How to Sail Against the Wind

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Sailing against the wind efficiently requires more practice and skill than sailing with the wind. If you are good at this, you can sail anywhere!

Due to sailboats’ reliance on the wind, sailboats are able to travel easily when the wind is behind them. In contrast, when the time comes to sail the opposite direction, the wind blowing straight against your boat may make it difficult to do.

In this article, we’re going to look at how to sail against the wind.

  • A foil is formed exactly like an airplane
  • Basically, it’s the pressure difference that causes the wind to blow opposite to the sail
  • With an angle of wind blowing at the boat, the sail blows up

We’ll look at upwind and downwind sailing, and teach you the terms and strategies you’ll need to know.

Note: this information is not a substitute for sailing classes, and is for general information only.

Let’s begin!


Upwind Sailing – What Is It? 

The term “upwind” refers to going in the opposite direction of the wind. The wind will not be directly against you. No way this can be done physically.

Sailing against the wind means sailing towards the wind as closely as you can, at a 45-degree angle, going either right or left from the direction of the wind. 

If you cross that line and end up directly in front, the boat will slow down, and your sails will flap around like crazy.

This is not going to make for a happy sailor! See Is It Faster to Sail Upwind or Downwind for more information.

How to Sail Against the Wind

Step 1. The skipper ensures a clear path is set for the journey.

Step 2. When everything is good, the skipper will shout out so the other members know they are ready. 

Step 3. He is now waiting for the lines and sheets to be prepared so he can manage the sails.

Step 4. While this is going on, the skipper needs to estimate the lay line, which is the direction the boat will point after tacking. A lay line for sailing upwind is typically 90 degrees left or right of your current position. So it is crucial to follow this step.

Step 5. After the skipper has been notified that everything is ready, he will tell them he is ready to start tacking. This is to turn the wheel either starboard or port side. Stop turning the jib when the wind blows the lazy sheet to the jib.

Step 6. The skipper then turns the boat windward. Tacking is now underway. In response to the headsail flapping, crew members ease and release the sheet attached to the winch.

Step 6. At this stage, the wind will have changed sides and will now blow on the sail’s other side. At this point, the crew switches sides of the sailboat. For the vessel’s balance, this point is crucial.

Step 7. As the boat turns, the jib flaps to the new side, blowing across with a little force.

Step 8. Use this opportunity to pull in the latest working sheet and begin pulling in the line attached to the lazy sheet. Again, tightening the main sheet in the middle of the boat is necessary.

When the sailboat deviates 90 degrees from its original course, it begins to pick up speed. A middle tiller is kept by the skipper.

The sails are then trimmed and adjusted by the crew. After this, a successful tacking has been achieved!

Multihull vs. Monohull

catamaran on the water

It is basically the same to sail a monohull and a multihull sailboat (think a catamaran). However, in tacking, there are several differences. A monohull can be maneuvered more easily, tacks more quickly, and responds to the helm more quickly than a multihull. 

Multihulls, on the other hand, can present some challenges when tacking. Since the multihull is lighter, wider, and more prone to windage, it suddenly slows down, and tacking requires a sufficiently high speed to maintain forward momentum.

Against the Wind Sailing: The Main Forces

When sailing against the wind, a sailboat is affected by four different forces:

  • Buoyancy
  • Viscosity of Water
  • Gravity
  • Wind

The water viscosity and wind force steer and stop the boat, respectively.

Staying on Course

Keeping the boat on the course is made possible by the viscosity of the water. In addition to buoyancy, gravity also plays a role. A boat is buoyant when it is up and falls due to gravity. Despite the wind, these forces maintain the boat’s stability.

A boat is pushed diagonally against the wind by the combined force of water and wind. Sailboats sail in a particular direction due to the water’s drag and the wind’s force.

Two components make up the pressure exerted by the wind on the sail. 

  • The lifting element vertically lifts the sail.
  • The drag component moves the sail along with the wind.

As the wind blows in a particular direction, the lift changes the wind’s direction. A sail’s shape determines the direction of the wind force based on the angle between the wind and sail.

As a boat moves forward, it slides laterally due to resistance from the water. When sailing diagonally to windward, the lean angle must be low compared to the forward motion. Therefore, lateral planning is significantly reduced by a keel.

If a keel stops sailboats from leaning to a certain degree, sailboats are limited to moving in the same direction as the keel. Sailing boats also have a centerline in this direction. In the case of a forward wind force diagonal to the keel, the boat goes towards the direction of the keel.

When the wind force points diagonally forward and the keel points diagonally into the wind, the boat needs to be sailing into the wind diagonally. However, a boat leans too far into the wind and cannot sail diagonally.

When the wind force points diagonally forward and the keel points diagonally into the wind, you must sail into the wind diagonally.


There is really nothing complicated about sailing against the wind. Practice a bit, as with everything.

To get a feel for the technique, keep the correct angle to maximize the wind’s power and master the changes in direction. Practicing in slower winds is easier than in stronger winds.

It is important that every crew member feels the motion of the boat. Due to the tiller, the skipper has direct contact with the hull and water. It is, therefore, a good idea to let everyone in your boat take a turn steering the boat.

Good luck!