How do Sailboats Work?

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Not everybody is so lucky to live close to the sea or have a sailboat at their disposal. But there is nothing wrong with curiosity to find out how these little wonders on the water really work.

We will take a look at the technical side of operating a sailboat as well as the science behind using sails to move around. It will also be very nice to know how to use the wind for your benefit to maneuver your sailboat on the water.

So, keep on reading and satisfy your curiosity to find out how sailboats work.

Interesting Information

With a sailboat, you can easily sail upwind, and doesn’t that sound crazy? I mean against the wind. But that is how the science of sailing works; you can use the wind to maneuver into any direction you wish to go.

As you can imagine, when the first sailboat was made many years ago, people would have seen it as magic. Some of the very first sailboats were those made by the Vikings using a square sail taking advantage of the wind.

The most common sailboats used a few hundred years ago had two sails attached: the mainsail on the mast and the jib.

Parts Of a Sailboat

The standard and most common sailboat will consist of the following parts. The following is a list of parts and their functions.

  • The hull is the main body of the boat in which you travel on the water.
  • To balance the boat in the water, there is a keel attached at the bottom of the hull, which is a narrow plank.
  • This slim plank juts out from the bottom of the hull to keep the boat from tipping over.
  • The tiller is the basic steering of the boat and is used to change the boat’s direction and is attached to the rudder.
  • Hanging inside the water is the rudder that is controlled by the tiller to change the direction, like a tire on a car.
  • Then you have the mast that is the long pole in the center of the boat where the mainsail will be attached.
  • Attached to the mast is the boom that allows the mainsail to be turned 360 degrees to harness as much wind as possible.
  • The mainsail is the large sail that is attached on one side to the mast, and at the bottom, it is attached to the boom. This sail is then used to capture the wind by turning the boom in the left or right direction.
  • To add additional power to the mainsail, a jib is added that is fixed in one position and is a smaller triangular sail.
How do Sailboats Work

How do Sailboats Work

As you can deduce from the description of the parts of a sailboat, you can easily see how to operate a sailboat. The only complicated thing is how to make use of the sails at your disposal to harness the wind.

To keep the boat adrift is, thanks to the science of nature, not really your problem; it is all about the displacement and density principle of Archimedes. This simply means that an equal amount of weight of water than that of the boat must be displaced for it to stay on the water.

The Sails

In order for the sails to harness the maximum amount of wind possible, you simply need to turn the boom. This way, no matter what direction the wind blows, you can still use that wind to keep you going forward.

It is not necessary to get wind from behind to keep on moving in the direction you want to and move forward. For a sailboat to sail upwind, it is necessary to make a maneuver called a beating or a tack.

A sailboat cannot move directly into the wind when the wind is blowing directly from the front but can still sail upwind. If you want to move to a place directly upwind from you, you can sail a zigzag course that is called a beating.

Sail Upwind

With a sailboat, you can sail upwind by changing direction while performing a tack.

  1. Gradually turn towards the wind by pulling the tiller away from you.
  2. While it is turning, stand up and step across the boat without letting go of the tiller and main sheet
  3. When the sail switches sides, sit down on the new side
  4. Immediately center the tiller to prevent further turning and look forward to seeing if you are going in a straight line
  5. Now slide your hand aft along the main sheet and grab hold of the tiller
  6. With the old tiller, hand grab the sheet and make sure it is trimmed correctly


It is not easy to get the sailing upwind technique correct the first time, but the more you practice, the better you will get. For more instructions on how to perform a tack, see the following YouTube video.

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