A Complete Guide On Tacking And How To Tack A Sailboat

A Complete Guide On Tacking And How To Tack A Sailboat

If you are new to sailing, then you have undoubtedly come across a wide range of topics and aspects to learn. It may seem overwhelming at first, but by tackling each topic, one at a time, you will gradually build up extensive knowledge.

Eventually, you will become the best sailor you could possibly be.

Once you think you’ve learned everything there is to learn about sailing, you will learn something new. This is because you never stop learning when it comes to sailing.

However, to master the art of sailing, you must take heed of the advice given to you by those with sailing experience.

One key element to sailing is something called tacking. You have probably heard of this term but, as you’re here, we’re guessing you want to learn more about it today.

Well, in today’s post, we are going to guide you through what tacking is. We will discuss this important element of sailing carefully so you can get a full understanding of what it entails.

We will also guide you on how to tack a sailboat effectively, so you can continue on your journey to becoming a world-class sailor.

Let’s begin.

Tacking – Explained

Tacking is just one of a seemingly endless stream of sailing terms you will come across when you first start sailing. But, it can be hard to find much information on this subject.

Not anymore!

So, what is tacking? Also known as “Coming About,” tacking is an important sailing maneuver where sailors alter the direction of their vessel’s bow.

In this maneuver, the bow is moved from one side of the wind to another direction. This is so the sailor can continue in the direction they desire, which is typically in an upwind direction.

When it comes to tacking, it’s not as simple as moving from left to right or left to right. It’s about moving in the direction you want to continue sailing.

Changing the direction of a boat’s bow across the wind may sound like a relatively simple task, but it becomes more challenging once you start to study the commands of tacking and the physics involved.

For most novice sailors, it will take a little time to master the tacking maneuver, but it is something that must be learned to become a true sailor.

Grab a piece of paper and draw an arrow pointing down from the top of the board. This will represent the wind’s direction when you’re sailing. If a circle is drawn around this arrow, this will represent the sailing clock.

At midnight on the clock is where the wind is. Around 10 and 2 on the clock (either side of the arrow) is known as upwind sailing.

These are directions where you can not sail. Known as the luffing arc, the reason vessels are unable to sail in such directions is down to the rules of physics. Even if you tried, you wouldn’t be successful at this maneuver.

Of course, there are ways to travel directly up wind, towards the top of the arrow (midnight) on the clock. For this, though, you will need to perform zig-zag movements as close to the wind as you can possibly get. And, this is what is known as tacking.

This tacking maneuver sees sailors move from 45 degrees off the wind from one side, such as 2 o clock on the sailing clock, and then altering its path to move through midnight on the clock.

Then, the vessel will go at 45 degrees on the opposite side of the clock, around or beyond 10 o clock.

Whilst this is explained in relatively simple terms, it gives us a better visual understanding of what tacking is and the maneuvers required. The next step is to understand the commands involved.

Tacking Commands

When you need to tack on a sailboat, you will hear a series of commands. Cooperation between each crew member is an integral and key part of sailing. With the right, easy-to-understand commands, the crew can work together and complete a tack efficiently and safely.

The first command you will hear will echo from the helm – “Ready About!” This tells the crew that everyone needs to start working to prepare the vessel to change its path and turn 90 degrees through the wind.

At this point, the crew in the cockpit, known as the pit crew, will be working the hardest. They will need to load up the lazy jib sheet in order to prepare the release of the working job sheet.

The deck at the forward point of the vessel, known as the foredeck, needs to be cleared of anything that could catch a flying rib, such as certain objects or decorations. Open hatches and loose fenders also need to be cleared quickly.

Below the deck, items that have not been stowed or lashed already could start to fall down on those working here. To avoid such a scenario, the crew needs to inform those below of the plans.

When the entire crew is aware of the upcoming maneuver and is ready, they will all inform the helm and shout “Ready!”

Next, the helm will announce that they are about to commence tacking. Most commonly, they will do this by declaring “Hard-A-Lee.” This command does vary on different vessels, however, and anything can be used, as long as the crew understands what this command means beforehand.

The helm will then take the tiller and swing it with force to the leeward side (this is the side facing away from the wind). At this moment, the boat should start to move towards the wind.

