Basic Tacking a Sailboat

, Basic Tacking a Sailboat

Steps for Tacking a Sailboat: 1) Preparation 2) Maneuver 3) Swapping Hands or Helms


Helmsman/Helmsperson gives the command: “Prepare to tack.” This gives the crew a chance to get ready and set up for the maneuver. Helmsman puts the tiller over toward the mainsail, (leeward side) and gives the command: “Helms-a-lee.” This notifies the crew that the boat is being turned. Or, helmsman turns the wheel away from the mainsail.

“Ready to tack?” • “Prepare to tack!” • “Ready about?” • “Prepare to come about!” You can choose what you want to say, but it is recommended that you don’t stray too far from those phrases. Crew looks 360° around the boat, get/gets ready to tack, and says, “Ready!”

What do I prefer? “Ready About,” “Ready,” “Helms-a-lee.” Simple challenge and response; no chance for miscommunication.


  1. Helmsperson decides to tack, must communicate action to crew
  2. Helmsperson says, “Ready About” and indicates next point of sail and direction
  3. Crew gets main and jib sheets ready; this action varies by boat
  4. Crew says, “Ready”
  5. Helmsperson checks that crew are truly ready
  6. Helmsperson initiates a slow, smooth turn to preserve momentum
  7. Helmsperson allows boat to coast upwind, avoids oversteering, look forward
  8. Boat comes head to wind, loses speed
  9. Crew releases burdened jib sheet
  10.  Helmsperson turns boat a bit quickly to finish tack – as needed; boats are different
  11.  Crew sheets in lazy sheet, or crew may backwind jib, then bring across
  12.  Crew adjusts sheets to point of sail one deeper than final point of sail
  13.  Crew readjusts sheets to actual point of sail once momentum is gained
  14.  Crew readies lazy jib sheet for the next tack


What is tacking?

How do you know when to tack a sailboat?

What do you say when you tack a sailboat?

What is the difference between tacking and gybing?

Why/when would you backwind the jib?

What is the benefit of “challenge and command” over “command?”

What part of the boat passes through the wind when you tack?

When would you consider a “Chicken Gybe?”

, Basic Tacking a Sailboat

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