Sailing Yacht Sail Handling, Manoeuvres, Techniques and Skills

Sections: Yacht Manoeuvres Boat Winch Tack Gybe Spinnakers Mainsail Headsail Control Spinnaker Broach

Yacht sailing basics gybing a spinnaker and spinnaker broach and how to tack a sailboat and yacht tacking and jibing a spinnaker and sailing spinnaker broach. Sailing techniques and skills help when broached.

Yacht Sailing Basics

Yacht sailing basics covers the procedures of the tack and gybe. These sailing manoeuvres are the same for sailing yachts as for dinghies but the sail handling equipment is different and the yacht tacking and gybing manoeuvres take longer, as a sailing yacht reacts slower than a dinghy. A sailing yacht is much larger and heavier, therefore subject to more power in the sails and greater loads on the sheets.

Boat Winch

Boat winches are be used to sheet in the headsail, as forces are greater than what a man can handle. A sailing yacht with [ self-tailing boat winches ] can be operated by a single crew member, but an ordinary boat winch needs a crew member to turn the winch and another to do the tailing. Tailing is the act of looping the sheet or halyard around the boat winch, and pulling the end of the sheet while the winch is being turned.

With self-tailing boat winches, only one crew member is only needed to sheet in the jib after tacking. The sheet is fed into the self-tailing groove on the top of the winch, then winding the winch handle sheets the jib sheet home.

Yacht Tacking Techniques

Before beginning to tack, the yacht should be sailing fast and not too close to the wind.

This allows the momentum of the boat to complete the [ tacking process ] . Prepare to tack by sailing on a [ close-hauled course ] with the skipper ensuring that the new course is clear.

With enough crew members, it is best to have one manning each jib sheet boat winch; otherwise, a single crew must prepare the new winch before releasing the old jib sheet. Members of the crew should make sure they know how the helmsman likes to perform the tack and the skipper should brief the crew before tacking the yacht to avoid confusion.

Slowing the Turn

The helmsman should slow down the turn once the bow has passed through the wind, giving the crew time to sheet in the jib before it fills with wind. The helmsman should be careful and considerate as the yacht may turn too far on the new tack, making it more difficult for the crew to sheet in the jib when full of wind.

If the sailing yacht's design makes tacking difficult, such as a catamaran or heavy displacement long-keeled yacht, back winding the jib will help the bow turn through the wind

Yacht Tacking Procedure

  • When ready to tack the yacht, the skipper calls 'Ready about!' to inform the crew to uncleat the headsail sheet while not easing it.
  • Then the skipper calls 'Lee- ho!' and pushes the tiller to leeward, or turns the wheel bringing the bows around into the wind, while the crew releases the headsail sheet.
  • As the sails move across to the other side of the boat, the crew moves across to take up the slack in the new headsail sheet.
  • The skipper then moves to the new windward side to check sails at the same time keeping the tiller hard over.
  • The crew winches in the new headsail sheet to set it while the skipper steers the boat onto its new course.

Yacht Gybing Techniques

When gybing a yacht, the technique is to turn the stern through the wind safely and smoothly. Gybing a sailing yacht is less complicated than gybing a small dinghy. The larger boat is inherently more stable, but the gear on a sailing yacht is heavier requiring more control of the boom through a gybe. This is because the sails remain full when crossing with some force to the other side of the boat.

Prepare to gybe by sailing on a run and in strong winds with the boom pulled in tight to prevent it sweeping across the boat with the potential to cause damage or injury. On larger sailing yachts the mainsheet is winched in, except in light winds.

Gybing Procedure

  • The gybe starts with a boat on a broad reach, the skipper informs the crew that he is about to gybe by calling 'Stand by to gybe!'
  • The crew then readies the new headsail sheet and takes up the slack in it, while preparing to release the old one.
  • If the jib is poled out, the pole must be removed before the gybe.
  • The mainsheet traveller should be cleated in the middle of its track before the gybe.
  • The skipper steers onto a dead run, and the mainsheet gets hauled in to bring the end of the boom over the quarter, midway between the stern and the beam, preventing it swinging right across the boat.
  • The helmsman now calls 'Gybe-ho!' and crosses to the other side of the boat, while changing hands on the tiller.
  • The boat turns until the sails begin to swing across to the other side while the helmsman counteracts the turn with the tiller by moving it onto the centre line when the boom crosses the boat.
  • The boat will try to turn to windward in medium and strong winds as soon as the mainsail is gybed. If the boat persists in turning, the helmsman must make adjustments to the tiller once again.
  • When the boom has swung across under control, the mainsheet is eased rapidly setting the mainsail at its correct angle.
  • The crew releases the old headsail sheet and winches in the new sheet to set the sail on the new side, while the boat is steered onto its new course.

