Sailing For Dummies, 3rd Edition book cover

Sailing For Dummies, 3rd Edition

By: Peter Isler and J.J. Fetter Published: 05-09-2022

This friendly guide offers instruction for beginning and intermediate captains. Whether your goal is to explore a nearby lake, sail down the Mighty Mississippi, or take to the open sea, Sailing For Dummies, 3rd Edition explains how to launch your vessel, tie knots, turn sails, read the water, and much more.

Articles From Sailing For Dummies, 3rd Edition

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9 results
Sailing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-25-2022

Sailing can provide adventure, relaxation, recreation, and just good old fun. To enjoy yourself on a sailboat, you need to know the basic sailing maneuvers, sail positions, and rules of the waterway for when you encounter other vessels. And, it pays to know what to bring aboard and what to leave on shore.

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What to Bring When You Sail

Article / Updated 05-15-2019

A good sailor always has the right tools and equipment on board. Whether you're sailing around for just half an hour or spending the day on the water, use the following checklists to make sure you're prepared for any eventuality. (Remember what happened to Gilligan and friends on their three-hour tour!)

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Steering (and Riding In) a Sailboat

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

All sailboats have a rudder, an underwater movable fin that turns the boat. This rudder is attached to either a long stick (tiller) or a wheel that you use to steer. In this article, you'll discover the differences between tiller and wheel steering systems, as well as where to sit when you drive or crew (on a sailboat, the driver's seat isn't always obvious; it can change when the wind changes) as well as areas to steer clear of when on a sailboat. Tiller or wheel? Most sailboats longer than 30 feet (9 meters) are steered with a wheel, just like a car. Through a mechanical linkage, the wheel controls the position of your rudder. When moving forward, turn the wheel left and the boat goes to the left — and vice versa. You may think that this is stating the obvious, but you see why when you compare turning the wheel to the other way of steering a sailboat — with a tiller. You steer most smaller sailboats by using a tiller. Using a tiller for the first time takes a bit of getting used to, because the boat turns the opposite direction you move the tiller. If you move the tiller to the left, the boat turns right; move the tiller right, and the boat goes left. Steering a sailboat is also like a car in that turning becomes more efficient the faster the boat is going (and in the fact that you can't steer when stopped). So when you're going fast, you can turn the tiller or wheel less to achieve the same turning arc. To turn when you're going slow, turn harder and keep the rudder over for a longer time. For pure sailing pleasure, some sailers prefer a tiller on any boat up to, say, 40 feet (12 meters). Although a wheel takes up less cockpit space, it compromises the feel of the boat. Because of all the associated parts and connections, wheel steering has much more internal friction. A tiller directly connects you to the rudder, allowing you to feel the water as it flows below the boat, and for me, that sensitivity is preferable. Knowing where to sit when you drive One of the easiest ways to spot nonsailors is to see where they sit on a boat. If you're driving, you not only want to be able to steer well, but you also want to look good. The following tips can help: When steering a dinghy, keep in mind the effect your weight has on the balance of the boat. Not only should you sit down, but the windward side (the side the wind blows on) most likely needs your weight to counteract the heeling (tipping) forces of the sails. Sit just forward of the end of the tiller so that you can freely move it from side to side. Most boats have a tiller extension or hiking stick attached to the end of the tiller that enables you to sit fartherout to the side of the boat while steering. Using this extension all the time enables you to sit comfortably while steering — and look cool. Hold the tiller extension in your aft hand so that your forward hand is free to adjust the mainsheet. You also have a better view of the sails on a boat with a jib if you sit farther forward. On keelboats with a wheel, stand or sit behind or to either side of the wheel. On keelboats with a tiller, sit on either side, wherever you have the most visibility and feel most comfortable — although keeping your weight on the high side to counteract heeling is important on a smaller keelboat. If your boat has a blind spot because of a cabin top or the sails, move around occasionally to peek into the blind spot. Periodically asking a crew member to look for obstructions and other boats never hurts either. It's your responsibility to be aware of everything that may pose a danger to your boat at all times. Knowing where the crew should sit On most boats, the crew sits forward of the skipper. The crew members often are responsible for trimming the sails and moving their weight outboard (hiking) to keep the boat from heeling. In most conditions, they can sit on the windward side. But if the wind is very light or if the boat's sailing downwind, they may need to sit on the side opposite the skipper to help balance the boat. On larger boats with several crew members, divide up the jobs so that everyone can feel useful. The skipper usually steers (although nothing says you can't trade around and share the joys of being at the helm). As the boats get bigger, your individual weight makes less of a difference in counteracting the heeling forces, but you'll still find staying on the windward side most comfortable, whether operating the boat or just hanging out. Avoiding danger areas Certain spots on a boat are safer than others. Before you leave the dock, make sure you know what spots to avoid (or at least be extra careful in) after you're under way. These danger areas include Anywhere in the plane of the boom when it swings across in a jibe or tack. Don't forget to duck! Along with the boom, be aware of all the associated rigging, including the boom vang and the mainsheet. Anywhere outside of the cockpit where you walk or stand. Many boats have handrails that make it easier to hold on if you must leave the cockpit. At the bow and the stern. If you must go to these places, hold on tight, because the motion of the boat is accentuated at the ends. In the path of the jib and jib sheets during a tacking maneuver. This path runs from the foredeck all the way back on either side to where the jib sheets go through pulleys heading for the cockpit. During a tack (or jibe), when the headsail flaps in the wind, the sailcloth and ropes are like whips. In the "slingshot target zone" of pulleys under high load. If the block were to break loose, it would go flying. On the leeward side of the boat. The leeward, or downwind, side is especially dangerous if the boat is heeling (leaning from the wind); the leeward side is closer to the water, and gravity is pushing you that way. Shiny areas, such as varnished wood or plastic hatch covers. Shiny areas are probably as slippery as they look. Most bigger boats have a nonskid (textured) surface on deck to help keep you steady, but look where you step and hold onto something if you can. Sails on deck are also very slippery. Yes, you figured it out — the safest place in most boats is the cockpit (as long as you stay low and watch out for the darn boom). The deck can be dangerous during maneuvers or in rough seas at any time.

