What Does "Sailing By The Lee" Mean?

What Does "Sailing By The Lee" Mean? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

October 3, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Sailing by the lee can be a useful tool when the conditions are just right for sailing
  • Keeping the boat balanced can lead to efficient sailing when sailing by the lee
  • If used incorrectly you risk control of your vessel and reduce your visibility
  • This may pose a challenge to new sailors so practice without other vessels around
  • Always keep in mind your surroundings and how sailing by the lee can help

Sailing often has plenty of interesting terms to describe ways of moving or actions. But what does sailing by the lee mean?

Sailing by the lee is also known as running downwind and involves sailing with the wind coming from behind the boat. This position has the mainsail on one side and the jib or genoa on the other with the boom out on the opposite side compared to upwind sailing.

In my experience sailing by the lee is one of the easiest ways to sail to gain the best performance out of your boat. You can also change your course easier as the wind shifts. However it will take some practice to perfect it.


Table of contents

Why Sailing by the Lee is Great

Sailing by the lee can sometimes be referred to as bearing off past dead downwind and has plenty of advantages for those wanting to take effect of the wind. If you have enough sailing experience then this is a great tactic to use to make sailing more efficient. If you are new to sailing by the lee you should consider sailing on a smaller boat such as a Laser to get a feel for this maneuver.

Keeping Downwind Progress Efficient

By positioning the leeward boat sails on the leeward side of a boat it improves downwind movement by using wind to its advantage. This makes it more effective when sailing downwind since it powers the boat for downwind sailing and helps with the boat’s tack determined progression.

Balancing Your Boat

A leeward boat simply brings balance when sailing by the lee. It can be used to balance the boat and prevent excessive tilting when the wind comes from behind. By adjusting the sails in this way the boat can remain more upright in such conditions.

Moving Ahead of the Wind

Sailing by the lee can be used when sailing downwind to obtain control. This is where the sails are positioned on the lee side to maximize wind catch and maintain control.

Easier Time When Jibing

If you are wanting to have an easier time jibing then sailing by the lee should be employed during sailing to facilitate a smoother and safer transition when preparing to jibe. Jibing involves changing the boat's direction while sailing downwind and utilizing sailing by the lee can help achieve this maneuver more effectively.

Favorable Conditions with Light Wind Sailing

Sailing by the lee can be used in light wind conditions to maximize sail area and capture more wind when sailing. This method is particularly helpful when there is not sufficient wind for sailing on a broad or close reach.

Drawbacks to Sailing by the Lee

Sailing by the lee is a compelling tactic that demands skill and careful consideration of sail trim and boat balance. Ignoring potential issues associated with this maneuver can lead to problems.

Sailing by the lee can be beneficial in specific scenarios especially when sailing directly downwind in light to moderate winds. Nevertheless it carries potential risks so it is crucial to exercise caution and possess the required skills and experience for safe use. Below are some drawbacks to using the boat’s leeward side if used incorrectly.

Potential Damage of Jib

Sailing by the lee raises the chance of inadvertently moving the jibe. This occurs when the wind in an instant will shift the mainsail from one side of the boat to the other. This can be risky and potentially cause damage to the rigging or an uncontrolled change in course.

Risk of Control

Sailing by the lee particularly in strong winds can pose difficulties in boat control and increase the risk of broaching. This is where the boat unexpectedly turns sideways to the wind and waves that make it possible result in a capsize.

Reduction in Visibility

Sailing by the lee can obstruct the forward view since the mainsail lies in the way and make it difficult to see. This creates a safety concern in areas with obstacles such as other vessels or changing weather conditions.

Not Ideal Sail Shape

When sailing by the lee and the wind is coming directly from the side it can lead to an inefficient sail shape and reduced boat speed due to the challenge of maintaining optimal sail trim. It will take some practice to get it right but do not give up and continue to practice sailing.

Lack of Points of Sail

Sailing by the lee is most effective when the wind is directly behind the boat or the leeward side. This limits the flexibility to change direction without adjusting the sails and causes you to do more work while underway.

Challenge to New Sailors

Sailing by the lee demands you have precise steering and sail handling skills. Novice sailors might struggle to control the boat effectively with this method and make them more vulnerable to associated risks. You may not know how to starboard tack advantage your situation and the wind blowing could affect your ability to handle it.

How Do You Sail by the Lee?

Sailing by the lee is a pretty straightforward task. There are just a few simple steps to pay attention to but they are key to your success while sailing. Failure to follow these steps could result in damage to your boat or others so consider practicing in an open area and take your time.

To sail downwind effectively you will need to begin by positioning your boat directly with the wind behind you. Next you need to extend your sails fully to harness the wind's power.

You should gradually maneuver your boat to sail laterally across the wind's direction. As you shift with the wind and the movement of the water you should move from one side of your boat to the other to switch the sails to the opposite side.

The final step is to make sure to tighten your sails until they are tight without any slack. This helps in optimizing their shape and efficiency for a smooth downwind sail. Once complete you should be sailing by the lee.

What Does "Sailing By The Lee" Mean?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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