The Ultimate Sailing Guide For Beginners


Sailing is one of the best ways to relax, enjoy the sun, and explore the ocean. While learning how to sail is not the easiest thing you can do, knowing the basics and essential terms make it easier. Sailing is usually a combination of honored skills, specific knowledge, the feel of your boat, and gut instincts about the wind. Before taking a sailing course, here are all the basics you need to learn.

Parts Of a Sailboat

There are different types, sizes, and shapes of sailboats depending on where you are sailing and your personal preference. However, they all have the following essential parts, and understanding what each one does makes it easier to learn how to steer the boat.


This is the boat's body that holds everything, like the equipment and crew.


Also referred to as the centerboard, this is found under the sailboat inside the water. It resembles a fin and runs lengthwise under the boat. It keeps the boat from flipping or drifting when the wind pushes on the sails and keeps it on course.


These are the most noticeable parts of the boats, and they are big, billowy pieces of tarp-like materials. They are primarily triangular and produce the force that pushes the boat forward when the wind hits them. The sail shape is usually called the sail trim, and you can adjust it differently depending on the wind.


This is a fin-like piece at the boat's rear attached to the tiller or steering wheel of the boat and is also under the water. The rudder angle usually determines the direction in which the boat will move.


This is the tall vertical pole attached to the sails.


These are horizontal polls attached to the mast and connected to the sail's bottom used to control its shape and angle.

Wind Directions

Wind directions are the most important yet challenging things for beginners to understand. Everybody knows that a successful sailing trip depends on the wind, but much more goes into it.

To sail successfully, you must be 45 degrees off the wind on each side of the direction the wind blows. This means you have to understand the direction the wind moves in to know how to adjust.


Also known as upwind, this is the opposite of leeward and means the direction in which the wind blows, and is the one sailors use most.


Also referred to as downwind, this is the direction away from the wind. Students are asked to put out their palms and blow to differentiate between windward and leeward. The top of the palm becomes the windward side, while the bottom is leeward.

Port tack

This is when the winds come from the boat's left or port side. You must be facing the front of the bow of your boat to determine left and right.

Starboard tack

This is the opposite of port tack and refers to when the wind is coming from the right or starboard side of the boat.

One way to tell the direction of the wind is by looking at the water. Wind blowing across the water creates ripples, usually perpendicular to the wind's direction.
You can also use telltales, which are nylon strips or yarn lengths tied to the backstay and shrouds. Another tool you can use is the masterhead fly, a wind vane you mount to the top of your mast and points in the direction of the wind.

Your sails are also an essential instrument to tell wind direction. Once you ease the sail, it will luff up and align with the wind. You can also look at flags, other sailboats, and smoke.

It would help if you also learned to tell the strength of the wind to determine how safe it is to sail. One of the most effective ways is looking at the formation of whitecaps, the white tufts on waves that form at around 12-14 knots.

Points of Sail

These are the different angles your sail can be at, and they are essential because they help you maintain your boat on the desired path. When you section the open water into a circle, you get four zones, and the zone you are in determines which point of sale to use.

The no-go-zone

This is the zone where the boat cant sail. It is usually a 90-degree area where you are sailing directly into the wind and sailors call it the in irons. Your sails usually flap powerlessly or luff, seizing movements. While getting in the no-go zone is usually frustrating, it can be helpful when you want to raise the sail.

Upwind sailing

This is the zone where you are sailing towards the wind path and includes the close-hauled point of sail. Close-hauled is the closest you can get to the wind and is usually just off the no-go zone.

You must trim your boom as close to the centerline as possible for this to be possible, meaning you must pull on the mainsheet until your boom is over the cockpit. If you are not careful, you can go back to the no-go zone, or your boat might tip over.

Downwind sailing

This zone includes running and broad-reaching points of sail. Broad-reaching is when you ail approximately 45 degrees to each side directly downwind. You can't slack out the boom further at this point, and the sail is usually perpendicular to the wind blowing from behind.

Running happens when you sail directly downwind with the wind blowing straight from behind. Like in broad-reaching, you should position your sail perpendicular to the wind. This is another delicate point of sail because the waves and wind can make your boat steer sideways, making you seasick.

Beam reaching

This is the point of sale when you sail across the wind. The wind usually comes from the left or right of the boat. It is the fastest and easiest point of sail to master. It is also the best way to maintain wind in your sail.

To sail at this point of sale, ease out the sail almost halfway to position it at 45 degrees to the wind. You should also ensure you trim the sail correctly, let it out until it bubbles, then take it back till it stops.

Sailing Maneuver

This is the simplest maneuver and happens when the steering wheel or tiller controls the rudder, turning the boat. You must maintain a forward motion and steer gradually to avoid slowing the sailboat down.

Steering the bow boat towards the wind is called heading up, and for this, you must trim the sail to achieve the best angle of attack. On the other hand, falling off is steering sway from the wind, and you must ease your sail.

This is turning the boat's bow to the no-go zone, making the leeward side the windward or vice versa. When tacking, you must ensure the coast is clear, have a landmark to aim for, maintain the boat's momentum, and turn smoothly.
You should also keep hold of your mainsheet and tiller or wheel, stay low, and duck under the boom when the wind catches your sail.

This refers to switching your boat's leeward and Windward sides as you sail downwind. Like in tacking you should ensure your coast is clear. Jibbing is the most dangerous maneuver because the boom travels a greater distance with the wind pushing it. You should keep your head down, steer slowly, and help the sail.

Slowing down
To slow the boat, ease the sail until it luffs. Alternatively, steer your bow directly to the wind. If you are sailing downwind, head up in the no-go zone direction.