Sailing by the Luff

This question was posed to us on our NauticEd Sailing facebook page

Well My Uncle invited us out to see the tall ships on parade in Long beach harbor… but we sailed outside the breakwater, then headed back in. At one point I got behind the helm of the boat to get the feel of steering the boat. And my Uncle tells me to “Steer by the Luff of the sail” I was a little bewildered by this since I’ve never heard the term before. So, I hope this will be explained here!

When I learned to fly – the instructor’s first introduction for me to flying was to teach me to fly the plane straight and level.  He did not explain any thing else about flying speed and stalling  or turning or direction or anything – it was two full sessions on straight and level flying. The same needs to be done with learning to sail. Teaching from the outset to sail the luff of the sail is a bit bewildering for the new student. The best way to start some one new at the helm is to get them to point exactly at a point on land and have them continue to sail to that point. After a while a new point can be sailed to then a new point. It’s important to develop “straight and level” sailing with a new student. Sailing by the luff of the sail is too advanced for a first timer. Sailing the luff of the sail is a combination of sail set and boat heading to have the sail set at it’s most efficient setting. But with out understanding all the wind flow dynamics first – how can a new sailor be expected to understand this. The theory needs to be shown on paper – or better yet using animated graphics. NauticEd’s basic sail trim course shows the dynamics of wind flow over the sail. It’s some thing that can not be efficiently taught on a boat on the water. You might send the basic sail trim course link on our site to your uncle.  Not to take anything away from him at all – it’s awesome that he gave you the helm. I think if you understood a little of the theory first – you would have grasped the practical goings on very quickly.

Please take our Free Sailing Course on Basic Sail Trim and tell as many people about it as possible especially people with boats – if they could have people go through this course before they took them sailing it would help a lot.


  • Grant Headifen

    My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.

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Last updated on July 11th, 2022