Sailing For Dummies Crib Sheet

Fool a skipper into thinking you are a seasoned sailor. Sailing knowledge is not necessary to crew on our club boats, but it sure makes sailing more enjoyable when you are equipped with the below knowledge. This is what every NWSA crew member could want to inquire about during our sails and to eventually become familiar with. This is not about sailing in general but precisely about what pertains to our club sails. The more you understand, the more enjoyable sailing becomes.

Components on a boat:

1.       Standing rigs (fixed lines, wires and rods used to support t sails): Shroud, spreader, fore-stay and back-stay

2.       Running rigs (used to manipulate sails): Halyard, sheet, boom Vang, topping lift, roller furling, down-haul, and traveler.

3.       6 parts of the sail: head (attach to the halyard), tack (attach to the bow), clew (attach to the sheets), luff (front edge), foot and leech.

4.       Common parts on the deck of a sailboat: port, starboard, bow, stern, pulpit, lifelines/pelican hook, gunwale, cockpit, companion way, helm, lazaret.

5.       There are no ropes on a sailboat. Lines are what you throw out of a boat (dock and anchor). Halyards hoist things (sails and flags). Sheets trim sail cloth (sheets of sail).

In and near the marina:

1.       Become familiar with how the boat is secured to the dock.

2.       Look at the locations and the method of attaching the fenders on the boat.

3.       Dose the captain make use of a brake line?

4.       Become familiar with sail covers, and other protective coverings that will need to be removed and replace again at the end of your sail.

5.       Know where all the safety and emergency equipment is located.

6.       When traveling, develop a keen sense of looking out for potential hazards and, more important, judiciously knowing when or if those hazards become a legitimate concern.

7.       Remember (unless there is a fire aboard) to uncontrollably step off the boat and never jump or leap off the boat. `

8.       When cleating a dock line. Keep your fingers clear of the cleat and initialize you cleating with at least a full wrap around the cleat. Then complete your figure eight motion, with your fingers near the cleat, only when you have the released the live load from the remainder of the line you are working with. Keep your fingers clear of any device you use to secure a line, sheet or halyard until the device takes the load off the line.

9.       To flemish (coil flat on the dock) dock lines is a good parting jester after a sail.


1.       Know the calls and procedures for: “prepare to tack”/”coming- about” and “hard-a-lee”/ “lee-ho”.

2.       In windward sailing (running into the wind), your sails should be at a position short of “cracking/shaking” the luff of your head sail. When your head sail begins to “crack” a luff you will need to nudge the boat off the wind. The direction needs to be leeward. This is the small sweet spot which mirrors itself on the opposing tack but never changes no matter what windward direction you point the boat. If a sail is equipped with tell-tales, the tell-tales will fly horizontally when the sail is properly trimmed. The head sail, since it affects the sail(s) aft (behind), It needs to be trimmed before adjusting the sail directly behind.

3.       You wrap a sheet/halyard around a winch 3 times, sometimes 4, in a clockwise direction (“righty tighty”). When pulling in a significant length of sheet, do a single wrap. Once the sheet is mostly drawn in, add a couple more wraps before finalizing your adjustment

4.       This will seem awkward at first, but place your thumbs upward with your thumbs facing toward your chest when you pull in a sheet or a halyard. If you value your fingers and hands, when putting tension on a rope you do not wrap the rope around your fingers or hand. In extreme instances you can increase pulling power by routing the rope around the back of your waist an use your body mass and legs to increase your pulling power. If at any point you become over powered by the rope you can rapidly free the rope without doing harm to any of your body parts.

5.       Coiling and/or stowing lines and sheets, cleating, doing half hitches on fenders and other temporary attachments are frequent activities on a boat. It is a good to be able to perform these frequent activates without thought.   If you are attaching doc lines to a bollard, know how to do a couple wraps of a dock line and close it off with a hitch.

6.       The bowline the most useful of all secure knots. It is useful to make the more permanent attachment on a boat and is useful in many non-sailing applications. A bowling, like other proper knots, has to be able to be untied after putting a hard load on to it. A proper knot will not have any terminating right angle bends which creates a weak braking point of rope. For temporary hook ups, it is convent to close a knot or cleat with a slip hitch.

7.       In leisure sailing Jibes are rare. In normal to high winds a jibe gets to be dangerous to you, the crew, and the boat’s standing rigging. It, however, becomes desirable to jibe, rather than tack, in a low wind situation. It becomes necessary to jibe when carrying a spinnaker.

