side, as it might not hold for too long on the same side. It is a zig-zag motion, but it does allow you to move perpendicular to the opposing wind, provided you continue to change your direction towards each side of the blowing wind. (source)


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The continuous zig-zag fashion during the tacking maneuver is known as beating, which allows you to move perpendicular to the direction of the wind. Beating involves sailing at one perpendicular side of the current, tacking to get to the other side, and continuing sailing in the same fashion. 

The possible angles for the sailboat to move along the wind are 35 to 45 degrees. When a boat is tacking, it moves upwind and across the wind. 

How Can Tacking Be Performed?

Tacking might involve more than two people working on the same ship, but it will only be one person or a set of two to get things done for the sailboat. The following method for tacking is for the watercraft with a jib. (source)

  1. It would help if you prepared the jib sheets before you start to turn. The jib you are currently using must be released when performing the tack, and you need to bring the other in as the jib crosses over to the other side. You need to ensure that all the crew members understand the mechanism and are ready to work in harmony.
  2. You need to put two or more members in charge of changing the jib sheet when switching sides with the opposing wind, and it will depend on the size of the sailboat and the number of people available. The helm or the skipper will decide the appropriate time to tack. 
  3. The helm would call the ready about, which would initiate the sequence of turning the jib sheets around, involving the loosening of one sheet to take the turn and the tightening of the other to remain steady with the pressure of the wind. 
  4. When the hem calls “lee-oh,” it is time to turn the boat towards the wind, and when the headsail starts to flap, the crew on the working sheet will then let go of the sheet from the other winch. 
  5. It is how the boat continues to tack, allowing the crew members to continue the crisscross surfing in the opposed direction of the wind. 

How To Make Tacking Work? Here Are Simple Tips:

Tacking might not be difficult for experienced surfers as they already know how to control the sheet and coordinate, but it can be a nuisance for beginners. That is why it is essential to understand a few rules before you begin to take away from how you are supposed to. 

Be Consistent

If you don’t want your boat to get caught in the irons when trying to tack, you must maintain a consistent speed through and through. It means that you must keep on with the wind speed. If you don’t, your boat might stall or stop entirely due to the heavy resistance proposed by the opposing wind. You will have to wait for the watercraft to catch speed once again before you try tacking in such a scenario. Keep your boat at a steady pace close to the blowing wind before tacking to the other side to avoid the stall. 

Don’t Steer Too Sharply

Steering your boat too sharply or moving it far away from the intended turn is another problem you must consider while trying to tack. Suppose you are on the other way, trying to work your way upwind. In that case, it is essential to continue with the close hauling that involves only turning your boat at a propagated time interval while not jetting too much force to stop it from moving too far away.

Avoid Sheets From Getting Tangled

Given the wind’s strong resistance, your jib sheets might get tangled up, and you would have to untangle them. To stop it from happening, you need to close all the foredeck hatches and apply some tension or pressure onto the jib sheets before and after the tacking. Clear off any item or element on the deck that might get these jib sheets tangled, thus ruining your tack.


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The boat’s sailing relies on the wind that pushes on its sails and then gets deflected. Due to this deflection, the ship steers forward and perpendicular to the wind. Always keep an angle of tacking to 30-45, and you will do just fine. Once you tack one or two times, you will understand the mechanism in detail, allowing you to go against the wind when time dictates.   



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