Lesson 3


This Introductory lesson is designed to help familiarize you with basic aspects of sailing.


Right of Way Rules

Whenever two boats try to occupy the same water at the same time, a right of way situation exists. When this happens, one boat is obligated to give way to the other. The boat that is supposed to give way is Called the give way vessel and the other one is called the stand on vessel The stand on vessel should keep to its course so the skipper of the give way vessel can get out of the way without collision. There are specific rules to use in determining which vessel is which.

Motor vs. Sail: A motor boat is any vessel using an engine regardless of whether it is a sailboat or a motorboat. A sailboat is considered to be a motorboat even if the SailS are up as long as the engine is running. A sailboat that is sailing generally has the right of way over motorboats. But there are some exceptions.

  • Large motor vessels are given the right of way in channels where it is difficult for them to maneuver. In the case of ships, the whole San Francisco Bay is considered to be channeled so that ships always have right of way in the Bay.
  • In narrow channels such as Redwood Creek, motor vessels as small as 65 feet may be limited in maneuverability enough to make them the "stand on" vessel.
  • Motor vessels that are restricted in maneuverability due to the special job they are doing are "stand on" This could be anything from towing nets to dredging, pile driving, or tending buoys.
  • Motor vessels don't have to give way to sail boats that are motoring when the rules for motorboats give the motor vessel right of way. (When motoring, a sailboat is treated like any other motorboat.
  • If a motor vessel is experiencing some kind of difficulty restricting its maneuverability, it is given right of way.
  • If a sailboat is overtaking a power boat, the power boat has the right of way.

Passing - When any boat is passing another boat, the passing boat is the give way boat and the boat being passed is the stand on boat.

Head On - When two motor boats approach each other head on, both boats turn to the right and pass each other port to port.

Crossing - When motor boats paths cross, the boat on the other's right is stand on and the one on the other's left is the give way boat This is like two cars coming to a 4-way stop except that a give way boat would alter course to go behind the other boat.

Sailboats - When encountering sailboats that are sailing, motorboats generally should give way. If you are motoring in a sailboat, you should give way to sailboats that are sailing.

Rules for Sailboats

Port Tack vs. Starboard Tack

Anytime Two Sailboats Are On Opposite Tacks - The Boat On Starboard Tack Has The Right Of Way

Windward vs. Leeward

Anytime Sailboats Are on the Same Tack The Boat Most To Leeward Has Right of Way

Overtaking - The overtaking vessel should give way regardless of tack or whether sailing or motoring. The notable exception to this rule is in the case of large vessels that are confined to the channel due to draft. Even at minimum speed, ships usually move faster than sailboats, therefore you should keep an eye out behind your boat as well as ahead.

Overtaking Vessels

Overtaking Boats Give Way to Boats Being Overtaken

General Rules - Whenever there is a risk of collision and it appears that the give way boat is not taking appropriate action, it is the duty of the stand on boat to avoid the collision by altering course. Having the right of way is a poor excuse for having a collision - alterations in course to avoid a collision should be made obvious enough so that the other skipper can see what you are doing. Sometimes you can tell if you are on a collision course by the compass bearing to the other vessel. If the bearing remains steady, collision is imminent unless someone changes course.

Sometimes it is difficult to see in all directions on a sailboat, especially when sailing close hauled. The jib can block 25% of view from the cockpit. The area of obstruction occurs on the leeward side from straight ahead to abeam. It just so happens that when you are close hauled or close reaching, sailboats close hauled or close reaching on the opposite tack will remain within this blind spot sometimes right until the time of collision. It's important to have a crew member keep an eye out to leeward when ever the jib obstructs your view.


Man Overboard

The purpose of the man overboard drill is to help you and your crew practice the maneuvers that you will need to do in the event of a real man overboard situation. With practice, you will be able react quickly and do the right things the first time. This can make the difference between a successful rescue and an unsuccessful one.


