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Home / Sailing / Sail Training / Sailing training tips - for beginners or as a refresher... / Sail Training - Light Winds

Sail Training - Light Winds

Keep the boat moving

  • To help with the calm, still, and light wind days, here are some tips to help you when sailing in light winds - whether that is on a Wednesday evening or a Sunday. Keep the wind moving over the sails. If the wind is moving across the sails, then it is most likely that you can take advantage of that wind and get the boat moving forwards.
      1. Flat sails are good. If the sail is too full (e.g. the outhaul is too loose), very light winds won't have enough power in them to sweep over the full belly of the sail - so the wind will flow into the sail and then just give up and hang around not going anywhere. Flatter sails allows the wind to flow from the front of the sail all the way to the back much better.
      2. Little or no kicker. Similarly, if the kicker is set up to be too tight: this will tighten up the leach very nicely for medium winds - but in the light stuff you want to get the wind off the back edge of the sail as quickly as possible to allow more wind to arrive. So a fairly tight outhaul (flat sails) and a loose kicker (open leach) is needed. More experienced sailors use tell-tales on the leech (back edge) of the sail in order to be able to set these controls and to allow the wind to exit from the sail correctly.

Setting the sails

  • The main sheet should very rarely be cleated (its only light winds! I am sure you can hold onto it!). Typically you should be squeezing the main in to take advantage of any power you might have - but then releasing it again by 3 or 4 inches before you squeeze it for too long / or too much and stop the wind flowing across the sail. If you haven't adjusted the mainsheet in the last 30 seconds you are probably loosing out compared to other boats.
  • The jib.
  • In strong winds it can be hard for the crew to pull the jib in tight enough. But in very light winds it can be much too easy! Too tight on the jib sheet can squeeze the slot (between the jib and the back of the main) too much - and if you stop the wind going through the slot the boat will just grind to a halt. Remember, the wind hasn't got any power when it is light - it is very easy to stop it flowing, and very hard to get it flowing again. The jib might need to be eased by 4 or 5 inches for 2 to 3 seconds to get the wind flowing across it again; while easing it by 1 inch for 1 second is all that is needed to keep it flowing, as long as you adjust it in time. You may need to adjust the jib every 30 to 40 seconds (in time with the adjustments to the main). Ease the sheet to keep the wind flowing, then in tight to harness the power. This is not pumping (which would be adjustments of 1 to 3 feet), but just trimming the sails to take advantage of the small differences in wind strength.


  • Spinnakers (especially asymetrics) can be more of a brake than a useful addition when the wind goes very light. Asymetric spinnakers only work if the wind is flowing across them - which can mean turning so far of course that you can never make up for the extra distance. Having the kite up also gives you something extra in the boat to concentrate on - rather than having your head out of the boat looking for wind. So keep the kites down, out of the way and dry.


  • The winner will be the first person to hoist, without rocking the boat too much, and get the kite filling in that small gust of wind you have all been waiting for! Sit forward! The helm should be touching the mast, in almost every sort of boat. And the crews still need to be in front of the helm! I have seen an RS400 overtake 5 others, with the crew lying across the foredeck (although that might have been because we were watching and waiting to see him slip into the water as soon as the first gust arrived!). Remember that Lasers have a rule about no part of the helms body in front of the mast - but other classes don't!

What is happening elsewhere? What is going to happen?

  • Get your head (and especially your eyes) out of the boat. Look around you all the time. Check your burgee - is it pointing the same as other peoples (which could indicate some wind coming from a different direction)? Check the other boats - are they pointing at the same angle at different places on the lake? Are the flags at the club house indicating some wind? Are those ripples near the motorway, or just a swan? Any smoke from bonfires indicating air movement? Typically, you want to sail towards the wind patches - as long as the wind is still there when you get there! Once you get some wind, stay in the wind for as long as possible, even if it takes you off course. But keep an eye open everywhere for other boats getting wind elsewhere.

What does the forecast say?

  • If it is expected to pick up from the south (e.g. a sea breeze), keep an eye open near pylon island. If its a high pressure area moving eastwards, check near the trees at buoy 11. Keep an eye on the windmill (both direction and speed) - this can indicate moving air higher up, which will come down to the lake soon.

What does 5mph really mean?

  • If the wind is very light (2mph) then a small gust to 5mph means more than a doubling of the wind speed - well worth chasing! The lake is about 1/2 mile wide: so a 5 mph gust you have spotted on the other side of the lake blowing straight towards you will take 5 or 6 minutes to reach you - which is plenty of time for the good people to position themselves to get the new wind first and to sail away from the less observant!
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