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Sail Positions and Their Names

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

When you're sailing, you use specific terms to describe the position of the sail — along with calling the left side of the boat port and the right side starboard. Check the following figure for the terms that indicate different sail positions.

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Looking at a Sailboat

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

Sailboats come in all sizes, shapes, and types. The beauty of sailing is that you can't help but find a boat (or two or three) that's just right for you. All sailing craft, big or small, have at least one (and sometimes more) of the following components. The hull The hull is (ideally) the floating body of a boat, and it can be made of a wide variety of materials, including wood, fiberglass, metal, plastic — even cement. The hull can be as small as a surfboard or more than 100 feet long. You can get a good idea about how fast a boat is by how it looks. Just as you can tell that a sports car will be faster than a golf cart, you can tell that a big, heavy, wide boat with a short mast is a good cruiser but won't break any speed records on the water. Sailboats fall into three basic types based on their hull shape. Sailboards: These boatsare basically surfboards with a sail. Theycome in many different sizes and shapes, depending on their intended use and the skill level of the rider. Sailboarding is a great way to enjoy the sport with equipment that you can throw on the roof of your car. Multihulls: Multihulls are boats with more than one hull (makes sense, doesn't it?). A boat with two hulls is called a catamaran; a boat with three hulls, a trimaran. Multihulls, especially small, light ones, can be thrilling to sail — with a little wind, one hull lifts out of the water, and you feel like you're flying across the water. Bigger multihulls (more than 30 feet) can be great cruising boats. Because of their width, they're very stable and have a tremendous amount of space for their length. Multihulls are fast, too, because they're very light and don't have heavy keels, or as much surface area underwater, as monohulls (boats with one hull) of the same size. Monohulls: These sailboats are the most common type of boat, and they have one hull. Most of the world's sailing and racing takes place in monohulls, broadly classified as either dinghies or keelboats. The typical marina is full of monohull keelboats of all shapes and sizes. If you compare these water-based crafts to their land-based cousins, sailboards are the skateboards, dinghies are the bicycles, and keelboats are the cars. And multihulls? The fastest ones are airplanes! The underwater fin Hanging underneath the back end of most sailboats (except sailboards) is a rotating fin called a rudder. The rudder steers the boat. Underneath the middle of most sailboats is a second, larger, fin called a keel or centerboard. The primary purpose of both keels and centerboards is to keep the boat from skidding sideways from the force of the wind and to provide lift so your boat can sail closer to the wind. (When sailing, your sails and the underwater fins act like wings.) Although a few exceptions exist, if the fin is fixed (not movable) and made of a heavy material like lead, it's usually a keel. And if the fin is lightweight and retractable, it's usually a centerboard. Keelboats:Keelboats have a keel, a fixed, heavy lead fin for ballast hanging under their hull, providing stability against the wind's force. The smallest keelboats are model (sometimes radio-controlled) sailboats, but keelboats that carry human passengers are usually more than 20 feet in length. Dinghies: Dinghies are nimble, small sailboats that are typically more responsive than their ballasted cousins sporting keels. But watch out — dinghies can capsize, or tip over. Instead of that ballast weight in the keel, they have a lighter fin called a centerboard that's retractable. The centerboard may also be called a daggerboard if it retracts vertically, depending on its position and movement (or a leeboard if it's mounted on the side of the boat). Most dinghies range in length from 8 to 20 feet. The mast The mast is the vertical pole that supports the sails. Although most modern sailboats have just one mast, some sailboats have several masts that can carry many sails. (Remember the pictures of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria in your history textbook?)You may have heard of square riggers, schooners, or yawls. These types of sailing craft are named for the number and position of their masts and the profile of the sails. Although older boats have wooden masts, most modern boats have masts made of aluminum, which is easier to mass-produce into a lighter and stronger pole. The fastest racing boats use carbon fiber. On bigger boats, an array of wires usually supports the mast. These wires are called the standing rigging. The sails The mast (and standing rigging) supports the third and most common feature of sailboats — the sails.A sail is simply a big piece of fabric that catches the wind, enabling you to use its force to move the boat. The sails are your engines — their power or fuel comes from the wind. The main, or mainsail, sets along the back edge of the tallest mast. Some boats carry only a mainsail, while others have a headsail as well. A headsail sets in front of the mast. Headsails come in different types, but the most common is a jib. You can use one of many types of specialty sails to make a boat go as fast as possible at different angles to the wind. A common specialty headsail is the spinnaker — abig, colorful, parachute-like sail used when sailing downwind (going with the wind). The rope When a sailboat is rigged (prepared and ready to go sailing), all the ropes used to raise and adjust the sails can look like spaghetti. This pasta is all part of the boat's running rigging. Even the simplest sailboat has several adjustment ropes, and each has its own name. For example, the rope running up mast that's used to pull the sails up is called the halyard. Just to make everything more confusing, the "proper" names for ropes on a sailboat, when they have a purpose and use, are lines, as in "Throw me a line." But most sailors use the terms interchangeably without confusing their crews, and they are equally acceptable. When you're starting out, understanding what the lines do is more important than worrying about what to call them. So the only line that you need to know to start sailing is the sheet — the primary line that adjusts the sail trim (the angle of the sail to the wind), referred to with the sail it adjusts (for example, mainsheet and jib sheet). Depending on the wind strength and the size of the sails, pulling in the mainsheet (and most of the other lines) can be a tough job. Most boats use a system of blocks, or pulleys, to make pulling in the lines that carry a lot of load easier. So you don't have to hold that mainsheet with your teeth when your arms get tired, the typical mainsheet system also has a conveniently located cleat. In a sailboat, the wind is your fuel, and the sail is your engine. So the gas pedal is the sheet, the rope that pulls in the sail and harnesses the power of the wind.

