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How do you know what direction the wind is coming from when you’re sailing?

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

I get asked this question a lot. For new sailors, it can seem entirely confusing to know where the wind is coming from. I personally just like to feel it on my face, and when I can hear the wind in both ears, I know that that's the direction from where the wind is coming from.

But, there are several other ways to determine the direction of the wind when you're out on the water:

  • Look at the sails: One of the simplest ways to determine wind direction is to look at the sails. If they are luffing or flapping, it may mean the wind is coming from the side or behind the boat. If they are full and tight, the wind is likely coming from directly behind the boat.

  • Use a wind indicator: A wind indicator, also known as a wind vane, is a small device that is mounted on the mast or rigging of the boat. It shows the direction of the wind by pointing in the direction from which the wind is blowing.

  • Observe the water: You can also observe the water around the boat to determine wind direction. Look for ripples or waves on the water's surface, which can indicate the direction of the wind.

  • Use a compass: If you have a compass on board, you can use it to determine the wind direction. Turn the boat until the compass heading matches the boat's direction of travel. The wind direction will be the direction from which the wind is blowing.

  • Check weather reports: Before setting sail, you can also check weather reports to get an idea of the wind direction and strength in the area you will be sailing. My go-to is an app called Windy - along with the Transport Canada weather forecast for my area. Make sure you are always checking at least two weather forecasts because they may differ slightly - you want to get the most accurate forecast for the day.

By using these methods, sailors can determine the direction of the wind and use it to adjust their sails and course to sail more efficiently and safely.


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