Preventing an autotack in a sailboat

In continuing our learn to sail series of blogs we discuss the annoying problem of autotacking.

Scenario – A gust of wind comes ripping through and causes the sailboat to round up and autotack or you’ve given the helm to a novice, they’re not paying attention and sail too close to the wind and they autotack.  How annoying now you’re heading in a direction you don’t want to and have to re-tack the sailboat back. Worse yet – if you’re in a race you’ve probably lost 200 ft. And in other circumstances it can be dangerous because you have essentially lost control of the boat and  especially if there is high traffic, you might tack right into another boat.

To explain, an autotack is the process when the sailboat tacks over with out your permission. Most often caused from a severe roundup.

Here’s a cool little trick whereby you can prevent most of them.

Once the sailboat’s center line has crossed the line between it and the point where the wind is coming from, your head sail is going to back wind and begin to really push your sailboat further around to the other side. Thus you now have a huge force at the front of the boat pushing it  right around to the other side. Once this happens, it’s all over – you’re going to autotack.

Preventing an autotack of a sailboat

Preventing an autotack of a sailboat

So … here is your prevention technique. As the boat comes up to the line of wind or even if it is through the line of wind,  no problem, simply release the head sail sheet. This prevents the wind from back winding your head sail. Since all forces to round the boat up or to push the sailboat around to the other side have now disappeared, there is only one force left on the boat and that is your rudder going through the water. Since you have head way you can just steer the boat back to it’s original position. As the wind come back to the original side, just tighten up the head sail and go on your merry way.

Sounds all good in theory but does it really work? Yes as long as you are quick with the release, it works almost every time.

The NauticEd online sailing school is full of tips like this. And once you’ve registered for a sailing course you can always comeback to retake any sailing lesson with out cost. Learn to sail with NauticEd.

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My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.
Grant Headifen
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Last updated on February 1st, 2023