Sailing Basics

Boat Terminology

Here is a detailed diagram of a sailboat and its components. This diagram goes into a little more detail than you need right now, so I will outline the important components for this course.


Source: By Jazzmanian at English Wikibooks - Transferred from en.wikibooks to Commons by Adrignola using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,

Bow: front of the boat

Stern: rear of the boat

Port: left side of the boat

Starboard: right side of the boat

Hull: the main body of the boat

Keel: the long structure reaching down from the hull’s centerline beneath the boat (in the diagram, the boat has a centre board, which is just a removable keel. A keel is fixed). This helps control the boats balance as it moves through the water

Mast: the tall and upright structure on the boat to hold the sails

Boom: a spar along the foot of the main sail, attached to the mast. Aids in controlling the angle and shape of the sail

Main sail: the sail located on the mast over the centre of the boat

Jib the sail in front of the mast

Spinnaker: a large sail set in front of the mast when running downwind

Halyard: any rope used to raise or lower sails

Rudder: a flat blade at the stern of the boat used for steering

Points of Sail

Point of sail

Source: User:Andrew c -,
CC BY-SA 3.0,

A: Head into the wind (irons)

B: Close hauled (30-50o)

C: Beam Reach (90o)

D: Broad reach (~135o)

E: Running (180o)

In the diagram above, the wind direction is indicated by the solid blue arrows. Note that the position of the sail has been drawn for each point of sail. Basically, you gradually let out more and more sail as you turn away from the wind, starting with your sails almost all the way in when you’re close hauled, and completely out when you’re running.

Tack vs Jibe

To tack is to change direction by bringing the bow of the boat through the eye of the wind, ending with the wind coming over the opposite side of the boat. Your sails will also switch sides with the change of wind. You will travel from close hauled on one side of the wind to close hauled on the other side.

To jibe is the same, however performed while running downwind. Your sails will switch from one side of the boat to the other to allow you to change direction in relation to the wind.

Additional info for experts

The jibe can be more dangerous, since your sails are further out when you’re sailing downwind. In other words, your boom will likely be out about 90o on one side of the boat and will swing 180o across the cockpit to be 90o out on the opposite side. This swing happens very rapidly, especially when winds are strong, and the momentum of the boom could cause serious damage if you stand in the way. When tacking the sails are held closer in to the centre of the boat, meaning your sails are only swinging about 60o across the boat as you change direction.]

Apparent vs true wind speed

When you’re on a sailboat, there are two kinds of wind to think about. The true wind is the wind as it blows across the land or water, the wind in the weather forecasts, the wind you feel when you’re standing stationary on shore. However on a boat, you are moving due to wind and current, and so the apparent wind is how much wind you feel when standing on the boat. For instance, say there is no wind and you are driving under motor power at 4 knots. The apparent wind speed over your bow will be 4 knots. The apparent wind always takes into consideration the movement of the boat in relation to the true wind.


Source: Erwan1972 - Allure.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Additional Resources

School of Sailing:


Volvo Race 2014-2015: