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This is a lesson focused on engineering design principles associated with sailboats. Students explore what marine engineers and naval architects do as they design a sailboat out of everyday objects that can catch a breeze from a fan and stay afloat with a set load. The driving question of the lesson:  How do marine engineers apply physical concepts (including Bernoulli's Principle, lift, and drag) in the design and construction of sails?

The lesson follows a module format that includes objectives and learner outcomes, problem sets, student guides, recommended reading, illustrated procedures, worksheets, and background information about the engineering connections. The lesson plan and student worksheets are available for download. This collection is part of TryEngineering.org, a website maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Editor's Note: Sailboats provide an engaging way to investigate action/reaction, aerodynamics, and Bernoulli's Principle. See Related Materials for links to two videos that discuss the fundamental physics involved in the motion of sailboats.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
= Pressure
- Newton's Second Law
= Force, Acceleration
- Newton's Third Law
= Action/Reaction
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Fluid Mechanics
- Dynamics of Fluids
= Bernoulli's Principle
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- High School
- Middle School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2007 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
aerodynamics, applied physics, drag, engineering activity, engineering design, engineering lessons, lift, physics of sailing, sailboat, wind propulsion
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 25, 2012 by Gnana Subramaniam
Record Updated:
August 10, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
December 4, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.
  • 9-12: 4F/H4. Whenever one thing exerts a force on another, an equal amount of force is exerted back on it.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M2. Manufacturing usually involves a series of steps, such as designing a product, obtaining and preparing raw materials, processing the materials mechanically or chemically, and assembling the product. All steps may occur at a single location or may occur at different locations.
  • 9-12: 8B/H1. Manufacturing processes have been changed by improved tools and techniques based on more thorough scientific understanding, increases in the forces that can be applied and the temperatures that can be reached, and the availability of electronic controls that make operations occur more rapidly and consistently.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
  • 6-8: 12C/M5. Analyze simple mechanical devices and describe what the various parts are for; estimate what the effect of making a change in one part of a device would have on the device as a whole.

Common Core State Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects 6—12

Key Ideas and Details (6-12)
  • RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Common Core State Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6—12

Research to Build and Present Knowledge (6-12)
  • WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2007), WWW Document, (https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/).
TryEngineering: Sail Away (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2007), <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Sail Away. (2010, December 4). Retrieved June 20, 2024, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Sail Away. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, December 4, 2010. https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/ (accessed 20 June 2024).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Sail Away. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2007. 4 Dec. 2010. International Business Machines. 20 June 2024 <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Sail Away}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {20 June 2024}, Month = {December 4, 2010}, Year = {2007} }
Refer Export Format

%T TryEngineering: Sail Away %D December 4, 2010 %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/ %O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D December 4, 2010 %T TryEngineering: Sail Away %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %V 2024 %N 20 June 2024 %8 December 4, 2010 %9 application/pdf %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/sail-away/

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TryEngineering: Sail Away:

Is Supplemented By PBS Learning Media: The Physics of Sailing

A 5-minute video that explores aerodynamic forces generated by two parts of the sailboat: the sails and the keel. Discusses why these forces counteract each other to generate forward movement.

relation by Caroline Hall

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