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How Far You Can Sail In A Day: Calculating Speed And Distance

How far you can sail in a day

A sailboat can travel 144 nautical miles in 24 hours with an average cruising speed of 6 knots, which is realistic for a 35-45-foot sailboat. If the average speed is reduced to 5 knots, you will cover 120 nautical miles in the same timeframe.

In this article, you’ll discover how many nautical miles you can sail at any time based on your average boat speed. You’ll also learn how to calculate boat speed and examine factors affecting your sailing journey.

UPDATE: I have included a Sailing Distance Calculator and a Hull Speed Calculator for your convenience.

How to calculate the average distance in relation to speed and time

If you are familiar with your boat and know your average cruising speed, it is easy to calculate how far you can sail at any time.

Multiply your average speed in knots with time in hours; the result will show the distance covered in nautical miles. Remember that when calculating your distance, you want to use your speed toward your destination, not your speed over the ground, especially when you are sailing angles.

This term is VMC or VMG-C: Velocity Made Good on the Course.

VMG indicates the speed of your vessel directly towards or away from the wind. VMC indicates the speed of your vessel directly toward your destination.

Your average speed toward your destination “VMCand speed over ground “SOGwill only be the same when you sail directly toward your target. Most modern sailing instruments and chart plotters can show your VMC if you have plotted a route to your destination and calculate your estimated time of arrival, or ETA, based on this number.

How far you can sail in a day, half a day, and 8 hours

I made a table that shows you how far you can sail in 8, 12, and 24 hours based on average cruising speed:

Average VMC
Distance Sailed in 8 Hours
Distance Sailed in 12 Hours
Distance Sailed in 24 Hours
5 kt4060120
The table shows the distance you can sail depending on average speed for 8, 12, and 24 hours.

Sailing Distance Calculator

Distance (NM) = Speed (Kt) x Time (Hrs)

Speed (Kt):

Time (Hrs):

Distance (NM):

How to determine your average sailing speed

If you are new to sailing and unfamiliar with your sailboat, you first want to determine what speed you can expect to sail. The best way to determine your average cruising speed is by getting to know your boat and how it performs in different weather conditions at different points of sail.

how far you can sail in a day
My friend Ingrid was at the helm, cruising Ellidah on a shorter passage.

Factors Affecting Sailing Speed

While calculating the average sailing distance of a boat, it’s crucial to understand that sailing speed depends on various factors. For example, your speed will be affected when you are beating into the wind or a current.

And you don’t always want to push your boat to its limit to reach your top speed. In many situations, you may want to bear off your course to reduce the stress on the vessel, crew, and yourself. Doing so will reduce your average speed towards your destination.

There are several things that will affect your speed at sea, and I’ve listed the major ones here:

  1. Hull length: The longer the boat, the higher the potential maximum hull speed is because of the increased water length. Larger boats typically carry larger sails, which also increase their speed potential.
  2. Sail area: The sail surface area affects the boat’s speed. Larger sail areas catch more wind, resulting in higher speeds. However, larger sails can also make it more challenging to manage the boat, especially in strong winds. The sails rely on their shape to drive the vessel forward, and the shape of a sail will change as they get older, making them less effective. Learn more about types of sails here.
  3. Tide and currents: Sailing with the tide and using currents to your advantage will positively impact your sailing speed. Sailing into it, or beating as we call it in the sailing world, will reduce your speed.
  4. Weather conditions: The wind’s strength and direction are critical in determining your boat’s speed. Light winds may slow your progress, while strong winds can make for faster sailing or lead to challenging conditions that require you to reduce speed for safety. You also have to consider your point of sail and the wind speed affecting you.
  5. Crew experience: A skilled crew can efficiently trim sails and navigate, maximizing the boat’s performance, which translates to more nautical miles covered per day. Some vessels are even easy to sail effectively solo if the skipper knows what he is doing. However, most cruisers would rather be chasing a comfortable ride than the vessel’s maximum potential.
  6. Boat condition: A well-maintained boat with a clean hull, good sails, and solid rigging will perform much better and ultimately cover more distance than a neglected vessel. You’ll also have more confidence in a well-kept boat when you get to the point where you are pushing yourself and your vessel toward your limits.

