Basic sailing maneuver: Tacking

Tacking is a basic sailing maneuver that involves turning the boat through the wind to change direction while sailing upwind. Tacking is essential for navigating in shallow waters and avoiding obstacles, and it is a fundamental skill that all sailors must master. In this guide, we will explore the basics of tacking. We will cover the following topics:

  • Understanding the wind and sail configuration
  • Tacking: definition and technique
  • Tips for tacking
  • Safety considerations

Understanding the Wind and Sail Configuration

Before we dive into the details of tacking, it is important to have a basic understanding of how the wind affects the sailboat and how to adjust the sails for optimal performance. The wind is the driving force behind the sailboat, and it is essential to use it effectively to control the boat’s speed and direction.

When sailing upwind, the boat must sail close to the wind to make progress. This is achieved by setting the sails close to the centerline of the boat, which creates a tight angle between the boat and the wind. This sail configuration is called “close-hauled.” It is important to understand how to adjust the sails and use the sail controls, including the mainsheet, traveler, and jib sheets, to maintain the proper sail configuration and achieve maximum performance.

Tacking: Definition and Technique of the sailing maneuver

Tacking is the maneuver used to change the direction of the boat when sailing upwind. The goal of tacking is to turn the boat through the wind and onto the opposite tack, with the sails filling on the new side. Tacking requires careful coordination between the skipper and crew, as well as precise sail trim and steering. Here are the basic steps for tacking:

  1. Prepare the boat: Before starting the tack, make sure that all loose gear is secured and the crew is prepared for the maneuver. The skipper should also check for other boats or hazards in the area.
  2. Turn the boat: The skipper should turn the boat’s bow through the wind and onto the opposite tack. This can be done by turning the wheel or tiller in the direction of the new tack. As the boat turns, the sails will luff and lose power.
  3. Release the jib sheet: As the boat turns through the wind, the crew should release the jib sheet on the old tack to allow the sail to luff. The crew should also prepare to grab the new jib sheet on the new tack.
  4. Trim the sails: Once the boat is on the new tack, the crew should pull in the new jib sheet to trim the sail. The skipper should also adjust the mainsheet and traveler to maintain the proper sail configuration for the new tack.

Tips for Tacking

Here are some tips to help you execute tacks smoothly and efficiently:

  1. Plan ahead: Before starting the tack, make sure to communicate with the crew and plan out the maneuver. This includes deciding which side of the boat the crew will move to, and ensuring that all lines are clear and ready.
  2. Coordinate crew actions: Tacking requires precise coordination between the skipper and crew. The crew should release the jib sheet on the old tack and grab the new sheet on the new tack at the same time. The skipper should also communicate with the crew to ensure that everyone is ready for the maneuver.
  3. Maintain boat speed: To execute a successful tack, it is important to maintain boat speed throughout the maneuver. This can be achieved by adjusting the sails and steering the boat carefully.
  4. Practice, practice, practice: Tacking is a fundamental skill that takes time and practice to master. Make sure to practice tacks regularly in a variety of wind conditions

Safety Considerations

Tacking may seem like a simple maneuver, but it is important to keep safety in mind when executing it. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind when tacking:

  1. Watch for other boats: When tacking in a crowded area, it is important to keep an eye out for other boats and avoid collisions. Make sure to communicate with other boats and signal your intention to tack.
  2. Keep crew inside the boat: During the tack, the boat will heel and may become unstable. It is important to keep the crew inside the boat and hold on to something secure to avoid falling overboard.
  3. Avoid tacking in strong winds: Tacking in strong winds can be difficult and dangerous, especially for inexperienced sailors. If the wind is too strong, it may be better to wait until conditions improve.
  4. Use personal flotation devices (PFDs): Make sure that all crew members are wearing PFDs before starting the tack. This is especially important for inexperienced or younger sailors.
  5. Be aware of the boom: The boom can swing across the boat during the tack and pose a danger to crew members. Make sure to warn the crew to stay clear of the boom and avoid getting hit.


Tacking is a fundamental sailing maneuver that all sailors must master. Understanding the wind and sail configuration, proper technique, and safety considerations are all essential to executing tacks smoothly and efficiently. With practice and experience, you can become a skilled sailor and navigate any waters with confidence. Remember to always prioritize safety and communicate with your crew to ensure a successful and enjoyable sailing experience.

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