How to Tack and Gybe a Sailboat – Sailing Basics Video Series

Every time you head out on a sailboat you will be tacking and gybing. Whether you are just learning or have solid sailing experience, this video has some excellent advice to make your tacks and gybes safer, easier, faster, and smoother.

Steps to Tack

  • Get ready to tack: go to a close haul, tighten mainsheet & get crew ready
  • Pick a point 90 degrees through the wind
  • Ask crew “ready to tack?”
  • Crew responds “ready”
  • Helmsman says “tacking” and initiates turn
  • Hold loaded jib sheet until sail backfills and then release
  • Pull on new loaded jib sheet and trim sail


Steps to Gybe

  • Get ready to gybe: go to deep broad reach, pick a point & get crew ready
  • Tighten mainsheet and center boom
  • Helmsman asks “ready to gybe?”
  • Crew responds “ready”
  • Helmsman says “gybe ho!” and initiates turn
  • When mainsail flips, ease out mainsheet and trim sail
  • Release loaded jib sheet and trim opposite jib sheet
  • Trim genoa

We already took notes!

We have included all of the things we said in the video here, so you can just copy and paste what you need for your notes.

Morning guys. We are anchored this morning in Caleta Partida in the Sea of Cortez. It’s a beautiful bay. It’s a little cloudy this morning but we’re excited. We’ve got some good wind. We’re going to head out and go for a sail.


I want to talk to you guys today about tacking and gybing. So the first thing we want to do when we’re going to tack, is the helmsman is going to want to come up to a close haul, about 40, 45 degrees to the wind. Want to make sure the mainsheet is nice and tight, boom is centered, and then we’re going to go ahead and get our crew ready to tack. Ideally, if you’ve got a couple of people onboard, it’s nice to have one person on the lazy jib sheet and one person on the loaded jib sheet.

The helmsman is going to pick a point 90 degrees from where you are. This is really important. When you come through your tack, you have a tendency to kind of lose track of where you are. So before you even start, the helmsman looks and finds a point 90 degrees away, and they know that’s roughly where the boat’s going to end up.

When we tack, we’re going to do 90 degrees, but actually, especially in light winds, we might actually have to go past 90 degrees a little bit and then come back up a little bit. But nice to know where our point is 90 degrees. So the helmsman at this point asks the crew, “Are we ready?” We want to make sure the crew is ready. The person on the loaded jib sheet can go ahead and take the jib sheet out of the jaws and hold that. It’s going to be under a lot of load, so they want to be careful not to slip or release any at this point. The person on the lazy jib sheet can get ready to start pulling in.

When everyone’s ready, they say, “Ready.” And this is when we’re going to go ahead and start our tack. The helmsman is now going to start turning into the wind and through the wind. Really important that when you start your tack that you maintain just the right amount of speed. You don’t want to go too fast or you can actually lose too much speed, and you don’t want to go too slow or you run the risk of stalling with your bow into the wind. Really important to just kind of get a feel for your boat; they’re all going to turn differently, and just to make sure you have a steady turn to bring the bow through the wind.

So the helmsman now is steering through the wind. Really, really, really important. This is probably the most common mistake we see. People will release that jib sheet or the genoa sheet too early and that sail’s going to flap, flap, flap, flap, flap all the way across the bow. Lines have a tendency to get tangled on cleats and things like that. So the most important thing about a tack is you want to make sure that the person on the loaded sheet is holding that sheet. We want the sail to backfill. That’s going to blow the bow of the boat through the wind and really help the boat pivot. And when the boat is all the way over on the other tack, they can go ahead and release.

If you have a more inexperienced crew, since there is a tendency to release that jib sheet too early, we like to actually have the helmsman tell people, “Release” or yell released at that point so they know exactly when to release. With more experienced crew, that’s not necessary.

So when the helmsman yells, “Release,” the person on the loaded jib sheet, there’s going to be a lot of tension there, so really carefully, they want to flip off that line and just let it go. Watch your fingers because that line is going to be flying out. When this person has done releasing, just to help out, they can grab the winch handle if they need to and go assist the person on the new sheet, have that ready so they can crank in that sail. The person here can be looking at the sail, looking at telltales, trim in that genoa, nicely and off you go on your new point of sail.


So gybing is a little more risky. We’re going to talk about how to do it correctly. When you gybe, the biggest risk is that you do it too quickly and you have an accidental gybe. In an accidental gybe, that boom comes crashing across the boat. You run the risk of ripping your mainsail. We’ve actually seen the boom rip off of the mast at the gooseneck. Not a good idea. Can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage, so you really want to know what you’re doing when you’re gybing, and just a few things are really going to help you. The key to a good gybe is preparation and communication. For our gybe, we want the helmsman to start off at a deep broad reach, almost 150 degrees to the wind. They can get the boat there. First thing they want to do is pick a point about 90 degrees again, kind of like a tack, to see roughly where they’re going to end up. Just so that when they do the gybe they know that’s where the boat’s going to be pointing.

So the helmsman is ready. Next, we want someone on the mainsheet, and this is the person that is critical to all of this. The person on the mainsheet is going to be controlling that boom. So what they want to do here before you even start, is they want to start winching in the boom to get that boom centered. A mistake though we’ll see a lot is the helmsman will start turning all the way down through the wind, and the person on the winch is frantically trying to winch in the boom and they can’t keep up, and the boom comes crashing across. Take your time. Have the person on the mainsheet. Go ahead and center that boom before you even start your gybe.

If you have extra crew, get some people now on the jib sheets to operate that. The reality is with a gybe, we want our focus to be completely on the mainsail. Don’t really worry if you’re shorthanded, don’t worry about the genoa. You can do that at the very end. It’s the main that we’re going to focus on.

The helmsman now asks, “Is everyone ready to gybe?” Then they can say, “Yep, we’re ready.” Now the helmsman says, “Gybe ho” and kind of start your gybe. The helmsman now is turning smoothly downwind so that the stern of the boat is going through the wind, and now the person on the mainsheet, what they’re going to be doing is watching that sail. The sail’s going to flip from one side to the other. As soon as the sail flips, they can start easing that mainsheet out and let the boom all the way out so that it’s turned for a new broad reach.

Once your boom is all the way out for broad reach, now you can worry about your genoa release on this side, pull it on the other side and trim your genoa for a broad reach. That’s how you do a good gybe.

So we recommend, guys, practice your gybes in light winds in the beginning. Way easier, and lot less risk. You won’t do as much damage to your boat. Slowly work your way up to do it in stronger winds. If you follow these steps, it’s just going to make your downwind sailing that much more enjoyable.

About the Video Series

New to sailing? We created this comprehensive basic sailing video series just for you! We know how difficult it is to find solid answers to your questions related to sailing fundamentals. As professional sailing instructors, we get it, and since we cover these topics regularly with our students, we knew we could help you too. We created these Learn How to Sail:Sailing Basics Videos, to be your ultimate sailing 101 video series. In them we cover monohull sailing for beginners from anchoring to steps to recovering a man overboard, all the way up to perfect sail trim!



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