Tacking A Boat – How To Guide

Guide On Tacking And How To Tack A Sailboat

Another way to define “tack” is if your boat’s sails are hauled incompletely, also known as “close-hauled,” when on a starboard tack (the right side of the boat that faces the bow). In other words, it is a term to accurately describe your sails and the state that they are in.

If you want to move your boat 90 degrees to begin sailing on the opposite side of your sailing clock (i.e. from 4 o’clock to 8 o’clock), your boat will need to maintain a forward-facing position to progress further.

Then, it can turn fully to the opposite side of the sailing clock. To achieve this, your boat will require a certain amount of inertia (maintain stability). The boat will need to get enough speed (see also ‘A Complete Guide On Average Boat Speeds (Pontoon, Sailboats, And Cruisers)‘) at the beginning of the tack to complete the maneuver successfully.

As you can probably already guess, such a movement will require a lot of practice. But, over time, with more experience, you will start to understand the amount of speed needed to complete a full tack of a boat.

When you’re tacking, you must tiller towards the sail. As you can imagine, tacking a boat in strong winds can be pretty hair-raising.

As your boat’s bow starts to move dramatically in the direction of the wind, the sails will start to flap, almost violently. This extreme flapping is known as luffing.

Here, the pit crew needs to be on high alert. If the boat’s second jib ends up collapsing and moving violently, the pit crew should be ready to release the job on one side. Then, they will pull it in on the opposite side.

At this point, the helm crew will start to move the vessel around 90 degrees. Once they have achieved the correct course, they will ensure that the rudder is centered, allowing the rest of the crew to catch up.

Once you are happy with the boat’s sailing erection, you can shout “Trim to course” to let your crew know. Do it in a pirate voice for dramatic effect, though!

If all goes to plan and everything works out correctly, your first tack on a boat should be complete. Think that’s it? Think again. Practice this over and over and over again. And, then some more, for years.

Eventually, tacking on a boat will become a breeze, especially if you only plan to sail on one boat for many years to come. This leads us to our next point…

Sailboats Are All Unique

It’s important to note that all sailboats are different. For most of us, we will not sail on the same boat every time, year after a year. Now and again, you may need to sail on a boat that is completely different from the one you are used to.

When you move from one boat to another, you will soon notice some differences. You will find that each boat tends to tack slightly differently.

And, no matter how good you become at tacking your usual boat, you will almost never master tacking a new boat straight away. This is why we recommend that you try and tack as soon as possible when sailing on a new boat.

Nevertheless, on some occasions, a boat will not tack very easily at all. No matter how hard you try, it will be painstaking work and a challenge you wish you hadn’t started.

Examples of vessels that “don’t like” tacking include shoal draft keels, catamarans, and those with more than one mast. When coming up against these such boats, you will need to have a plan in action to tack them successfully.

One strategy, known as “backwinding the jib” can help you tackle the most arduous of tackers out there. This procedure sees the pit crew hold the jib a little longer on the boat’s winch as it starts to nose through the gusts of wind.

This strategy allows the wind to reach the back of the job and fill it before being released to the working side.

By backwinding the jib, the wind’s force will push the back of the jib, simultaneously forcing the boat’s bow to move through the luffing arc. When done correctly, your full turn will be ably assisted.

When you find that you’re struggling in the luffing arc (we all experience this at some point), this backwinding process can become extremely helpful. Just be careful when doing so.

Spreaders can sometimes pierce through your jibs at times, so always be on the lookout to ensure the spreaders, pointing out of the mast, are padded and wrapped up safely.

When To Tack

You can tack at any time when moving from an upwind course. However, this maneuver is typically implemented when you need to alter the direction from one close-hauled course to somewhere else. Usually, the intention is to sail towards and into the wind.

How often and when you need to tack tends to depend on the course of where you are sailing and the type of boat you are sailing.

When racing, knowing when to tack requires extreme precision, but for vessels other than those used in racing, this timing can be a little more flexible.

An important note to mention, however, is that if you tack too much and too often, you will lose some speed, but only for a short time. Therefore, try not to tack too soon.

In Summary

When tacking on a sailing vessel, ensure you understand the wind you’re working with, and remember all of your commands.

Next time you’re on the water, try and practice tacking. Over time, you’ll get the hang of it and become a better sailor at the same time.