Tacking a dinghy

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When you tack, you turn the bow of the boat through the eye of the wind and then continue sailing, changing your direction from starboard to port tack (shown here) or vice versa. This basic maneuver must be used to sail to any point directly upwind.


If sailing a two-handed dinghy, the crew has a simple role— keeping the jib sheeted in until the wind catches on the other side, causing it to "back," which helps push the bow around. As soon as it is clear, the boat will complete the tack and the crew should let go of the old sheet, cross over the boat (facing forward), and pull in on the new side.

The helmsman's role is more difficult and requires practice to achieve a fluid, controlled movement from one side of the boat to the other (see below). The helmsman steers into the tack with the mainsheet slightly eased. As the boom crosses the boat, he or she twists around to cross the boat without letting go of the tiller or mainsheet. The helmsman then adjusts the mainsheet.

Experienced sailors use a technique called "roll tacking" if they need to tack frequently in light and gusty winds. Body weight is used to turn the boat with a dynamic movement that drives air into the sails as the boat is rolled on to the new tack, heeling from side to side. The crew stays down on the leeward side as the boat spins around, then moves across quickly to the new windward side to help flatten the boat.

boat movement

When tacking, the boat changes direction across the wind so that the sails set on the other side.

practicing helming techniques

The technique for crossing the boat while holding the mainsheet and tiller varies according to the length of the tiller extension and how it fits through the space between boom, mainsheet, and helm. Practice is the only way to work out the most effective routine. The other technique that requires practice is how to change hands on the tiller and mainsheet while keeping control throughout the maneuver. The usual method is to hold the tiller behind your back before starting the tack as, shown below.

Practice helming while holding the tiller behind your back in your front hand and the mainsheet in your back hand. In light winds you may cleat the mainsheet.

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