How to tack a dinghy aft on a boat and tacking when sailing along with sailing single handed or solo tacking sailing tips and techniques. Zigzag course in sailing.

Tacking Roles in Sailing

How to tack a dinghy starts with the helmsman selecting a landmark in the direction in which the boat is about to sail using this as the new point to aim the new sailing tack. The helmsman decides when to tack and he and the crew must turn the boat, trim the sails, and move their weight across the boat while keeping it upright.

The helmsman checks that the new course is clear and the crew is ready. When tacking while moving across the boat, the helmsman changes hands on the mainsheet and the tiller, manipulating both at the same time. The tacking procedure differs with aft mainsheet and centre mainsheet systems. After tacking, he checks sail trim, boat balance, and the new course.

The crew is responsible for releasing the jib sheet, picking up the new jib sheet, and moves across the boat sheeting in the jib on the new side.

The Tacking Procedure

The sailing tack is a prolonged luffing-up manoeuvre where the boat turns sufficiently for the sail to fill on the opposite course. The sailing tack occurs as the bow of the boat passes through the eye of the wind and is complete when sailing on the new course.

As the boat is turning towards the wind, the sails lose their driving and heeling forces, so the skipper and crew move inboard toward the centre of the boat to keep the boat upright.


As the boom crosses the centreline the skipper and crew should pass under it moving across to the other side. As the sails fill with wind the skipper and crew sit on the opposite side to counterbalance the heeling force of the sails powering up.

A Beam-Reach Sailing Tack

The tacking procedure from a [ beam reach ] to the opposite beam reach involves turning through 180°. Turning through a large angle provides the helmsman and crew extra time to cross the boat prior to the sails filling on the new side. It requires the boat to be sailing fast prior to the tack giving it sufficient momentum to complete the turn.

Close-Hauled Sailing Tack

A [ close-hauled tack ] is when the boat turns through only 90°, the tacking procedure happens quickly compared to tacking from a beam reach to a beam reach. This requires the crew and helmsman to cross the boat swiftly before the sails fill.

The boat must be sailing fast before the tack, and must be steered firmly through the turn, or else it fails to complete the tack, stopping head-to-wind being "in irons". As soon as the boat is pointing the right way, the helmsman centres the tiller and the crew sheets in the jib on the correct side. The boat is now ready to continue its course.

A Failed Sailing Tack

When the tacking procedure fails the boat may end up "in irons" . Several reasons why a tack fails:

  • the boat is sailing too slowly,
  • the helmsman is steering badly, or
  • the crew has pulled in the new jib sheet too early, making it fill on the wrong side.

Escaping from ‘In Irons’

[ Escaping from "in irons' ] requires the helmsman to push the tiller towards the side of the boat in the direction where he intends the bow to go with the crew pulling the jib to the opposite side of the boat filling it with wind - the technique is known as "backing the jib". The boat moves backwards with the rudder acting in reverse while the backed jib helps to push the bow in the required direction.

Sailing to Windward

Although you are able to sail close-hauled along the edge of the no-sail zone, if turning closer to the wind, into the no-sail zone, the luffs of the sails start to flutter and the boat eventually stops. Correct by pulling the tiller gently towards you and bear away from the wind and resume sailing. Try not bear away too far otherwise you lose valuable distance. Reaching a point upwind within the no-sail zone requires following a zigzag course known as beating to windward.

Beating to Windward

Sailing a zigzag course, the boat starts on a tack then tacks onto opposite tack, making progress to windward with each turn with a series of short tacks or a smaller number of longer ones depending on the distance.

Edge of the ‘No Sail Zone’

Sailing as close to the wind as possible requires sheeting in both sails tight and luff up gently until the luff of the jib starts shaking then bear away slightly then repeat to sail along the edge of the zone.

Centre Mainsheet System Tack

This how to tack sequence applies to a [ centre mainsheet system ] being tacked from a reach to a reach.

  • Sail on a beam reach, trim the sails with the centreboard half-down. The helmsman checks the course is clear then calls "ready about" warning the crew.
  • The crew also checks the area and, if clear replies "ready" and then uncleats the jib not letting it out.
  • The helmsman calls "lee-oh" then pushes the tiller to leeward starting the turn. When the jib flaps, the crew releases the old jib sheet and picks up the new jib sheet.
  • The helmsman keeps the tiller pushed over and crosses the boat facing forwards as the boat turns head-to-wind while the crew moves to the middle of the boat preparing to pull in the new jib sheet.
  • The bow turns through the wind and the jib moves across to the new leeward side while the crew pulls in the new jib sheet and balances the boat. The helmsman sits on the new deck and steers onto the new course with the tiller behind.
  • Onto the new course, the helmsman changes hands on the tiller extension and mainsheet, and centres the tiller. The crew balances the boat.
  • Helmsman and crew trim the sails and balance the boat accordingly.

Aft Mainsheet System Tack

This how to tack sequence applies to an [ aft mainsheet system ] , where the helmsman must cross the boat facing aft changing hands on the tiller extension and mainsheet before the tack.

  • The helmsman checks that the course is clear and when ready he calls "ready about". The crew checks that the centreboard is fully down, and replies "ready” while uncleating the jib sheet. The helmsman holds the tiller extension in a panhandle grip, ready to transfer the mainsheet to the aft hand and the tiller extension to the forward hand.
  • The helmsman changes hands and calls "lee-oh", while pushing the tiller to leeward. When the jib flaps, the crew releases the old jib sheet and picks up the new one. The helmsman pushes the tiller leeward, and moves his forward foot to the middle of the boat.
  • As the boat turns head-to-wind and the tiller pushed over, the helmsman crosses the boat facing aft ducking his head under the boom. The crew moves to the middle while preparing to pull in the new jib sheet.
  • When the bow of the boat moves through the wind, the helmsman sits down on the new windward side keeping the tiller extension over to continue the turn. The crew sheets in the jib, and positions his weight to balance the boat.
  • Coming onto the new course, the helmsman trims the mainsail and centres the tiller. The crew tightens the jib sheet then cleats.

single handed sailing techniques

beam reach
close hauled tack
escape in irons
center mainsheet system
aft mainsheet system