8.       A boat can sail in all directions except straight into the wind. A sailor heads straight into the wind to raise or lower the main sail. The term in which the sails will be in is called “irons”. The typical call would be: “set it in irons”.

9.       The common maximum angular range into the wind where a leisure sailboat cannot sail is 90 deg; 45 off the direction of the wind. The greater a sailboat’s speed the greater a sailboat becomes able to point; sail into the wind.

10.   A head sail can enhance the performance of the main sail when it channels concentrated air across the foil of the main sail. The head sail can reduce the performance of the mainsail when the air off the head sail deforms the foil on the main sail. Sometimes the latter situation becomes advantage to momentarily reduce the winds force on the boat.

11.   A sailboat needs to travel at least 3 knots before the keel/centerboard and rudder become effective in driving the boat forward.

Rules of Curtsey:

1.       A starboard tack (stand-on) has right-of-way. The boat on the left (port tack) must ‘give way'. The starboard tacking boat will see the green side of the port tacking boat’s bow light. The port tacking boat will see the other boat’s red port side of the bow light. The green light does not mean an unqualified go, but rather it means proceed with caution.

2.       When two sailboats are on the same tact the windward sailboat must stay clear.

3.       In tacking your boat must stay clear of all other boats.

Radio Channel 16 (on some radios, the red emergency button turns to channel 16.):

A VHF radio is intended mainly for short range communications; generally 5-10 miles. A USCG station can communicate to least a distance of 20 miles. Radio checks with the Coast Guard Communications Stations on DSC and HF radiotelephone are allowed.

For distress: call out “PAN-PAN-PAN”

For a life threatening emergency: call out “MAYDAY-MAYDAY-MAYDAY”

Give out the following information:

1.       WHO you are (vessels call sign and name)

2.       WHERE you are (GPS Coordinates if possible)

3.       WHAT is wrong (nature of distress or difficulty)

4.       The NUMBER of persons aboard and condition of any injured

5.       Present seaworthiness of your vessel

6.       DESCRIPTION of your vessel: length, type, cabin, mast, power, color of hull, stand out features.

7.       Survival equipment available (i.e.. rafts, survival suits)


ADVANCE, gee whiz interesting to know, knowledge for the beginner.

1.       Almost all our leisure sailing is into the wind which is termed “windward sailing”. Upon windward sailing, whether close hauled or in a reach, the wind pulls on the sails as if a sail were a wing of an airplane.

2.       Upon off wind sailing the wind pushes on the sails. This sailing position is called running and the sails are fully extended out from the boat or puled in somewhat and back winded. When the boat is positioned directly downwind, the sails can be positioned “wing on wing” like a butterfly.

3.       All boats are imprisoned by their haul speed; the maximum water flow against the surface of a boat where there is no natural resistance against forward movement. Movement in a boat between maximum haul speed and hydroplaning creates a loss of energy into a force of a wave. The haul speed of a 20’ boat is 6 knots/5.6mph verses a 30’ boat at 7.4 knots/8.6 mph and a 40’ boat at 8.5 knots/9.0mph. When a sail boat tries to overcome haul speed, the boat gains the treats of losing control, damaging rigging, man overboard, broaching, and a knock down. Fighting haul speed is for t hose seeking a thrill or winning a competition. Average human walking speed is 3.1 mph which is about the speed difference between a 20’ boat and a 40’ boat. Most healthy humans can peak run over 9 mph which is the haul speed of a 40’ boat. In keeping all things in perspective, our sailing is not about speed but rather the experience.

4.       Functionally long/tall narrow sails, with maximum luff, give a sail power in winds over 8 knots. Wide beamy/graft sails with high volume enables the catching and sailing of light winds but creates laminar friction (reduced performance) over higher winds when windward sailing.

5.       Functionally boats with a narrow long fin keel, because there is less wetted surface area, have greater speed, sharper turns and are easy to tack. A boat with a full keel is tamer to handle, there is less work at the helm, less of a potential of broaching and directional stability.

6.       When a boat is being overpowered by the wind and waves become less manageable, it becomes desirable to remove the main sail and lock the boom in place. You then use a reduced jibe (and mizzen, if equipped) to hold control of the boat. The Jib will be easier and safer to control and maintains the bow at a safer angle against the waves. It becomes less desirable to utilize the main sail because an accidental jibe can greatly upset the boat and do harm to crew and to the boat.


# Michelle Gasinski 2014-10-15 11:45
Hey Jim--really enjoyed this. Always things to learn or relearn. Thanks

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