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Tack (sailing)

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Tack (sailing)

In sailing, the word tack has several meanings:

  • a part of the sail,
  • a description of how the boat is aligned with the wind, and
  • a manoeuver that turns the boat between starboard and port tack. (see Tacking and the related jibing )


The tack is the lower corner of the sail's leading edge. On a sloop rigged sailboat, the mainsail tack is connected to the mast and the boom at the gooseneck. On the same boat, a foresail tack is clipped to the deck and forestay.


This vessel is on port tack.

Tack is the alignment of a sailing vessel with respect to the wind when moving upwind: that is, when the vessel's bow is pointed within 90 degrees of the wind. If the wind is from starboard, the vessel is on "starboard tack", and if from port, on "port tack".

However, a better rule to use is to look at what side of the boat the sail is on. If the sail is on the port side of the boat you are on starboard tack and vice versa. For example, in smaller boats you will often let your sail past 90 degrees on a downwind leg and reverse the flow on the sail. This is called running by the lee. In this case the wind is coming over the port side of the boat but you are still on starboard tack because the sail is on the port side. Therefore this method of determining your tack overrules the first method described.

The "rules of the road" for ships and boats declare that when the courses of two sailing vessels converge, the vessel on port tack must give way to a vessel on starboard tack. For this purpose, port and starboard tack include any position with the wind to that side, whether moving upwind or downwind. If a vessel is fore-and-aft-rigged, the actual wind position is overridden by the position of the boom (the mainsail boom in a vessel with multiple masts), which is assumed to be on the side opposite the wind, even if the vessel is running straight downwind or is in the act of tacking; that is, if the boom is to port the vessel is on starboard tack, and vice versa. There are exceptions to the requirement to give way: in particular, if the vessel on port tack does not have sea-room to tack or maneuver out of the way.

See also


  • Rousmaniere, John, The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, Simon & Schuster, 1999
  • Chapman Book of Piloting (various contributors), Hearst Corporation, 1999
  • Herreshoff, Halsey (consulting editor), The Sailor’s Handbook, Little Brown and Company
  • Seidman, David, The Complete Sailor, International Marine, 1995
  • Jobson, Gary, Sailing Fundamentals, Simon & Schuster, 1987
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