Wind Sailing Guide: How To Predict The Wind When Sailing


Any sailor knows that the most important elements of wind sailing are reading the wind direction and the wind speed. Understanding how to work with these allows you to do proper trim and to adjust and readjust the sails accordingly.

But the most efficient mariners can predict the movement of the wind and make adjustments before the moving air catches their sails. This enables them to get to their destination, faster and safer. So put on your sailing boots and get ready to learn a new way to sail!

Tools for predicting the wind

Boats that are designed for racing or long-distance sailing feature sophisticated equipment. These are usually electronic in nature and are connected to a display screen on the cockpit. The display is fed by sensors that are either connected with wires or are wireless.

This equipment does an excellent job of providing sailors with just the right information to make worthy decisions. The good thing is that the prices of such electronic wind sensors are going down. However, they still have a long way to go before the average sailor can easily access them and use them in their sailboats. This is why sailors must learn all points of sailing.

That said, the recreational sailor doesn’t need to break the bank to be able to predict wind direction and speed when wind sailing. Simple tools mounted on the mast will work just fine. These include a wind meter or a wind vane. This will basically be an arrowhead that points to the direction that the wind will be coming from. However, it’s important to note that it is the apparent wind direction and not the true wind direction. The apparent wind direction will be affected by the change in direction of the boat.

A masthead fly will also assist the sailor in figuring out how close the boat can get to the wind during close hauling.

For small to medium-sized boats that do not have a masthead fly, they may still provide sailors with good information from the telltales on the shrouds. This can really help the sailor in determining wind direction. While it is possible to buy telltales, they will work pretty much the same way as the small lengths of yarns on the shrouds on either side.

Something to always keep in mind is to read the telltales that are on the windward sides of the boat. The ones on the leeward sides are easily affected by sail and may give the wrong information.

Off the boat wind indicators

When on the water, you may notice that the wind is changing direction rapidly and it sometimes gets difficult to tell the overall direction of the wind. In this case, it’s a good idea to watch out for other sailing wind indicators that are located onshore.

You may also want to check out flags and smoke from vessels that you are sharing the water with. Instead of adjusting your sails with every slight change in the wind direction, these sailing wind indicators will help you catch the overall direction and speed of the wind.

Always observe the sailing rules of the road when sailing in an area where there are other vessels.

Yet another great way to tell the changes in wind direction and speed is to check the surface of the water. When the depth is the same the results are even more reliable. With the increase in wind speed and strength, the waves will grow and vice versa. This means that you can spot an oncoming wave and expect the wind speed to rise.

That said, it is much more reliable to read the surface of the water when the wind speed is light. Those that love to race small boats will particularly enjoy reading the surface of the water during light winds.

When the day is calm, take a look around you. While the water will remain relatively calm except for the small rises and swells, any increasing wind speed will result in ripples. You can spot these from a distance away. You may also notice the water becoming darker.

Using a weather chart

The other name for weather charts is synoptic charts or surface pressure charts. Reading these before heading out sailing can be a great way to predict the wind direction and speed. They will tell you the most likely state of the weather in the area that you plan to sail in. This will allow you to make the right decisions beforehand.

On the weather chart, you are going to notice the circular lines. These are called isobars. Where they join, they signify areas that have similar biometric pressure. Always keep in mind that moving air travels from regions of high pressure to regions of low pressure. Where there is a great difference in the pressure you can expect that the winds here will be strong. In such areas, you will greatly benefit from wearing a sailing jacket.

When the isobars are drawn close together, the winds in these regions are strong while those that are further apart mean that the winds are much calmer.

When you want to predict the direction of the wind using the weather chart, note that the winds will move in a clockwise manner in high-pressure areas. In low-pressure areas winds move in an anticlockwise direction. You can therefore use the isobars to tell the wind direction as well as the wind speed. This is when you are wind sailing in the northern hemisphere.

On the weather charts, you will also notice lines that have semicircles and triangles. These are the fronts. The semi-circles show warm fronts and the triangles show cold fronts. You can tell the direction of the front by looking at which way the semi-circles and the triangles are pointing.

Sometimes a cold front and a warm front will meet resulting in an occluded front. On the chart, you will see lines with semi-circles that overlap.

Then there are black lines that have no triangles or semicircles in them. These are troughs and show unstable areas where showers will often form.

It is always a good idea to print and carry the weather charts before heading out to sea. Among other gear that you may need are sailing knives.

Tips for reading the wind


Predicting the wind means that you will need to always be proactive. The wind is constantly changing and by the time you feel it on your hair and neck, the change has already happened.

Your eyes will need to be focused ahead of the boat. It is understandable during days when you simply cannot predict the direction of the wind. Wind patterns are at times never easy to predict and even the most experienced sailors will get confused sometimes. In such cases, watch out for other clues to help clarify the situation.

Sailing gloves will help you keep your hands safe if you prefer to sail more traditionally.

Also, you must be able to compare the wind impact on other factors such as current. For example, will you make your turn based on the wind or based on the current? The wind in this situation is more important. This is because any slight changes in direction and speed can result in a huge impact.

As the velocity of the wind increases, you will notice the water becoming darker. This is because of the reflection of the sun’s rays.

However, keep in mind that the changes in current can also cause the water to appear darker. Also, when the water doesn’t have too many ripples and appears calm, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t any wind as sometimes the moving air will be just above the surface of the water.

Globo Surf Overview

There are multiple factors that a sailor will need to consider to be efficient at wind sailing. Changes in wind speed and wind direction will be indicated by different factors such as darkening water and bigger waves. To get an overall picture of the region you are sailing in, it’s a good idea to print out the latest version of a weather chart and use available sailing wind indicators.

More Sail Reviews:


  1. How to read the weather chart,
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!