When you know your boat and its behavior in the water, you can estimate the average speed by doing simple calculations.

How fast do sailboats go? Maximum hull speed explained

Most cruising sailboats (except for catamarans, trimarans, and some light racing boats) are usually displacement boats. This basically means that the boat is sailing through the water instead of surfing on top of it.

A displacement sailboat’s hull speed is the speed your boat has achieved when its created wave has the same length as the vessel’s loaded waterline length (LWL).

Many boats can exceed their hull speed, but the formula below will give us a decent number as a reference to determine a realistic cruising speed. I made a calculator to make it easier for you.

Hull Speed Calculator

Hull Speed = 1.34 * √Load Waterline Length (LWL “ft”)

LWL “ft”:

Hull Speed:

We will use my sailboat “Ellidah’s” numbers in this example. She is 41 feet overall, but the loaded waterline length (the part of the hull that touches the water) is 32,75 feet. The square root of 32,75 is 5.722. We then multiply this result with a factor of 1.34 and get approximately 7.67.

Now that we found the boat’s hull speed at just above 7.6 knots, we know she should be able to reach this speed in pleasant sailing conditions.

Note: If you don’t know your boat’s LWL, look up your specs here.

Average sailboat speed

When I plan a passage, I calculate with an average speed of around 6 knots, which is about 20% below hull speed, and I have found it to be pretty accurate.

To continue using Ellidah as a reference, she does 7.5 knots on calm seas and 15 knots of wind, sailing between 120 and 50 degrees true wind angle. The speed will reach 5.5 – 6.5 knots at lower or higher angles.

How Far You Can Sail In A Day: Calculating Speed And Distance
The instrument shows 40 40-degree apparent wind angle, which in this condition relates to around 50 degrees true wind angle.

A good rule of thumb for most is that we can usually sail at half the apparent wind speed until we reach the boat’s hull speed, as long as we don’t have any strong currents or big waves working against us.

The bottom line of these examples is to consider the boat’s setup and the conditions we will be sailing in. Given decent conditions with good sails, we should be able to sail close to the boat’s hull speed in ideal conditions.

How Far You Can Sail In A Day: Calculating Speed And Distance
Sailing Ellidah slowly in light wind conditions from Sicily to Tunisia.

Determining abilities and comfort level

The last important factor to consider is yourself. Most experienced sailors don’t chase the highest possible speed but rather one that makes the boat balanced and comfortable in the conditions. It might, for example, be a good idea to slow down when beating into waves to prevent any equipment from breaking.

When sailing at night in reduced visibility, it is wise to sail more conservatively and reduce the sails, especially if you are sailing solo.

The bottom line is that looking at numbers online will only give you some of the tools you need to determine your speed and how far you can expect to travel with your boat in any timeframe.

To truly master the planning, you need to get out there, get your sails up, and combine your knowledge with the theory. After a while, you will be able to impress your friends with accurate estimations of speed, time, and distance.

How Far You Can Sail In A Day: Calculating Speed And Distance
Comfortable conditions make happy sailors.

A realistic average speed for sailboats between 30 and 50 feet

If you don’t want to bother with the calculations just yet and get out on the water as soon as possible, I made a little cheat sheet to help. I calculated the hull speed of small and big sailboats ranging from 30-50 feet and put them into a table.

Since we need to consider the factors discussed in this article, I have also subtracted 20% off the hull speed and rounded the result to give a more accurate estimate of a realistic cruising speed.

