How to Effectively use a Wind Meter on a Sailboat

Posted by Director of Education on February 24, 2014 under About NauticEd, Bareboat Charter, Crew, Skipper | Comments are off for this article

Using a Wind Meter – get your head out of the boat

If you like the article and the animations please LIKE it. It helps us grow. And also consider our awesome Electronic Navigation course. It is also loaded with similar animations to help you understand many of the electronic aids on a sailboat especially your gps chart plotter, wind meter and autopilot.

First let me state my point of how to use a wind meter in strong language  – stop watching the dang wind meter and get your head out of the boat.

Lately I’ve had a great opportunity to be out on the water teaching again and this issue has become very apparent so I’m going to iterate it here so that you get the point. Stop watching the wind meter – get your head out of the boat. And just one more time a little louder ; STOP WATCHING THE WIND METER AND GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE BOAT.

If you’re an old hat sailor then you’ll appreciate this article next time you’re out teaching a friend to take the helm. If you’re a new sailor then read on also.

Here is a analogy – imagine you were teaching your daughter to drive a car and you said to speed up to 50 miles per hour. So she put her head down and continued to look at the speedometer until it got to 50 miles per hour. One major thing would happen – you’d never get to 50 miles per hour. You’d be through a fence and upside down talking to the sheep. It is obvious right? Let’s look at what actually happens when you speed up to 50. Starting from say 30 you instantly calculate that you’ve got 20 mph to go so foot goes down while you continue to look at the road ahead. As the car speeds you flick check for 1/4 second at your speed – it’s now 40 – ah ten to go. You hold your foot for a bit longer while LOOKING AT THE ROAD. Another flick 1/4 sec check -45 hmmm only 5 to go – foot starts easing – flick 1/4 sec 48 – foot eases more WHILE LOOKING AT THE ROAD. 50 ahhh good. Now first time drivers might overshoot a little then ease back down then speed up  a few times and that is natural – and they will get used to that over time to gain a feel for how the car reacts. As an old time driver – even given a formula one car I beat you could get it to 50 easily. BUT you would have done it by keeping your eyes on the road. You would not think of watching the speedo – you flick check 1/4 sec each time and make decisions and adjustments based on how far or close you are to the desired speed mark.


The reason new sailors watch the wind meter is that they are transfixed by it. Their brain is trying to process and calculate which way do they turn the wheel or tiller to make the meter get to the desired place. AND get this – their brain can not possibly calculate it so it transfixes them.

This is the thought process in a brain if you try to calculate it. So the captain said to keep the wind meter on 30 degrees on the meter and the wind is on my left. The meter reads 70 degrees pointing left – if I turn the wheel starboard that will make the meter numbers increase or decrease – hmmm um well lets see straight up and down is dead ahead and the wind is now coming from my left so if i turn the wheel to the right that will make the meter go um bigger um yes that’s right I think so perhaps to the left the meter will go smaller um yes  I think so – wait does it? hmmm let me try an experiment … oh wait now the meter is reading 90 oh I steered way to much in the wrong direction but wait why did that happen I thought…

So now lets get into the brain of someone with their head out of the boat watching land and clouds.

  • Flick check 1/4 sec – the wind meter is reading 70 and the captain said keep it on 30. So if it is at 70 the wind must be coming from that building on the land over there. The difference between 70 and 30 is 40. 40 degrees from my heading towards that building is that orange roof house. Ok let me aim for that. Like a car I just turn the wheel to aim for that house. Ok I am heading right on that house now.
  • Flick check 1/4 sec – the meter reads 40 – oh so I need to go ten more degrees.  That tower should do it. Turning a little little bit. Ok I’m on the tower.
  • Flick check 1/4 sec – cool right on 30 degrees.
  • (Then comes a little changing gust)
  • Flick check 1/4 sec – ohh ohh creeping inside 30 degrees let me turn away from that tower downwind say 5 degrees – that’d be half way between the tower and the orange roof house.
  • Flick check – 1/4 sec – cool back on 30 degrees.

So the mantra here is “flick check 1/4 sec”. You have got to explain to your student that trying to figure out which way to turn by watching the meter is impossible. You figure out which way to turn by looking at the land and the clouds and knowing which building tree house tower cloud that the wind is coming from. Then making your decisions about your heading based on that.

The processing in the brain looks like this:

  • What angle on the boat is the wind coming from? (Flick check 1/4 sec – meter says 90 deg (say))
  • What thing on the land is the wind coming from -that is 90 degrees to my boat? (That building there)
  • What angle does the captain want me to be sailing at with the wind? (30 say)
  • What is the angle difference? (60)
  • What then should I aim for – what thing on the land is 60 degrees into the wind from my heading now?

You always calculate the new point to aim for based on what thing your boat is heading towards and the angle difference between your desired wind meter reading and the now wind meter reading.

So now a little test. The wind meter reads 30 and you want to go to 45. What is the angle change? Should you pick that angle from the heading of the boat or should it be from where the wind is coming? Should you turn into the wind or away from the wind?

Answer: Turn downwind to a new point 15 deg from where you are heading now. Once you have arrived at that point – flick check 1/4 sec – make new adjustments based on land objects.

Now there is always a few who say – what if you’re not aiming at land perhaps I should use the compass. NO NO! That will now have you transfixed on the compass. Get your head out of the boat and aim for a cloud. And if there are no clouds then tack the boat and aim for land  – this exercise is about getting you used to making course adjustments based on the relative direction change of the boat. Once you master this you will never have to worry about this again. Master getting your head out of the boat for now and making course adjustments based on things out of the boat. Don’t worry about their being no clouds.

Time for an animation. Get the feel of what is happening with the land and the meter.

