How Fast Can a Sailboat Go? Let’s Find Out from a Different Angle

Hello and welcome to [globalmarinerenewable.com], the place where true sailors go to learn and find inspiration. In this post, we will go through a question that has baffled many sailors for a long time – how fast can a sailboat sail? Well, keep reading to discover the answer from a well-calculated angle.

How sailboat speed is measured

The knot is the nautical measurement of speed, and it’s based on the earth’s circumference. 1 knot = 1.15 mph, approximately. Based on stats from the World Sailing Speed Council, France’s Alain Thebault holds the world record for the fastest sailboat speed, at 41.69 knots (that’s around 48 mph). Considering his boat’s only power source was the wind, 41.69 knots was pretty fast.

What does a sailboat’s speed depend on?

There are several factors affecting a sailboat’s speed, like the size of the sailboat and its design or purpose.

For example, a sleek racing sailboat meant for racing will, without doubt, be much faster than a big, bulky one that is designed for other purposes like carrying cargo.

The other major factor that affects a sailboat’s speed is the wind; after all, that’s the source of power. You might, for instance, wonder whether a sailboat moving at 48 mph indicates the wind is blowing that fast, right? It’s probably not. As a sailboat moves, it creates lift and creates its additional wind, which is termed the apparent wind.

Wind and sailing speed

First, you got to realize that there are 2 types of sailing winds – the true wind and the apparent wind. The true wind is the one felt while one stands at the dock and it’s the wind that creates waves in the water.

The apparent wind, on the other hand, is the one felt as the boat moves; it’s a mixture of the true wind and the wind created by the boat’s movement, and it’s the one powering the boat.

When the two winds are combined, the boat is able to beat the wind (the true wind), and that’s how one is able to sail at 48 mph.

But, it’s not just about combining the two winds. For the sailboat to beat the true wind, the apparent wind needs to blow at an angle to the boat. That way, there’s simulation of lift, and the boat’s speed is accelerated.

How to Increase Sailing Speed

If you participate in sailing sports, then you must naturally be seeking ways of increasing your speed, right? Or, perhaps, you just want to sail faster and beat personal records. Here are a few ways via which you can do that:

1. Install more sails

You may have noticed that some sailboats have more than one sail. That’s one of the ways of making a sailboat faster. If your sailboat is big and heavy, you should put more sails on it, so there’s more interaction with the wind.

2. Sail when there’s plenty of wind

As mentioned before, the wind is the power source of a sailboat. Therefore, it’s only reasonable that someone who wants to sail fast will do so when the wind is plenty.

But how do you know when or where there’s more wind? A pair of polarized sunglasses will help you differentiate windy from calm waters. If you see dark patches on the water, then you know there’s more wind there.

So, when you’re out on the waters, use a vantage point on the boat to get a nice view of the waters and scan for dark patches. That’s where you ought to sail.

So, the objective is to constantly aim for the places with the most wind.

Look for open places where there are no boat packs or other obstacles.

3. Set the sails for speed

Normally, it’s easy to sail fast at 70 to 80 percent off the apparent wind than sailing with the wind directly behind. Trim the sails to make the wind flow over them, so a lift effect is created. That way, the boat gets propelled faster.

It’s all about setting the sail for the best speed. If you, for instance, held your hand out of a moving vehicle, you’d feel how different hand positions affect it – whether there’s a pull or push effect.

4. Sail straight; keep it simple

While sailing, avoid crowds, as they limit the wind and thus limit your speed. Also, avoid making too many maneuvers, as that will only slow you down. Too much taking or jibing is never good for someone looking to sail fast.

 Another speed obstruction to avoid is drama. Instead of competing actively against another boat, try to maintain your course and aim for your optimal speed.

5. Make decisions quickly

There are times when you’ll be on a long tack, but then you realize there’s more wind elsewhere. So, the question will be, “Should I leave my long tack or stay?”. This might give you a little bit of a dilemma, but if you’re to sail fast, you have got to make the call quickly. Assess the gain from the other course that’s got more wind, against the loss you will incur by leaving your long tuck.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What’s the average speed of sailboat?

Under moderate conditions, that means the wind is blowing just fine, the tides are moving along well, and the crew is operating the ship properly, the average speed of a regular sailboat is about 5 knots or 8 mph.

However, it is important to note that the speed of a sailboat depends on several factors, among them, the size of the boat, the speed of the wind, and the general structure of the boat, for instance, a wider boat will move slower than a slimmer one.

2. How long does crossing the Atlantic Ocean take?

When we talk of crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we’re normally talking of crossing from Europe, all the way to the Caribbean, which is roughly 4000 miles. With a regular sloop, and going downwind, you can cross it in a month. But, with a long monohull or a catamaran designed for speed, you can do it in two weeks.

3. How can I make my sailboat go faster?

If there’s a way you can reduce the width of your boat, that would be a good starting point, but make sure the width matches the height too. You don’t want your boat to capsize because of lack of balance. Apart from that, you could install more sails. And, when sailing, be sure to go in a straight line, and to sail where there’s more wind.

Bottom line

So, how fast can a sailboat go? The answer depends on several factors, among them, the size of the boat and the winds available. But, Alain Thebault illustrated that a sailboat could move at a speed of 48 mph (or possibly higher). The secret to reaching high sailing speeds is to use a lighter boat with more sails and to aim for the areas with the most wind. Don’t forget to avoid boat packs. 

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