Sailing Manual :: Part IV: General aspects of sailing

by Paul Kylander

Topics covered in Part III:

Using sail Adjustments
Right of Way Rules


This section will cover sail adjustments, weather and right of way rules. These are skills that will build on the material covered in the previous three sections of this manual.

Sail adjustments

There are several ropes located on parts of the mainsail that are used to control the way in which the air flows over the sail. There are three major parts on the sail that can be adjusted: the outhaul, the boom vang and the downhaul. Please refer to figure 7 to locate each of these parts. In general there are three ways to set a sail: baggy, flat or somewhere in between. These three parts of the boat are used in combination to change the sail shape. As the intensity of the wind increases, so too should the tension of these three adjustments. Knowledge of these adjustments is beyond the scope of a basic sailing manual. However, it is important that sailors are aware of their purpose and appropriate setting. Very briefly, the boom vang controls the sail twist, the outhaul controls the tension of the mainsail along the foot and the downhaul controls the tension along the luff.


The best way to deal with the weather is to simply be aware of it. A good thing to do before a day of sailing, is to listen to the radio or read the newspaper to get an idea of what the weather will be like in a given region. Pay particular attention to when a weather system is supposed to arrive. Never sail during a storm, especially a thunderstorm. Storms bring with them winds and gusts that beginner sailors will not be able to handle. Storms can be predicted, since they are characterized by a dark sky and the formation of large vertical clouds.

The barometer is another indication of the expected weather. A falling barometer indicates possible rain or low pressure that may bring storms. A rising barometer indicates fair weather.

Right of way rules  [Ed. Note: Changes are constant, Please refer to the latest USSA rules book if you sail in the United States, or refer to your National Governing Authority for current rules]

There are, as with cars, rules on the right of way of boats. There are seven basic rules which all sailboats must abide by:

A port tack vessel should keep clear of a starboard tack vessel.
A windward vessel shall keep clear of a leeward vessel.
A vessel clear astern shall keep clear of a vessel clear ahead. Any vessel overtaking another shall keep clear.
A vessel tacking or gybing shall keep clear of a vessel on a tack.
When two vessels are tacking or gybing at the same time, the one on the other's port side shall keep clear.
A vessel under way shall keep clear of one anchored.
Of two anchored vessels, the one which anchored later shall keep clear.

The figures from 31 to 34 outline several of the right away rules outlined above.

In addition to these rules, there are also special right of way rules that apply to commercial vessels.

In a channel or confined waterway, the commercial vessel has right of way over the sailboat.

There are two other important rules that beginner sailors should be aware of:

It is illegal to tie a boat to a channel or geographic hazard marker.
It is illegal to sail a boat inside a channel.

The last aspect of obligations to other craft, involve the way in which sailing vessels use lights. It is against the law to sail without lights at night. All boats require a red light on the ports side of the boat, and a green light on the starboard side. In addition to this a white light must be visible from the rear.

This concludes the basic sailing manual. This manual will provide a beginner sailor with the information they need to learn basic sailing skills. Sailing for the first time can be a shocking experience, particularly if something were to go wrong. For this reason those individuals who are new to sailing should try and go with an experienced sailor. In sailing there is no better teacher than experience. The way to do this is to get out on the water as often as possible.

In closing I would like to thank you for an interest in learning to sail, and hopefully, with this manual you can enjoy sailing and all its benefits for years to come.

Please see Appendix I for Part IV test, drills and required skills.


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