  • Shout "MAN OVERBOARD" to let the crew know what has happened so everyone onboard can help.
  • Throw some kind of FLOTATION into the water to help the victim keep afloat You can use boat cushions, life jackets, life ring, or even a beer chest - whatever is handy. Extra flotation will not only make it easier for the victim to stay afloat, it will help you see the victim. It can be very hard to see someone in the water when there are waves or when visibility is poor. Try to throw the flotation as close to the victim as possible without hitting him.
  • Assign someone to be a spotter so that you don't lose track of the victim. This will give the skipper a chance to pay attention to what must be done onboard.
  • If it's going to be too much trouble to control the jib, LOWER THE JIB and secure it to the deck. This will also help the boat stay put while pulling the victim back aboard. In a real emergency you can let the jib flog by releasing the sheets. On large boats you will have to SECURE THE VICTIM with a line while getting ready to haul the victim aboard with a halyard or other line.

Objective - The primary objective is to get the boat situated so that you can make a final approach towards the victim on a close reach or close hauled. This way you can ease the sails and slow the boat down to a stop in order to get the victim aboard. It will take some practice to get the boat to stop where you want it to stop.

Always remain calm and orderly. Confusion will lead to mistakes that can make the difference between success and failure. Also you don't want anyone else to get hurt or go overboard.

Maneuvering into Position - First note the wind direction. Then pick the victim up on the leeward (down wind) side of the boat There are three benefits to doing it this way.

  1. This protects the victim from the wind and the waves.
  2. The leeward side is usually the lowest side to the water. Using this side will make it easier to get the victim back onboard.
  3. The boat will tend to drift toward the victim. If you don't get close enough to him on the first try, the boat will drift closer to him.

The Final Approach - The Gybe Approach The fastest way to return to the victim when sailing on a close or a beam reach is by Gybing. Continue going your original course for a boat length or so and then bear away into a Gybe. After the Gybe is completed, keep turning in the same direction until you can approach the victim on a close reach or close hauled. Before you reach your objective, ease the sails so the boat will slow down. By adjusting the sails on the final approach, you can bring the boat to a stop along side the person in the water. You may have to take the sails down so the boat won't try to sail away while you're working at getting the victim aboard.

In heavy weather it may be too dangerous to attempt a Gybe. If this is the case you may have to use another maneuver such as the figure eight which will be described in this section.

The Tacking Approach - When on a broad reach or a run, the most direct method of returning to the spot where someone falls overboard is the tacking approach. On a broad reach, continue your course for two boat lengths or so and come about. This will leave you lined up for a close reaching approach. On a run you may have to come up to a beam reach before tacking. If you cover about as much distance on a beam reach as you did running, you will be set up for a close reaching approach again.


The Figure Eight or "Q"

Turn. In heavy wind conditions or any time it isn't safe to Gybe, you can use the figure eight maneuver. This technique is also useful when you are short handed. If necessary you can release the jib sheets so you don't have to bother with the jib. Although this is hard on the Sail and should only be done in an emergency. Bear away to a beam or broad reach until you are across the wind from the victim. Then tack and continue to bear away again until you can ilne up the boat to approach the victim on a close reach. Pick up the victim as you would in the other maneuvers.



There are hundreds of kinds on knots that can be used on sailboats but you can do almost anything by learning six basic ones. (here's a video on tying 5 of them :-)   https://youtu.be/AI0GO86KmsQ

Reef Knot (Square Knot) - The reef knot is useful for Sail ties when reefing or furling the Sail. To tie this knot follow the steps in the illustrations from left to right.


Round Turn and 2 Half Hitches - This knot can be used almost any time you want to tie something to something else. It is often used to tie fenders to a stanchion or lifeline. Although it won't keep a line from slipping on a spar it stay tied even when jiggled. To tie this knot follow the steps in the illustrations from left to right.


Bowline - The bowline, called the king of knots, is used to tie an eye onto the end on a line. It is used for attaching the jib sheets to the jib. A correctiy made bowline is very secure, yet easy to untie. To tie this knot follow the steps in the illustrations from left to right.


Figure Eight - This knot is useftil as a stopper knot. Stoppers or put on the end of sheets to keep them from running through the fairleads. To tie this knot follow the steps in the illustrations from left to right.


Clove Hitch - The clove hitch is good for tying lines around solid objects. One use is in tying the tiller up to the main sheet. It may come undone if jiggled. To tie this knot follow the steps in the illustrations from left to right.


The Sheet Band - The sheet bend is use to the two similar types and size of lines together.  This is particularly handy when you need a longer line for things like mooring, etc.  


The Cleat Hitch - The cleat hitch is the way a line is secured to a deck cleat. To tie this knot follow the steps in the illustrations from left to right.