When you’re out on the water sailing, there are days of no wind, heavy wind, and several degrees in between.
So which wind speed is the best for sailing?
Here’s the Best Wind Speed for Sailing:
Catamarans like more wind to perform their best, as do foiling boats. Racers prefer more wind in general than cruisers. Novice sailors are more comfortable in lighter winds. Most sailors agree that around 10 knots of wind are the best wind speed for sailing, as an average.
What is the Easiest Wind Speed for Sailing?
Most sailors have the easiest wind speed for sailing between 8 to 12 knots (nautical miles per hour).
This is a steady breeze, and the first, smallest whitecaps start to form at around 12 knots.
This wind speed will move most sailboats at a comfortable speed, and it is not enough wind to threaten a capsize, barring a significant mistake on the helmsman or crew.
Monohulls will prefer the lower end of this wind range; catamarans and more experienced sailors will prefer the higher end.
The comfort zone of every sailor will vary, but most will find this the easiest wind range to sail in.
If you do a google search for “easiest wind speed for sailing,” a standard answer of 5-12 knots comes up. This broad stock answer spans the range for most sailors and their various boats and runs from the Light Breeze category on the Beaufort Scale of Winds to the beginnings of Moderate Breeze.
Most sailors, though, will prefer 8 knots of breeze to 5 for ease of sailing, as 5 is still light and will not move most boats steadily.
At 12 knots, you are at the beginning of Moderate Breeze on the scale, so it is still an easy wind speed to handle.
What is the Best Wind Speed for Learning to Sail?
You definitely do not want to get in over your head when learning to sail, so it is best to start your sailing career in lighter winds.
6 to 10 knots is a good range for novices. This is enough wind for the boat to sail as it should, but not enough to overpower you at any point.
There are few if any waves to deal with at 6 knots, and they are small in this wind range.
In 5 knots or less, the sails will not draw well, and you will not learn to use them as well as higher wind. Over 10 knots, you might find yourself getting overpowered and distracted.
You still might find yourself capsizing in a dinghy in this wind range as a novice, but it will be because you have made a mistake rather than as a result of high wind pressure on the sails.
What Wind Speed do Experienced Sailors Prefer?
Every sailor develops their own comfort zone throughout their career, and it can change over time.
An experienced sailor in a small dinghy will want around 10 knots. This is a steady breeze, and there are no white caps, yet so there are no waves to have to pound through.
An experienced sailor in a smaller keelboat, say 26 feet or less, will usually prefer to be in 10-15 knots. This will move their boat steadily, and the waves will be minor and easy to deal with.
A larger keelboat, particularly 40 feet and up, will want more breeze to sail steadily in. An experienced sailor in a boat this size will usually prefer winds in the moderate range of 15-18 knots.
Experienced catamaran sailors will also usually prefer moderate winds in the 13-16 knot range.
How Much Wind Do You Need to be Able to Sail?
The amount of wind necessary to sail depends on the kind of sailboat you are on.
If you are on a small dinghy, such as a Sunfish or a Laser, you can sail in less than 5 knots. It might not be much fun, but if you read the wind and get on, say a beam reach, you can move the boat at a very casual clip.
For the majority of boats, the answer to this question is at least 5 knots. While still light air, it is usually enough to give the sails some lift when sailing upwind or fill them a bit when sailing downwind.
Some boats will want more wind to perform. Foiling moths need more than 5 knots to get up onto the foils; generally, this is at least 8 knots, depending on the sailor’s weight.
Catamarans can sail in 5 knots, but they need more wind to get a hull out of the water; this varies by the catamaran type and whether it is one or two people, but generally, this is around 9 knots.
What Type of Sailboat is Easiest to Sail Regardless of Wind Speed?
This is a bit of a trick question.
One of the easiest boats to sail is, by far, the Sunfish. It is an easy rig and a forgiving boat, but in high winds, you will rapidly find yourself being overpowered and facing the constant threat of flipping.
A smaller keelboat will therefore be the easiest to sail regardless of wind speed. In light air, you can still move the boat; in heavier air, your keel will provide righting momentum to counter the force against the sails.
There are several examples, but a common boat worldwide that fits the bill is the J/24. You will want a crew to handle the boat, but an experienced sailor can handle this boat single-handed in almost any wind in a pinch.
There is, of course, a time when you will want to head for port, but the best sailboat for ease of handling in all conditions will be a smaller keelboat.
At What Wind Speed Does Sailing Become Dangerous?
The wind speed that sailing becomes dangerous varies by the oat and also the sailor’s experience.
Depending on the area, sustained winds of 20 knots can generate large waves, as high as 5 feet. This can be a problem for most dinghies, so by this time, most of them are heading inshore.
This is a bigger problem on lakes, as you can hit bottom in the trough of a wave, so most dinghies have already headed for shore before winds reach this speed.
On the Beaufort Wind Scale, the range of 22-27 knots is considered a Strong Breeze. At this point, even experienced sailors in most dinghies are in danger of capsizing.
Smaller keelboats will be in danger of taking knockdowns at this wind speed, particularly for inexperienced sailors. Small Craft Advisories are in effect at this wind speed.
Small Craft Advisories become Special Marine Warnings when there are gusts of up to 34 knots. Even the most experienced sailors will have their hands full in these conditions. While you might not capsize the boat, you are in danger of tearing sails or damaging the rigging in these winds.
While sailors can and often do find themselves in winds this strong or even higher (such as being caught in a storm while bluewater sailing), this is the wind speed where sailing becomes dangerous.
What Happens When the Wind Speed Increases While you Sail?
Changes in wind speed are common on the water, particularly if you are sailing for most of the day.
Being prepared for this is a central part of being able to sail your boat.
When the wind increases, you may not have to make much adjustment if the day was one of light air to begin with. All you have to do is pay a little more attention!
But if winds were moderate and have now increased to heavier winds, you will have to take other action. This generally involves reducing sail area, which in turn reduces pressure on the boat.
If you are on a larger keelboat, you have a few options. You can reef the mainsail, which means lowering it a certain amount. Most mains have one or two reef points, a series of reinforcements that serve as new corners of the sail, essentially becoming the new tack, clew, and foot.
These reefs will usually be at 12% and 28% of the luff length, as this dodges the battens. Depending on the sail’s configuration, this generally reduces sail area by 20% or more for each reef.
You can also change to a smaller headsail and significantly reduce the sail area. You will always want to keep a headsail up, though, as it provides directional stability, even if it is a storm jib. This is essential in high winds, as you do not want to lose steerage; that will cause major problems in a gale or storm.
Some dinghies have reef points on their sails and some that can reef by wrapping around the mast or boom, but you will be heading for shore as the wind increases far sooner in a dinghy than you would in a keelboat.
if you average all of the boats and experience levels we have discussed, you will arrive at a favorable wind speed of about 10 knots.
This steady breeze will move any sailboat comfortably and not be enough to endanger a sailor of any experience level.
While every sailor and boat has their own comfort zone, the majority agree that a wind speed of 10 knots is about the best for sailing.