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Identifying the Points of Sail

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

The points of sail diagram looks like the face of a clock, with the wind blowing from 12:00. At the top of the clock face, from about 10:30 to 1:30, is the sector called the no-sail zone. It gets its name from the fact that it's physically impossible to sail a boat in this zone. You can call the no-sail zone whatever you like — the can't-sail zone or the anti-sail zone or, if the sun is setting and strange things are happening, the Twilight Zone. Pointing your boat anywhere else around the clock face is fair game — with the sails trimmed properly, you move forward. This "sail zone" further divides into three basic points of sail: Close-hauled: Also called beating, sailing upwind, or sailing to windward, it's the closest course to the wind that you can effectively sail on the very edge of the dreaded no-sail zone. So close-hauled is right at 10:30 and 1:30. Reaching:Anywhere between close-hauled and running. Running: The course you're steering when the wind is dead behind. Exactly 6:00 on the clock face if you're a stickler — from 5:30 to 6:30 if you're like us. More about that darn no-sail zone The no-sail zone is about 90 degrees wide — about 45 degrees on either side of the wind direction, or from 10:30 to 1:30, if you like the clock. In this zone, a sailboat can't generate power from its sails and will coast to a stop. The problem is that your sails luff (flap) even when you pull them in all the way. As you enter the no-sail zone from the sail zone, the front edge (luff) of your sails start luffing a little bit (it looks like the front of the sail is bubbling), and you start to slow down. If you turn to the very middle of the no-sail zone, your sails flap like flags, and your boat quickly coasts to a stop. In fact, if you stay in the no-sail zone too long, the wind blows your boat backward, which is called being in irons. Getting in irons happens to every first-time sailor. But the beauty of sailing is that you have a way around this apparently forbidden territory. To get to a destination directly upwind in the no-sail zone (say 12:00), you can take a zigzag route, sort of like hiking up a very steep mountain. This technique involves sailing close-hauled and periodically tacking (a maneuver where you turn the boat from 1:30 to 10:30 or vice versa). With this knowledge, you can literally sail wherever you want! You must be very clear on one point: No boat can sail a course directly into (toward) the wind. If you try to do so, the sails start luffing, no matter how tight you try to trim them — like they do when the bow is pointed into the wind at the dock. The boat glides to a stop and eventually blows backward, like any object floating on the water. Why is the no-sail zone 90 degrees? The size of the no-sail zone is slightly different for each boat. Some racing boats with very efficient sails and keels can sail as close as 30 degrees to the wind. For them, the no-sail zone is around 60 degrees wide (the angle from close-hauled on one side of the zone to close-hauled on the other). The wind strength also affects the size of the no-sail zone. In very light air, all boats go slower, and the foils (the keel, rudder, and sails) are less efficient, so you sail a wider angle to the wind than you do in stronger winds. Sailing in the zone Sailing in any direction in the sail zone is as easy as trimming the sail (by pulling in on the control rope — the sheet). Or you can just cleat the sail(tie off the control rope so that the sail stays in one place) and turn the boat away from the wind direction until the sail fills. The points of sail diagram shows boats sailing at all different angles to the wind in the sail zone. To sail fast, trim the sails to the proper angle to the wind. You pull the sails in tight when a boat is sailing close-hauled and let them out all the way when on a run.When you're reaching, the in-between point of sail, trim the sails in between. Makes sense, huh? Keeping your sails properly trimmed is important for maneuverability. Any time your boat slows down, you must be extra vigilant because a very slow boat can lose steerage on any point of sail. Don't just stop in a waterway unless you have plenty of room to regain your forward motion.

