How To Read The Wind When Sailing

How To Read The Wind When Sailing | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Understanding wind direction is a sailor's medium. If you would be a sailor, you must learn how to read or determine the wind direction during sailing. It is a rare ability in the 21st century because most sailors depend on technical gadgets to understand the direction and speed of the wind.

Winds are named for the quarter from which they usually blow such as a wind blowing from north to south is called north wind. But the direction of the wind is not always the same so as you sail, you will need to keep track of where it is coming from.


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How to read the wind when sailing?

The most important aspects of wind sailing are reading the wind direction and wind speed. The direction of the wind is like a sailor's NorthStar. Clues to the wind are always around us. Waves are pushed along by the wind but only the small ripples ( series of small waves) on the surface which are always perpendicular to the direction of the wind helps to read it. There are many ways to determine the wind direction, many sailors use fancy electronic gadgets and some others use traditional methods.

Traditional methods

  • A wet finger

The sailor himself is the best indicator. To determine the direction of the wind by using a wet finger is one of the easiest ways. Wet your finger and hold it up. The side of the finger that will dry faster and feel cold as compared to another side shows the direction of the wind.

  • Wind on your face

This is another method used to determine wind direction. Keep your face towards the wind's general direction and turn slowly from one side to another, as you turn around you will feel the wind hitting your face and the wind hitting on your face head-on helps to find the rough idea of where the wind is blowing from. To make your reading more accurate, you have to rely on your ears. If the wind is blowing from the left side, the left ear will hear more wind noise from the right ear. At the point when you hear the same amount of wind noise in both the ears then this will show that you are facing towards the wind. It does not work if you are standing behind a dodger or cloth you have to be in a free area where you can feel the unobstructed wind on your face.

  • Install a Yarn

Make your own wind indicators on the boat. Install a yarn to the shrouds as high as possible. The yarn will stream in the direction of the wind.

  • Reading the sails

The sails use the wind and also determine in which direction the wind is blowing. When gripping too strong, the luff (the edge of a fore-and-aft sail next to the mast) will curl towards the boat. This will result in make a large area on the luff which is swelling in rather than out. If you are sheeted all the way means that you are aiming as far upwind as possible.

Technical methods

  • Electronic Masthead Wind Sensors

These are simply a wind vane attached or linked to a potentiometer. When the wind vane moves towards the wind, its position automatically turns into an electrical signal which displays on the gauge in the cockpit. These gauges are so simple like a needle pointing towards the wind direction over an illustration of the vessel or a digital screen that calculates true wind and obvious wind direction. These instruments will displace all the guesswork from the sailing and shows from where the wind is exactly coming from in relation to the boat.

  • Windex

This device is an alternative to an electrical instrument. This is a highly sensitive device that works on the same principle as the wind point but without any complexity of electronics. Many boats use both the Windex and the wind points. One is placed on the front of the mast and another is back on the mast. This provides a great mechanical backup in case the electronic system failed. The boxes and the wind vane of the Windex are painted with high visibility paint. This will help in determining where the wind is exactly coming from.

No doubt, both of the instruments work wonderfully, but as you all know everything has its own hidden drawbacks. The electronic sensors may be exposed to elements and will eventually be failed. This will make the combination of Windex and wind point more popular. The drawback of Windex is that you have to look continuously towards the masthead to read it, this will hurt your neck. So, you will need a hole or window cut to see the masthead from the helm.

There is one other method through which we can read the wind which is "The Weather Chart"

This is also known as the synoptic chart or surface pressure chart. We can read these charts before going out to sailing and this is also a great way to predict the wind speed and the direction of the wind. On the weather charts, there are circular lines called Isobar. Their joining point signifies the area of the same biometric pressure. The wind is always moving from high-pressure to low-pressure regions. When the isobars are close together the wind in these areas is stronger and when they are far apart than the wind in these areas is calmer. when you predict the wind direction from the weather chart note that in high-pressure areas the wind will move in a clockwise direction and in low-pressure areas the wind will move in an anti-clockwise direction.

If you are stuck in a storm and the masthead sensors are blown off. No one is there to tell you where the wind is blowing from. So, in that case, you have to move towards traditional methods to figure out the wind direction.

How To Read The Wind When Sailing
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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