What Is Tacking in Sailing? Briefly Reviewed

Forget about all the complex and knotty papers on Tacking in Sailing! Here, we have a straightforward yet easy-to-understand and beneficial article on what is Tacking in Sailing. Reading this introduction will leave no questions about a tack in your mind. But just to make things even more helpful, we’ve added a how-to instruction.

What Is Tacking in Sailing? Briefly Reviewed

What Is Tacking in Sailing? Briefly Reviewed

We know that getting into sailing brings about many questions for beginners. And the main maneuvers’ how-to instructions have always topped the query lists. So, at Sailingyes, we decided to let you know what is tacking in sailing because it’s one of the FAQs we get from our readers!

The following, therefore, is a set of information combined with instructions on how one can perform it by the book and what this maneuver is. However, you must have a basic knowledge of the sails to understand the fundamentals of coming about. So, read our guide on how sailing works before getting into details.

Technical Definition

Tacking or coming about allows you to turn the boat around by turning across the wind. In fact, each tack takes the craft from one edge of the no-go zone to the other. (see below).

So, when a watercraft moves from the 10 o’clock position to 2 o’clock or vice versa, it’s performing a tack.

It’s like changing line when driving on a highway. However, this time the direction you’re moving towards changes as well. If, for instance, you’re traveling on the way to point A, coming about will change it to point B on the opposite side.

No-Go Zone and Its Interrelation with Coming About

Imagine there’s a virtual clock around your boat and you’re in its center. Now, highlight the zone from 10 to 2 o’clock while the bow of your vessel is facing 12 o’clock. This is the no-go zone, and you cannot sail towards this route.

As the name reveals, it’s a zone where you will not get any sort of wind force to move. And if you insist to sail in this track anyway, lots of flapping will be waiting for you.

The Reason Behind Tacking

Tacking is a sailing move that allows the watercraft to approach the destination despite the direct air stream. In brief, you come about when the destination is lined up with the no-go zone.

You can’t sail against the airstream path. So, if the current of air is blowing from the destination, you should perform a series of tacks, avoiding parallel contact with the current of air.

However, this is not the only reason behind this maneuver. Technically, whenever the skipper wants to change the track to the opposite wing, they “come about.”

Science of Tacking

Science of Tacking

A watercraft moves forward when the airstream passes through the sail, creating different pressure levels on each of its sides. So, a sail is more of a vertical airplane wing than a tool to capture the airstream. However, when the airstream is coming directly from the front, there’s no chance to have it passing through the sail and creating a pulling force.

So, a sailor would let the vessel go towards 2 or 10 o’clock forming a 45-degree angle. When they do so, the current of air gets to pass through the sail curve again, moving the boat forward—in the new path.

But that would lead your watercraft to an unwanted track. So, how would you manage to skip it in the direction of 12 o’clock?

It’s simple, you come about again. In fact, if you’re currently headed at 2 o’clock, you come about one more time and go just before 10 o’clock. Re-doing this process as a series is called beating, and it would look like as if you were drawing a zigzag line on the water.

For more info, read our guide on Tacking via a Watercraft.

Coming About on Your Own

The instructions below suit a small-sized dinghy.

  • Check the surrounding area, making sure there are no obstacles.
  • Inform others by saying “Ready About” and wait for their call. At this stage, the crew will double-check the position and say “All Clear” if you’re good to go.
  • Now, use your back foot to reach the opposite side but don’t move your body yet. Just make sure that your foot is touching the front side of the vessel. This would allow facing forwards during the whole maneuver.
  • Next, release a bit of the mainsheet to slow down, causing an easier ducking.
  • Use the phrase “Lee Ho,” notifying the crew and push the tiller in the way of the sail from its very end.
  • Doing so will bring the boom towards you. So, you must duck under it and move to the other side synchronically.
  • While the tiller is behind your back, you must sit down and straighten it.

Finally, swap the hands and try to switch the tiller with the mainsheet.

Common Tacking Mistakes

Common Tacking Mistakes

Starting point failure: some amateur sailors are not able to identify the opening spot. Therefore, they mainly end up going back and forth along the same line. In case you want to change the route appropriately, staying close to the no-zone edge is vital. So, avoid tacking while your vessel is away from this spot.

Expert advice: how to tell if you’re on the edge of the no-go zone? Slightly move the tiller and see if there’s any spot where the sail starts flapping. If there is, then, you’re on the edge of the no-go zone.

Pushing the tiller too much: you must push the rudder to bring the boom closer and then duck under it. However, some beginners push it too fast, causing the watercraft to turn so quickly and eventually capsize immediately. So, avoid this common tacking mistake and turn the tiller gently.

Rudder straightening crash: there are many people out there who know what is tacking in sailing. But not many of them know the details such as the importance of tiller straightening. Indeed, if you fail to uncurl it on time, the dinghy will turn 360 degrees leaving you on the same spot. So, act fast and flatten the tiller as soon as the frontend faced the new destination.

Uncurling the tiller too soon: this would keep your vessel in the no-go zone and eventually stop the movement. You must straighten the rudder only if the craft is in the right position—towards 2 or 10 o’clock.

Ducking late: when you push the rudder and the boom starts to come across your path, you have no option but ducking under it. In case you fail to do so, the boom will hit your head hard, causing major injuries. So, never curl the tiller before you’re ready to duck. Plus, wear a helmet all the time!

Jibing vs. Tacking

You should not confuse coming about with Sailing Jibe. Although they have some similarities, we consider them two different sailing maneuvers. We described what is tacking in sailing above—a move that allows the boat to turn around by turning across the wind. However, jibing is a performance with the same principles, but performed parallel to the airstream.

In brief, while jibing, you change the position from 2 to 10 o’clock having the bow facing 6 o’clock. That’s why it’s also known as sailing downward.

Jibing vs. Tacking

Beating vs. Tacking

Another common misconception about coming about is confusing it with beating. As discussed above, tacking refers to one single move done in order to change the current position of a vessel. However, beating is when you utilize a series of coming about maneuvers to reach a certain point windward.

Zigzagging (i.e. beating) would help the vessel reach the destination at then no-go zone despite the direct airstream aimed at the bow.

Reference (s):

Sailing Fundamentals


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