Tacking refers to changing the direction of a sailboat by passing the bow of the boat through the wind causing the sails to move from one side of the boat to the other. In order for a sailboat to sail upwind, it must sail close hauled and tack from one side to the other. For this reason learning to tack correctly is essential when learning to sail. With a little practice, tacking a sailboat is an easy maneuver and in most cases is easier on the sailor and the boat then a gybe.
1. The easiest way to tack your boat is to start off by sailing your boat in a close hauled position (see The Points of Sail). Once you are on this point of sail, take a moment to assess the wind direction and any nearby obstacles. Remember you are about to turn your boat into the wind, so make sure there are no boats, rocks, etc in this direction.
2. Alert your crew of your intentions to tack by calling out the command: "ready about." When prepared, your crew should respond "ready."
3. You are now ready to tack. Call out the command: "Helms-a-lee." And turn the boat sharply into the wind (if steering with a tiller, push the tiller towards the sails).
4. As the boat turns into the wind, the sails will luff and will pass across the boat to the other side. If you have a jib you will need to pass the sail by bringing in the lines on the leeward side of the boat and easing the lines on the windward side.
5. Once your sails have been passed, straighten out your steering and adjust your sails to you new point of sail. Make sure you are aware of any new obstacles on your new point of sail.
When sailing small boats, the weight of the sailors is of key importance in balancing the boat, particularly when sailing close hauled. On this point of sail, a boat may heel to one side while the crew sits on the high side to help balance out the boat. To maintain this balance during a tack, the crew must shift from one side of the boat to the other side. A standard tack generally slows the forward progress of the boat. For this reason, during races many boats will roll-tack to gain extra speed. Roll-tacking involves using the weight of the crew to shift the boat from one side to the other in a way that propels the vessel forward.
For information on how to Gybe, click here.