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How to Jibe and Tack when Sailing

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

You need to know the two basic sailing maneuvers — jibing and tacking — whether you're sailing the open seas or an enclosed lake. (Jibing and tacking take you away from or into the wind.) The following instructions and illustrations give you step-by-step procedures to accomplish both.

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Finding the Wind's Direction

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

The world of sailing revolves around the wind. Your boat can't go anywhere without wind (unless you fire up the engine, which, at this point, would be cheating). But before you head out to sea, you need to keep safety in mind. Whether you're an old salt or a beginning sailor, being safe on your boat is integral to enjoying the sport. Remember that no sailor should go out in conditions that exceed his or her ability. A beginner's first sail should be in light to moderate wind conditions in protected waters. Furthermore, the best and safest way to start sailing is to take instruction from an experienced and qualified individual. As you grow in experience, you can expand your limits. Assessing the wind's direction is of utmost importance to a sailor. The wind's direction is a sailor's North Star, the center of his sailboat's universe. Where he goes, how he trims his sails, whether the ride is wet or dry, fast or slow — all these depend on the wind and its direction. The wind changes all the time, and your ability to accurately sense changes in the wind speed and direction is the single most valuable skill you bring aboard a sailboat. Increasing your sensitivity and awareness of the wind is the first step in becoming a sailor. Feeling the wind The best way to track the wind is simply to feel it. Your body, especially your face, can feel the exact direction of the wind if you just let it. Here's how: Close your eyes and turn your face until you think that the wind is blowing straight at you. Rotate your head back and forth slightly until you sense that the wind is blowing equally hard across each side of your face, and the "sound" of the wind is the same in each ear. Practice "feeling" the wind whenever you can. The wind can keep shifting direction and strength. A key to sailing is staying aware of the wind's changes. Using other clues to find the wind Besides feeling the wind, you can look around and see clues to the wind's direction. A flag or wind vane on top of a mast can show the wind direction, and so can a flapping sail, which waves in the wind like a flag. On your own boat, short pieces of yarn or cassette tape tied to the shrouds, the wire rigging supporting the mast, can provide crucial information about the wind's direction. Also look for sailboats under way or anchored boats that point at the wind (except in strong currents). Another way to see the wind direction is to look at the ripples on the water. Watch the movement of a darker patch of water caused by a puff of wind. Seagulls stand facing into the wind, and cows point their behinds into the wind — but unless you're sailing next to a farm, this bit of trivia is probably useless. After you gain more experience, you're also able to assess the wind speed by looking at the water. For example, whitecaps generally begin to form on waves at 12 knots of wind speed. Being able to gauge the wind strength is important for safety, because beginning sailors should head for shore if the wind is above 12 knots (unless you have an instructor on board). If you find yourself getting overwhelmed by which rope to pull and what to call a piece of equipment, relax and just feel the wind on your face. A sailor's world revolves around the wind, and you're becoming a sailor.

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Basic Traffic Rules of the Waterway for Sailboats

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

Traffic rules prevent accidents on land — and on water. Just because you're sailing on open water doesn't mean you can disobey simple traffic rules. The rules of the water actually call for more consideration than rules of the asphalt, so bear the following conventions in mind as you sail:

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