Sailboat NameSailboat LWL in feet “ft”Hull Speed in knots “kt”Average Cruising Speed in knots “kt”
Contest 3024.92 ft6.7 kt~ 5.4 kt
Beneteau First 3528.83 ft7.2 kt~ 5.8 kt
Oyster 4233.75 ft7.8 kt~ 6.2 kt
Amel Maramu 4635.75 ft8.0 kt~ 6.4 kt
Hallberg Rassy 4941.00 ft8.6 kt~ 6.9 kt
The table shows sailboat hull and cruising speeds calculated from loaded water length. Sailboat info and loaded water length are taken from

Final words

How far you can sail in a given time depends on your sailboat’s speed. How fast you can go depends on the weather conditions, the type and size of the boat, your setup, your equipment, and your capabilities and comfort.

Don’t get too obsessed with reaching your maximum speed unless you are racing. The trip might take a few extra hours when you slow things down, but you will enjoy yourself and your sailboat best when you are in control and sail conservatively, which comes with the benefit of being safer for both you and your boat.

Discover How Far You Can Sail In a Day – FAQ

How long does it take to sail 60 nautical miles?

With an average speed of 5 knots, you can expect to sail 60 nautical miles in about 12 hours. If you can increase your speed to 6 knots, it will take you 10 hours.

How long does it take to sail 100 miles?

With an average speed of 5 knots, it will take about 20 hours to sail 100 nautical miles. If you increase the speed to 6 knots, 100 nautical miles will take around 17 hours.

How fast do sailboats go?

  • A sailboat between 30 and 40 feet will typically sail between 4 and 7 knots.
  • A sailboat between 40 and 50 feet will typically sail between 5 and 8 knots.

How fast can a sailboat go under power?

Most modern sailboats have an engine dimensioned to power the boat up to its hull speed and basically make you able to achieve the same speed under power as under sail. There are, of course, exceptions.
I wrote an article about sailing without sails that may interest you.

How do I convert speed in knots to miles per hour?

One knot equals one nautical mile per hour, which is 1.151 miles per hour.
mph = knots * 1.151

What is the average speed of a 40 ft. sailboat?

The average speed of a 40 ft. sailboat is realistically about 6.5 knots in favorable conditions, depending on the type of boat, its sails, and its weight.

How far can a sailboat travel in a day?

A sailboat can travel 144 nautical miles in 24 hours with an average cruising speed of 6 knots, which is realistic for a 35-45-foot sailboat. If the average speed is reduced to 5 knots, you will cover 120 nautical miles in the same timeframe.

What factors affect how far you can sail in a day?

The factors that affect how far you can sail in a day include the sailboat’s hull length, sailing speed, weather conditions, tide, and the sailing ability of yourself and the boat.

How does hull length affect the sailing distance of a boat?

Hull length plays a significant role in determining how far a sailboat can sail. Smaller sailboats with shorter hull lengths generally have lower maximum hull speeds. Larger boats with longer hull lengths can sustain higher speeds and cover many more nautical miles daily.

Can you sail downwind to cover more distance in a day?

Not necessarily. Some sailboats perform best with the wind behind the beam (downwind), such as catamarans and light semi-planing hulls. However, most displacement sailboats perform best close to a beam reach, with the wind in from the side. Besides, since you can’t change the direction of the wind, you’ll have to calculate your ideal velocity made good on the course toward your destination (VMC), depending on the conditions you are sailing in.

How fast can a sailboat typically sail?

The sailing speed of a boat depends on several factors, such as wind conditions and the boat’s design and size. A smaller vessel of around 30 feet will typically cruise at 5 knots +, depending on design. A 49-foot sailboat may cruise as high as 7 knots or higher on average, depending on its traits.

How can I determine the approximate maximum sailing distance of my boat?

To determine your boat’s approximate maximum sailing distance, you take your sailboat’s hull speed and multiply it with the time you intend to sail in hours. The result will give you your approximate maximum sailing distance for your boat in nautical miles.

How long does it take to sail a certain distance?

The time it takes to sail a certain distance depends on various factors, such as wind conditions and the sailing speed of the boat. By calculating the sailing speed and dividing the desired distance by it, you can estimate the sailing time required.

Can I sail for 8 hours in a day?

Yes, of course you can! With an average speed of 6.5 knots, you can travel 52 nautical miles in 8 hours.

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