Points of sail

The points of sail refer to the course a boat is sailing in relation to the wind. They are defined in reference to the wind angle, which is the angle between the course sailed and the direction of the wind. 

Wind angle

The different points of sail are:

  • Close-hauled: the course sailed is as close to the wind as possible.
  • Reach (close reach, beam reach, and broad reach): the wind is coming from the side of the sailing craft.
  • Run: the wind is coming from behind the sailing craft.
Points of sail

When discussing points of sail, it is not always clear whether the wind that is being considered is the true wind (the wind felt by a stationary boat) or the apparent wind (the wind experienced by a boat as it moves). Although it is not always this way, we could say that the points of sail are in relation to the true wind when speaking about a sailing area or zone, and in relation to the apparent wind when the course is described from the point of view of the sailing craft and the trimming of the sails. Generally, if not explicitly said, it will be the context that will help us clarify.

Whatever the case, it is important to understand that a sailing craft obtains the energy it needs to move from the wind flowing around its sails and that this wind is the apparent wind (direction, angle, gradient). Thus, it is the apparent wind that has to be considered when trimming the sails. As the boat turns toward the apparent wind, the sails must be pulled in (sheeting in). When the boat turns away from the apparent wind, the sails need to be let out (easing the sheet).

No-go zone

It is not possible to sail directly to the true wind. In fact, when the true wind comes from around 40 degrees or less regarding the course, the sails will start to flap. A flapping sail does not generate the driving force the boat needs to move forward, and eventually, it will come to a stop.

No-go zone
No-go zone

The only way to move directly into the direction of the true wind is to sail zigzagging from side to side of the no-go zone. This is called beating to windward and involves tacking the boat through about 90 degrees from close-hauled to close-hauled through the no-go zone.


The angle between the wind and the boat direction is less than 45 degrees.

Pointing ability is a measure of how high the boat can point. In other words, it is the minimum angle between the apparent wind and the direction at which a craft can still sail. The pointing ability depends on the craft configuration and sailing conditions (hull, appendages, sails, rig, heel angle, leeway angle). It results from the combination of the craft’s aerodynamic and hydrodynamic efficiency at the operating point of sail.

Close reach

The wind angle is within the range of 45-90 degrees. The craft is still sailing windward but not as close to the wind as it can go.

Beam reach

The wind angle is 90 degrees, i.e., the wind comes from the side at 90 degrees to the craft’s course.

Broad reach

At this point of sail, the wind is at 90-135 degrees to the course.


When running, the craft is sailing downwind in almost the same direction as the wind’s direction.

In a dead run, the craft is sailing directly in the same direction as the wind. Thus, the wind angle is 180 degrees.

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Wind triangle

The wind experienced by a fixed observer (true wind) is not the same wind an observer on a moving yacht will feel (apparent wind). The wind triangle helps us understand what the true and apparent winds are and how they are related.

Challenges in sailboat design

Using wind power and sails as the primary means of propulsion brings additional dimensions to the design of a sailboat compared to ship or powerboat design. The designer’s challenge is to balance the different parameters to achieve the best overall performance and characteristics, rather than optimize the boat to one operating situation.


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