Downwind performance can be improved by using a cruising chute, a poled-out headsail or spinnaker. Cruising chutes or poled out headsails are preferable for family sailing yachts as they are much easier to handle than spinnakers.


The Sail Trim Sailing Simulator is an interactive application to understand the sail trim principles to be applied for efficient sailing.

Yacht Gennakers, Asymmetrical Spinnakers and Conventional Spinnakers

Downwind sails are gennakers, asymmetrical spinnakers and conventional spinnakers. The method of trimming all downwind sails is to ease the sheet without collapsing the luff of the sail.

With a gennaker or an asymmetric spinnaker, the tack is fixed to the bow or bowsprit, with only the sheet needing adjustment. A conventional spinnaker is more intricate, as both the guy and sheet are adjusted to trim the sail.

Playing the Sheet

To maintain performance, the sheet on all downwind sails is constantly adjusted to keep the sail eased to the maximum without it collapsing. Well-cut downwind sails are eased until they curl at the luff indicating the sail is perfectly trimmed. Easing more sheet, the sail collapses and it will be necessary to pull the sheet in briskly before the sail fills again.

Once filled, ease out the sheet that has been pulled in because the sail will be over-trimmed, slowing and heeling the sailing yacht making it harder to steer and leading to a sailing broach in stronger winds. If the crew does not wish to constantly play the sheet, the sheet should be slightly over trimmed and then cleated.

Adjusting the Spinnaker Pole

  • Gybing the spinnaker requires working on the principle of flying the sail without a pole so that it does not collapse.
  • The pole is trimmed aft by pulling on the guy, but first ease the foreguy first or the pole will be held forwards.
  • Trim the guy until the pole is just forwards of a position at right angles to the apparent wind.
  • Cleat the guy, tighten the foreguy, and use the sheet to trim the sail.
  • The pole angle must be adjusted if the apparent wind moves forwards or aft, using the guy to put it back in the correct position.
  • In light winds the pole is lowered, keeping the clews level and helping set the sail. In medium winds, the pole is kept horizontal by adjusting the uphaul and foreguy.
  • In strong winds the pole is set higher, moving the sail's foot further away from the mainsail.

How to Gybe a Spinnaker

  • Beginning from the run with the pole set aft, ease the uphaul/downhaul which enables the foredeck crew to move the pole.
  • The foredeck crew, prior to the spinnaker gybe, should place the leeward genoa sheet over their shoulder ensuring that it ends up on top of the pole.
  • As the pole is eased forward the crew releases it from the guy, unclips the pole from the mast, clips the new guy to the pole and places the pole on the mast fitting.
  • This sequence is called end-for-ending and being a complicated task, the other crew must give the foredeck crew plenty of time and space to complete the spinnaker gybe.
  • Once the pole is secure, the sail is sheeted to the new course.

Racing crews use a dip pole gybe where the pole remains attached to the mast. When the pole is eased forward and dipped to the deck, the foredeck crew releases the old guy and inserts the new one, then the pole is hoisted again meanwhile the mainsail is gybed during the manoeuvre.

Yacht Sail Handling

In moderate to strong winds, most sailing yachts avoid using additional downwind sails, but sail downwind under mainsail and a headsail. If the mainsail and headsail are set incorrectly, a rolling motion sailing downwind occurs.


  • Set the mainsheet so that the boom is clear of the shrouds and tighten the vang, preventing the boom from lifting, and stopping the mainsail twisting forwards at the top to reduce rolling.
  • With light to moderate winds, make the sail fuller by easing the mainsail outhaul and in strong winds, tighten the outhaul to flatten the sail.
  • Sailing in strong winds requires the rigging of a line as a boom preventer to avoid an accidental gybe. Rig it from the end of the boom to a block on the foredeck, and then back to a cleat in the cockpit.


If the wind is too strong for a spinnaker, pole the headsail out to windward when on a run or broad reach to add speed and reduce rolling.

Yacht Spinnaker Broach

A spinnaker broach occurs when the sailing yacht is sailing under a downwind sail in moderate to strong winds. Avoid a sailing broach by reducing sail area in good time in moderate to strong winds.

A spinnaker broach happens when the boat is under pressure and turning forces develop overcoming the effect of the rudder. It is likely to occur in large waves, when the boat becomes unbalanced and the helmsman loses control of the boat's direction, with the boat spinning round towards the wind and heeling violently.

In moderate winds, a yacht broach occurs when sailing on a reach under spinnaker with the sheet pulled in excessively, causing the sailing yacht to slow down and heel, indicating the first signs of a spinnaker broach. If a rising wind threatens a broach, drop the spinnaker and sail under mainsail and headsail.

To regain control of a sailing yacht, that has broached violently under spinnaker with beam-on to the strong wind and the boom end in the water, let go of the boom vang and spinnaker sheet.

yacht spinnakers broach sailing gybing a spinnaker broaching

self tailing winch
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