Windward and leeward directions are important factors (points of sail) to consider when sailing a sailing ship. Other terms with broadly the same meaning are widely used, particularly upwind and downwind.
The windward vessel is normally the more maneuverable vessel. For this reason, rule 12 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea stipulates that the windward vessel gives way to the leeward vessel.
In warfare, a square rigged warship would often try to enter battle from the windward direction (or "hold the weather gauge"), thus gaining an important tactical advantage over the opposing warship – the warship to windward could choose when to engage and when to withdraw. The opposing warship to leeward could often do little but comply without exposing itself unduly.
Leeward and windward refer respectively to what a game stalker would call downwind and upwind. The terms are used by seamen in relation to their ships but also in reference to islands in an archipelago and to the different sides of a single island. In the latter case, the windward side is that side of an island subject to the prevailing wind, and is thus the wetter side (see orographic precipitation). The leeward side is the side protected by the elevation of the island from the prevailing wind, and is typically the drier side of an island. Thus, leeward or windward siting is an important weather and climate factor on oceanic islands.
In the case of an archipelago, windward islands are upwind and leeward islands are the downwind ones.
In these contexts the terms windward and layward are not used.
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