How to Sail an RC Sailboat – Step by Step Instructions – 5 Minute Read

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Sailing an RC sailboat is fun, but it takes some practice before you get good at it. I certainly needed it when I started! If you want to take your interest in RC model boats to another level, then you should consider learning how to sail an RC sailboat.

However, learning how to sail RC sailboats requires patience and perseverance. There are several things that you need to master before you can begin sailing. This article will teach you how to sail a radio-controlled sailboat.

Read on below to discover tips that will avoid failure in learning how to sail model sailboats, that apply to all size boats.

First, here’s a summary step by step approach to learning how to sail an RC sailboat:

Step by step Instructions

  1. Consider joining a local club (USA UK) where you’ll find lots of helpful RC sailors and RC sailing events that will help you learn. You may even be tempted to get into RC sailboat racing. 
  2. In any event, choose a day with a gentle, consistent, light wind, preferably with the wind direction towards you, just in case you lose control of your boat.
  3. Find a medium-sized lake or pond, and avoid rivers or the sea, where there may be strong undercurrents. A local club will have a safe sailing area. Look out for areas that may have weeds or reeds, or shallows that could strand your boat. Remember to factor in the depth of the keel, which, on most model sailing boats, is significant. 
  4. Check you are able to sail in your chosen area – ie no prohibitions – and keep clear of swimmers, people fishing, full sized boat traffic, and wildlife.
  5. Avoid days when it’s busy in your sailing area with other modelers until your sailing skills are such that you can feel confident.
  6. Set up your RC sailboat on its stand, and check the rigging is as it should be according to the boat’s instructions. Ensure you have brought the boat battery pack charger, the batteries are charged, and you have spare AA batteries for transmitter. Turn on the transmitter, and test that the rudder control and sail servos are all working properly.
  7. Ensure you understand the basics of sailing, set out below, before launching your RC sailboat. Keep a keen eye on how your boat reacts to the wind, and be ready to react in turn by altering the sail angle to maintain the boat speed as far as possible.

How Does a Yacht Sail?

The first thing you’ll need to know is how does a yacht sail? An rc sailboat sails just like a full size yacht. The wind energy pushes against the sails and flows over them, creating a difference in wind pressure on each side of the sail, which is translated to forward movement by the keel of the boat. Without the keel, the boat would be pushed in the direction of the wind.

To keep the yacht moving forward, the sail angle to the wind is adjusted depending on the position of the boat. Paradoxically, a sailing boat can sail into the wind, as well as with the wind. The only direction that can’t be sailed is with the wind directly in front.

The direction of the boat is adjusted by the rudder, which is at the back of the boat.

The following diagram shows the sail angles at different points of the wind:

As a beginner RC sailing boat helmsman, many of these terms will be confusing to you, but they will soon become familiar.

How are the sails and rudder of an RC sailboat moved?

The controls of an RC boat are explained in more detail in this article, but basically, the hull (body) of the boat contains batteries that power servos which in turn move the rudder, the main sail, and the fore sail (the “jib”). The servos are controlled by a receiver, that takes commands from the RC transmitter which you hold in your hand. Here’s a short video that explains the transmitter controls:

How to sail an RC sailing boat

Moving forward in a straight line

First, the basic skills. With the boat in the water, start with the wind half way between the front (bow) of the boat, and the side (beam). Keeping the rudder straight, trim (move) the sails so that they are close to the hull (close hauled) and the boat should move forward. If the wind is gusty, or very strong, move your transmitter control to let out the sails, spilling the wind, to keep the boat from keeling over.

Sailing into the wind

If you’re sailing into the general wind direction, you’ll need to learn to “tack”, which involves turning the boat from a position where the wind is coming on one side of the bow, through the head-on wind, to end with the wind on its other side. This is achieved by moving the rudder to turn the yacht, whilst changing the angle of the sails to the wind – see the diagram above.

So the boat moves forward via a zig zag course.

As the boat turns into the wind, it slows, so this maneuver should be completed as quickly as possible, otherwise, the boat could get stuck with the sails flapping – this is called being “in irons”.

Sailing away from the wind

If the direction you wish to sail in means the wind is behind the boat, it is called running before the wind. In this case, turning the boat involves “jibing”, which is the opposite of tacking.

To change direction whilst running with the wind, move the rudder so the wind goes around the back (stern) of the boat and haul the sails in. As the boat comes round, the wind will move from one side of the sails to the other.

If this is not done smoothly, it could cause the sails to violently move in the opposite direction, possibly causing damage and maybe even capsizing the boat.

Final Thoughts

So those are the basics of learning how to sail an RC sailboat. As I’ve said above, the best way to refine your skills is to get out on the water and practice.

if you have any interest in remote control sailing but aren’t sure where to begin, use the step-by-step guide above to learn how to sail an RC sailboat. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can move on to the exciting world of racing sailboats.

If you’re still considering your first RC beginner sailboat, take a look at our article on beginner RC sailboats, or for the more adventurous, consider building your own RC sailboat from a kit. More about that here.