How does a sailboat work? The standard idea is that the wind pushes the sails from behind, causing the boat to move forward. Although this technique is used at times, it is not the most efficient way to sail a boat (and it means the boat can never go faster than the wind). Lift is the key mechanism driving a boat forwards. As air flows over the sails, it moves faster over the outer side, creating lower pressure than on the inner side. This produces a force which is mostly to the side and a bit forwards. Lift on the centerboard pushes to the opposite side, cancelling the sideways force and adding a forward component of force to the boat.