An Introduction to the Physics of Sailing

The goal of this lesson is to explain how sailboats work by exploring basic physics principles. At the end of this lesson, students will be able to identify the forces acting on a sailboat and explain how the combination of these forces results in the forward motion of a sailboat. Students should be familiar with vectors and be able to use them to represent forces and moments, and also should be familiar with using free body diagrams to represent forces and moments. A basic understanding of fluid flow and/or resistance might be helpful, but not necessary. This lesson and the follow-on assessment will each take about one hour to complete. Students only need pen/pencil and paper to complete the activities in the lesson, although an optional activity where students make their own sailboats would require additional materials. The classroom activity challenges are centered around small-group discussions based on the questions posed before each break. Free body diagrams, or another conceptual representation of his or her answer, should support each student’s solution to the questions posed in the video. Instructions for the option of having students design their own sailboats as part of this lesson can be found with the Teacher Resources.

Attention: It has been pointed out to us that certain experts disagree with the explanation for the generation of lift presented in this video lesson. For this reason, we would like to refer viewers to the following articles which present an alternative explanation:
http://www.gentrysailing.com/pdf-theory/How-a-Sail-Gives-Lift.pdf

Arvel Gentry

For more information: http://blossoms.mit.edu/videos/lessons/introduction_physics_sailing

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