What is a ‘tack’?

16 February 2016

In sailing speak a tack can be any of three things! 

1. A tack is the name we give to the ‘front corner’ of any sail. Look at the leading edge of a sail, follow it down to the bottom and that bottom corner is 'the tack'.

2. When we steer the front of the boat through the wind we call that 'a tack' or 'tacking'. If you are steering the boat, looking forward, with the wind on the left side of your face - and you steer left, eventually, you will have the wind blowing on your nose. Keep steering left and the wind will soon be felt on the right side of your face. You steered the boat 'through the wind' and that is called 'tacking'. You have just completed 'a tack'!

3. Just to confuse matters, we also use the word tack to explain what side of the boat the wind is blowing onto when sailing a straight course.  In the example above, we were steering the boat with the wind on the left side of your face.  Remember, the left side of the boat (as we face forward) is called the port side.  So, when the boat is being sailed with wind on the port side of the boat, we call that being on a 'port tack'. If the wind was on the opposite side of the boat (the right) it would mean we were on a 'starboard tack'. 

If you get confused, look at the mainsail and boom. If the boom is on the right hand side of the boat (the starboard side) the boat is on a port tack. This is because the tack we are on is determined by which side of the boat the wind is coming from.

You may also be interested in our Blog article What is a gybe?

Don’t worry, all this will be covered in detail during your RYA Competent Crew Course.

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