Home Sailing What Is Tacking & How To Tack A Sailboat

What Is Tacking & How To Tack A Sailboat

How To Tack A Sailboat?

Sailing is a sport and a pastime that encompasses a wide range of techniques and maneuvers, none more fundamental than ‘tacking.’ This essential skill involves changing the direction of the sailboat by moving the bow through the wind. In this article, we will explore what tacking is, why it’s crucial, and a step-by-step guide on how to execute it effectively.

Understanding the Basics: What is Tacking?

Tacking, or ‘coming about,’ is a sailing maneuver used to change the course of a sailboat in upwind conditions. Unlike motorboats, sailboats cannot move directly against the wind, often referred to as the ‘no-sail zone.’ This zone usually spans about 45 degrees on either side of where the wind is coming from. To move upwind, sailors employ a technique called ‘beating,’ which involves sailing a zigzag pattern while continually tacking at each turn. The tack is the point at which the boat’s bow passes through the wind, shifting from one side to the other.

The Significance of Tacking

A smooth and efficient tack can make a big difference in your sailing performance. For racers, a properly executed tack can shave off precious seconds, which can mean the difference between victory and defeat. For cruisers, tacking can help you reach your upwind destination more comfortably and safely. By understanding and mastering this technique, sailors can harness the power of the wind, even when it appears to be working against them.

Step-by-step Guide: How to Tack a Sailboat

Now that we understand the concept and importance of tacking let’s dive into the step-by-step guide on how to tack a sailboat effectively.

Step 1: Check Your Surroundings

Safety should always be your primary concern when sailing. Before initiating a tack, make sure the area is clear of other vessels, swimmers, and obstructions. Keep an eye on the wind and wave conditions as well.

Step 2: Communicate Your Intentions

Communication is key on a sailboat. Before initiating a tack, alert your crew by saying, “Ready about?” If your crew is ready, they should respond, “Ready.”

Step 3: Initiate the Tack

To begin the tack, steer the bow of the sailboat into the wind by turning the helm towards the side where the sails are filled. This action is often referred to as “helm’s alee.”

Step 4: Shifting the Sails

As the bow of the boat passes through the wind, the sails will start to flutter, indicating it’s time for them to be moved to the other side of the boat. This process varies depending on the type of boat and rigging. On a sloop-rigged sailboat, for instance, the jib needs to be released from one side and winched in on the other. The mainsail, on the other hand, should naturally shift to the other side as the boat moves through the wind.

Step 5: Steady the Course

Once the sails have filled on the other side, straighten the helm. The boat should now be on its new course, and you can adjust your sails accordingly for the best performance.

Tips for an Efficient Tack

  • Speed is Crucial: Approach the tack with a good speed. If the boat is too slow, it may not have enough momentum to complete the turn and could end up in irons, i.e., pointing directly into the wind and unable to move.
  • Smooth Steering: The helm should be moved smoothly but quickly when initiating the tack. Too slow, and you lose speed; too fast, and the boat may become unbalanced.
  • Crew Coordination: The crew should move their weight to the new windward side as the boat tacks. This action can help keep the boat flat and maintain speed.
  • Practice: As with any sailing skill, practice is the key to mastering tacking. The more you practice, the more you will understand how your particular boat responds and how to time your actions for a smooth, efficient tack.


Tacking is a fundamental skill in sailing. It allows sailors to navigate efficiently and safely, even in challenging wind conditions. While it may seem complicated at first, with practice, tacking can become second nature. So, get out there and harness the wind, one tack at a time!


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