How to tack and jibe when sailing

Jibing and tacking are two of the most basic sailing maneuvers, which is why we’re taking time out to write a ‘how to’ guide for beginner sailors.

If you do want to learn how to sail, we highly recommend finding a Yacht Club near you, and enrolling in one of their beginner sailing courses. Most hold regular courses during spring and summer.

What is jibing and tacking?

Whether you’re sailing in the open ocean, or on a lake or river, you will need to jibe or tack your sailboat in order to move into or away from the wind. This is how you change the course of a sailboat.

Tacking is when the bow (front of the boat) passes across the wind.

Jibing is when the stern (back of the boat) through the eye of the wind.

How to tack

A sailboat can be on either a starboard or port tack. A starboard tack boat carries its boom and mainsail portside. Port tack boats carry the boom and mainsail on the opposite side. Either way, the method for tacking remains mostly the same:

  • Sailboats cannot sail into the wind directly, so if your destination is upwind you will have to tack into the wind.
  • You will need to have some speed in order to tack. This will give the boat enough momentum to pass through the wind. (This ‘no-go zone’ is where the bow passes through the middle, so there is no wind to push the boat forward. Avoid lingering here or you will lose momentum.)
  • The helmsman will say ‘ready to tack’ or ‘ready about’.
  • The crew prepare themselves by looking around the boat and responding ‘ready’.
  • Just before tacking the helmsman will say ‘tacking’.
  • The helmsman will then push the tiller towards the mainsail. (The opposite direction to the way you are turning.) Choose a mark or point to turn the boat towards so you know when you have completed your turn. Once you are proficient at tacking, you may not have to do this.
  • The sail will switch sides, while this is happening the crew and helmsman switch to the other side of the sailboat too. The crew switches sides to balance the weight on the boat.
  • When the boat is on course, the helmsman brings the tiller to the centre.
  • Then trim sails and off you go! (More on trimming here.)
  • For more information about tacking, including diagrams, head here.

How to jibe

Jibing involves moving the stern of a sailboat through the wind. Jibing is more sudden than tacking, so be wary of accidentally jibing and damaging equipment, or even worse, a crew member. Here is how you jibe:

  • When it comes to jibing, speed is far less important, as unlike tacking, we don’t need momentum to carry us through the movement.
  • It is better to jibe slowly until you become confident, so don’t be afraid to take your time.
  • The begin, the helmsman will say ‘prepare to jibe’.
  • The crew then trims in the mainsail most of the way and responds, ‘ready’.
  • The helmsman then slowly turns and calls out ‘jibe-o’.
  • When the mainsail begins to jibe, the main sheet is released by the crew.

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