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Sailing terms & tips

Sailing is a fascinating universal sport with many Yacht clubs in a number of cities around the world. Sailing a boat is a magical experience that brings you a sense of freedom and adventure. It is now becoming available to a wide range of people and everyone can own the right to sail and enjoy the experience.

If you’re considering learning to sail, It is recommended to pay attention to valuable suggestions, tips, warnings and general advice to guide you through the introduction of sailing.


Beginners sailing tips:

NEW Bis Spinnaker Sheet Grinder at 437px

  • If you’re starting to learn how to sail, then practice in ideal conditions of light winds and low traffic. Bring along adequate clothing and basic weather gear.
  • Check the weather forecast so you can be prepared for whatever the weather might bring.
  • Choose a sailboat with a skipper that welcomes beginners. You will get more out of the experience if the helmsman and crew brief you on safety requirements and other basic sailing principals.
  • PrepSail has partnered with MySail to help sailors connect with Australian racing yachts to find new sailing opportunities @ Crew and Yachts in your area.
  • Observe other crew and become familiar with adjusting sail settings to take the best advantage of different wind conditions.
  • Be cautious of the boom at all times, especially when it swings across as this is the most common cause of sailing injuries.

Most importantly, sail safe and enjoy !

Know sailing terms before your first sail:

  • For example, make sure you know the terminologies used for various elements in a cockpit (controlling lines, winch, …) and as part of a sailboat (mast, boom, headsail or jib, mainsail, …)
  • Understand the difference between port/ starboard, and other important sailing concepts
  • Become familiar with some important sailing terms, which can provide a ground base for your learning and a helpful overview of sailing

Sailing terminologies:

Aft – The back of a sailboat.

Bow – The front of the ship is called the bow.

Boom – The boom is the horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast.

Rudder – Located beneath the boat, the rudder is used to steer the boat and is controlled by a wheel or a tiller.

Port – Port is always the left-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.

Starboard – Starboard is always the right-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.

Windward – The direction in which the wind is currently blowing. Sailboats tend to move with the wind, making the windward direction an important sailing term to know.

Leeward – Leeward is the direction opposite to the way the wind is currently blowing.

Tacking – This basic sailing manoeuvre refers to turning the bow of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other side.

Jibing / Gybing – The opposite of tacking, this refers to turning the stern of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other side. Be aware of the boom as it will shift from one side to the other.

Winch – Mechanical device leveraging effort on halyards and sheets.

Your first sailing experience


Learn the basic sailing rules:

Mastering sailing basics means being familiar with essential right-of-way sailing rules. Use common sense when assessing risk of collision with other boats near and around you.


Port tack gives way to starboard tack: If two sailboats are approaching each other and the wind is on a different side of each boat, then sailing rules are that the sailboat which has the wind on the port side must always give right of way to the other.


Windward gives way to leeward: If two sailboats are approaching each other and the wind is on the same side of each boat, then sailing rules are that the vessel which is to windward (the direction of the wind) must give the right of way to the vessel which is leeward (the opposite direction of the wind).  When passing through a narrow channel, sailing instructions are to keep as close to the outer edge as possible.


The mainsail is hoisted first and the jib second whilst the boat is still under engine and pointing into the wind. When the mainsail is being hoisted, the outhaul, vang and main sheet should be released to lessen sail tension. During the hoisting of the jib or headsail, the sail will go from side-to-side as the sail flaps about like a flag.


A boat cannot sail directly into the wind.

Modern sailboats can sail up to about a 35 to 45-degree angle from the wind, which is one of the reasons why sailboat often tack in a zig-zag motion.


Sailing upwind: When sailing upwind, sailors call this tacking or beating. It takes skills and practice to achieve a good tack.


Sailing downwind: When sailing downwind, the sails work by catching the wind.


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Invest in a superior e.Leaning course

Be able to learn further with an online learning program like PrepSail is another step to teach you the fundamentals of sailing in a fast an efficient way.

The PrepSail eLearning courses give the user the opportunity to access a personalized learning platform and to learn essential sailing skills in an easy-to-learn and interactive format. All PrepSail courses are online sailing theory courses, which are developed in conjunction with international sailing instructors.

* For beginners – PrepSail recommends the eLearning course 1 ‘Sailing principles’ and course 2 ‘First sailing experience’.

* For semi-experienced sailors – PrepSail recommends the eLearning course 3 ‘Understanding the points of sail’ and course 4 ‘Fundamental trimming techniques’

* For more advanced sailors – PrepSail recommends the eLearning course 5 ‘Spinnaker essentials’ and course 6 ‘Crew roles and team work’.

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