Explaining Leeward Shores and Sailing in the Lee

When learning to sail, being aware of how weather conditions can affect your passage is vital. Relying on the wind to take you from one destination to another can be unpredictable, and failure to pay attention to wind direction could easily result in your vessel heading towards a rocky shore, pier or other hard surface at speed, without much time for recovery.

As experienced sailing instructors, the team at Ocean Sports Tuition provide guidance about weather shores and lee shores in both our RYA Powerboat Level 2 Course and RYA Advanced Powerboat Course. Here are some tips from our instructors about how and why to avoid sailing in the lee.

What is a Lee Shore?

A lee shore, also known as a leeward or ward shore, is a stretch of shoreline where the wind is blowing into shore from the sea. The term ‘sailing in the lee’ refers to when you are sailing on a lee shore, and can be dangerous if not recognised quickly.

Why are Lee Shores Dangerous?

When sailing, you and your boat are being pushed by the wind. By using a sail, your hope is to be pushed forward by the wind’s force, but because of the design and lack of efficiency of sailboats, your boat will always be pushed sideways as well as forwards. This sideways movement is known as ‘crabbing’.

When sailing in the lee, crabbing means that you are being pushed towards the shore, and can be extremely difficult to correct. Sliding sideways towards a rocky verge, pier or other disagreeable surface is bound to end badly for you and your boat, and it is important for new and seasoned boaters alike to recognise how to avoid this situation.

What is the Best Way to Escape a Lee Shore?

If you have found yourself sailing in the lee and it is too late to correct your course, there are several things that you can do to avoid grounding.

Firstly, if your boat has a motor, it is best to turn upwind and use your motor to sail out of harm’s way. Tacking upwind to a safer spot and anchoring will prevent your vessel from veering into the shore and becoming damaged.

Secondly, you can try to steer your vessel windward (towards the wind) and luff your sail to that the airflow of the wind pushing you towards land is disrupted. Next, cast your anchor upwind and take a strain on the anchor cable. Even if your anchor is upwind by a few feet, it could be enough to offset your movement towards the shore.

Sailing in the lee can be extremely dangerous for sailboats, and the best way to escape them is to avoid them altogether! During the course of our RYA Powerboat Level 2 and Advanced Powerboat Courses, our experienced instructors teach students heavy weather tactics and how to safely define wind direction to avoid boating accidents. For more information about our range of RYA courses, get in touch with our team today.

About Ocean Sports Tuition

Ocean Sports Tuition is a Southampton-based company offering RYA-recognised practical and theory courses and boat charters. We have successfully delivered training on the South Coast and the Solent since 2004, and pride ourselves on providing excellent tuition and service to beginner, intermediate, and advanced sailors alike. Find out more about Ocean Sports and our friendly team here.