(our animations are best experienced using the  Google Chrome browser)

And now for a test. Lets play “Captain Says…”  To solve these questions put yourself on the boat. Don’t try to figure out which way to turn the boat according to the direction of anticipated movement of the needle of the wind meter. Be on the boat and turn into the wind or away from the wind.

If you like this animation and felt it helped please “LIKE” it. And share it with your crew mates.

If you thought this was cool, just wait until you take our Electronic Navigation course – its a big wow and  you’ll be impressing others with your new knowledge.

Electronic Navigation

Electronic Navigation Course

Learning to Sail with an Electronic Wind Meter

Posted by Grant Headifen on February 16, 2011 under Bareboat Charter, Coastal Navigation, Crew, Skipper | Be the First to Comment

Even if you don’t have one on your sailboat charter – one day you’ll be helming someone else’s boat with an Electronic Wind Meter and you certainly want the owner to be confident at what you are doing. There’s a couple of secrets so read on.

He’s what happened – I took out two guys who were experts at racing at their local yacht club. The trouble for them was they both kept on having to look around the bimini on our 373 Beneteau to get a peak at the wind vane at the top of the mast. I tried to tell them to use the electronic wind meter 18 inches from their face but they’d have nothing of it. It wasn’t pure enough. Then day turned to evening and evening to night. IE no wind vane watching at night … and they now had sore necks.

Wind meters are cool, and given the right calibration they’re pretty accurate. The resolution is greater than eyeballing the wind vane and thus you can be more consistent with your angle to the wind. I’m necessarily saying they are better than wind vanes but I’m definitely saying that being both vane and meter skilled adds to your sailing abilities.

Here’s a typical Wind Meter – it shows that the wind is 42 degrees to starboard. You’ll see a red dot at the bottom. Next to the red dot are the words TRUE and APP (apparent). The dot represents which wind direction the meter is measuring. In this case Apparent. For a discussion on True vs Apparent Wind see the NauticEd Skipper Course. The green and red don’t mean any thing other than green is the starboard side of the boat and red is port.

Typical Wind Meter

Typical Wind Meter

LEARNING TO SAIL WITH AN ELECTRONIC WIND METER – SECRET NUMBER (1): This goes to working with wind vanes as well. When making heading adjustments, keep your head out of the boat. This means DON”T watch the meter or vane as you turn the boat. You’re guaranteed to over shoot your desired new heading. Also it’s dangerous traffic wise. Watching the meter or vane means you’re not looking out for traffic during a turn. IE When driving a car and turning at an intersection you never would look at the speedometer. It’s too dangerous and besides what’s the point, you can best judge a safe speed in the intersection turn by the rate things are going past your car. Same same – watch things outside the boat when you turn.

Imagine this – make a 90 degree turn in your car using a compass and stay exactly in the center of the lanes. Well maybe Al Pacino (acting as a blind guy) in the oscar winning movie Scent of a Woman could do it but me? Never in 100,000 trys. Again – same same why would anyone make a 10 degree adjustment to their heading looking at the wind vane or wind meter. You can’t stay in the center of the lane (new desired heading).

I’ll provide an example scenario: Assume you’re sailing along on 40 degrees apparent (your wind meter and vane point 40 degrees off from the front of the boat). You notice the wind direction changes to give you a 10 degree lift (a lift means the wind direction has changed so that the wind meter or vane points more towards the aft than before – in this case now 50 degrees). You want to turn upwind to bring the wind back to 40 degrees. Here’s how to make the turn: Pick out something on the horizon dead ahead then pick out something 10 degrees upwind from that point. Turn the boat to the point with out looking at the wind meter or vane. Once you are now sailing at the new point, check how you’re doing against that 40 degrees and make another adjustment in the same manner.

This was so basic it’s not too much of a secret, but you’d be surprised … one time teaching in my sailing school I actually had to cover up the wind meter as I could not get my student to stop watching the meter and to watch the horizon instead. As soon as she started watching the horizon her whole sailing world changed. She could hold a course, tack, gybe make adjustments with out over shooting – everything. Her whole problem was that one little point.

Here’s another scenario  similar to a wind meter/vane turning problem – your navigator says to come onto a new heading of 160 degrees. Don’t watch the compass during the turn. First determine how many degrees the turn is, pick out a point on land or even a cloud to turn to.  Make your turn watching out side the boat – then check your heading.

LEARNING TO SAIL WITH AN ELECTRONIC WIND METER – SECRET NUMBER (2): Don’t teach new people at the helm anything about the wind meter or the wind vanes. It’s too confusing – First, just have them focus on sterring to points on the horizon and making turns to new points on the horizon that you pick out for them.

LEARNING TO SAIL WITH AN ELECTRONIC WIND METER – SECRET NUMBER (3): Don’t stare at the wind meter and try to figure out which way you should turn the helm to make the meter move in any one particular direction. That’s too hard because it’s backwards from what you’d think and guaranteed you’ll get it wrong when some one embarassing is watching. And as above, make sure when you’re explaining the wind meter to a new helmsperson that you disallow them from similarly using it to figure out which direction to turn.

Instead, the wind meter should be used to determine how many degrees off the desirable wind angle you are and if the turn should be towards the wind or away from the wind. That’s all. Example – lets say we want to be flying 30 degrees APP off the wind. Using the wind meter above, we’re 12 degrees away from 30 and we are heading too far down wind. So lets pick out a point on land or a cloud that is 12 degrees upwind (the what? Port or Starboard) from our current heading.

The NauticEd Skipper Course is chocked full of tips like this one.  Get started today and register for the NauticEd Skipper Sailing Course

Have you played with our FREE Sailing simulator, NED? We use interactive tools like this to quickly and effectively teach sailing skills.

NED the Sailing Instructor

NED the Sailing Instructor