Finding a Side in a Right-Angled Triangle

Find a Side when we know another Side and Angle

We can find an unknown side in a right-angled triangle when we know:

Ship Anchor Triangle

Example: Depth to the Seabed

The ship is anchored on the seabed.

We know:

So we should be able to find the depth!

But How?

The answer is to use Sine, Cosine or Tangent!

But Which One?

Which one of Sine, Cosine or Tangent to use?

triangle showing Opposite, Adjacent and Hypotenuse

To find out which, first we give names to the sides:

Now, for the side we already know and the side we are trying to find, we use the first letters of their names and the phrase "SOHCAHTOA" to decide which function:

  Sine: sin(θ) = Opposite / Hypotenuse
  Cosine: cos(θ) = Adjacent / Hypotenuse
  Tangent: tan(θ) = Opposite / Adjacent

Like this:

Ship Anchor Triangle
triangle showing Opposite, Adjacent and Hypotenuse

Example: Depth to the Seabed (Continued)


Find the names of the two sides we are working on:

Now use the first letters of those two sides (Opposite and Hypotenuse) and the phrase "SOHCAHTOA" which gives us "SOHcahtoa", which tells us we need to use Sine:

Sine: sin(θ) = Opposite / Hypotenuse


Now put in the values we know:

sin(39°) = d / 30


And solve that equation!

But how do we calculate sin(39°) ... ?


Use your calculator.
Type in 39 and then use the "sin" key.
That's easy!

sin(39°) = 0.6293...


So now we have:

0.6293... = d / 30


Now we rearrange it a little bit, and solve:

Start with:0.6293... = d / 30
Swap sides:d / 30 = 0.6293...
Multiply both sides by 30:d = 0.6293... x 30
Calculate:d = 18.88 to 2 decimal places

The depth the anchor ring lies beneath the hole is 18.88 m

Step By Step

These are the four steps to follow:


Let’s look at a few more examples:

trig example airplane 1000, 60 degrees

Example: find the height of the plane.

We know the distance to the plane is 1000
And the angle is 60°

What is the plane's height?

Careful! The 60° angle is at the top, so the "h" side is Adjacent to the angle!

Start with:cos 60° = h/1000
Swap:h/1000 = cos 60°
Calculate cos 60°:h/1000 = 0.5
Multiply both sides by 1000:h = 0.5 x 1000
 h = 500

The height of the plane = 500 meters

triangle 7, y and 35 degrees

Example: Find the length of the side y:

Start with:tan 53° = y/7
Swap:y/7 = tan 53°
Multiply both sides by 7:y = 7 tan 53°
Calculate:y = 7 x 1.32704...
 y = 9.29 (to 2 decimal places)

Side y = 9.29

trig tower 70 m and angle 68 degrees

Example: Radio Mast

There is a mast that is 70 meters high.

A wire goes to the top of the mast at an angle of 68°.

How long is the wire?

The unknown length is on the bottom (the denominator) of the fraction!

So we need to follow a slightly different approach when solving:

Start with:sin 68° = 70/w
Multiply both sides by w:w × (sin 68°) = 70
Divide both sides by "sin 68°":w = 70 / (sin 68°)
Calculate:w = 70 / 0.9271...
 w = 75.5 m (to 1 place)

The length of the wire = 75.5 m