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How to judge wind direction when sailing

Every good sailor knows how to find the wind. If you’re not 100% sure how, we’ve written some easy tips to help you master this essential sailing skill.

If you have something you’d like us to write about, just leave a comment in the section below, and we’ll add it to our list.

But let’s get back to the wind!

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

When it comes to sailing, it really is. Without the wind, a sailing boat goes nowhere, unless of course, you crank the engine. But then it wouldn’t be sailing, would it?

Knowing what direction the wind is coming from and its speed, is what makes a good sailor. It is and should be the centre of your universe.

Not only does wind direction determine how you trim your sails, it also impacts how dry or wet the ride is, and how fast you’ll travel.

But how do you ‘sense’ the wind?

Feel it

Often the easiest way is the best, and this certainly is the case for judging wind. Simply ‘feeling’ the wind using your body will give you a good idea of where it is coming from.

Your face is one of the most sensitive parts of your body, and as it’s usually exposed on deck, one of the best ways to feel the wind.

We recommend practicing feeling the wind with your face as much as you can, so you get faster and better at making accurate conclusions.

Try this:

  • Keep your eyes closed and turn your face towards the wind. Stop when you feel it blowing straight towards your face.
  • When this happens move your head back and forth until you can feel the wind blowing across both sides of your face equally.
  • The sound of the wind should also be equal in both ears.
  • Keep practicing this until it becomes second nature. (Even on land!)

Other tips

Of course, there are other clues that will help you determine wind direction. We’ve listed some here:

  • A wind vane, flag or flapping sail will indicate which way the wind is blowing. The strength of the fabric flapping in the wind will indicate whether the wind is strong, weak or somewhere in between.
  • Yarn tied to the shrouds (the wire rigging that supports the mast) will help you to identify the direction of the wind.
  • Anchored boats and sailboats in motion will indicate the wind’s direction. An anchored boat will point towards the wind (except when the current is very strong).
  • Ripples in the water, look at which way they are heading. Also, watch where darker patches of water head.
  • Seagulls stand facing the wind and cows and horses stand with their rear ends pointing towards it. (Probably not useful unless you’re sailing past a farm!)

What about speed?

Looking at the water is probably the best way to judge wind speed. This is because whitecaps typically start forming on waves that travel at around 12 knots.

If the wind is above 12 knots, beginner sailors should really head to shore, as these faster winds are not safe conditions for someone still learning the ropes.

Beginners should only sail in winds that are light to moderate, and only in protected waters. It’s also important to sail with an experienced person, who can help you grow your skills and push your limits in a safe way.

With safe time on the water, you’ll be past beginner level in no time!

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