Sailing for Beginners
Whether you want to explore parts of the world that aren’t readily accessible on foot or want to put your competitive streak to use in a race, sailing is a varied and diverse activity for every age, ability and personality. This guide has everthing you need to know about getting started with sailing.
Reasons to start sailing • Who is sailing for? • Benefits of sailing • Is sailing expensive? • How to find a sailing club
If sailing is something you’ve always wanted to do, don’t let your location be a deterrent. Where there’s an open stretch of water, there’s an opportunity to sail, from rivers and lakes to the coast. In fact, most people live no more than an hour away from a sailing venue.
Or if cost is a concern, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is an umbrella organisation that accredit sailing schools around the country in an effort to make the activity easily accessible and more affordable to all. It starts you off with the cheapest option of dinghy sailing right through to yachting while providing the equipment and training you need to sail at minimal cost. A training course such as this is an excellent way of providing you with the foundation you need to make sure you know what you’re doing on the water and is often essential. Most sailing centers won’t permit their boats to be taken out without you demonstrating your sailing knowledge.
Sailing is an activity for everyone. From older people to children, people with disabilities and those recovering from serious to terminal illnesses, sailing is a therapeutic and social way of getting people outdoors. For example, organizations such as the Ella McArthur Cancer Trust have built a reputation on restoring the confidence of children and young adults following cancer by giving them the opportunity to sail. While organizations such as the Andrew Simpson Foundation recognises sailing as, “as a sport and as a recreation that is not always accessible to all owing to lack of finance, a physical or learning disability, mental health or social barriers” and makes efforts to break these obstacles down. An inclusive sport that doesn’t discriminate between age, gender and physical ability, sailing can help inspire independence on dry land as well as on water.
Everyone knows that being physically active comes with its own rewards such as building muscle strength and endurance over time, increasing agility and improving cardiovascular health. But sailing has unique beneficial effects that help shape positive relationships with others and can have a positive impact on the way you approach day-to-day life, over time.
Encouraging responsibility and organisation
Not only do you have to be responsible for your kitbag, from your gloves to your sunglasses and all your other essentials, but you also have to maintain the vessel and its surroundings as part of a team. This structured approach to the environment on the boat has shown to impact the way some sailors view life off the boat, giving them a more methodical outlook to their everyday life.
Teamwork, friendship and a sense of community
Ask any sailor about what it is they value most about sailing and you’re bound to get a response about the sense of camaraderie it encourages. From the moment you board a boat ready to learn the ropes, you’ll rely on your ability to communicate and work as part of a team: everyone’s role is essential to keep the vessel afloat and on track.
Strength, endurance and health
Strength, endurance and health
From hoisting sails and maneuvering the boat, sailing encourages cardiovascular health and increases stamina while reducing the risk of hypertension and obesity. It has also shown therapeutic effects – being on the water has demonstrable effects on your serotonin levels, boosting your mood and lowering stress levels.
Sportmanship and learning to lose
Being a good sport is something that comes with taking part competitively, but sailing has the added honour code of being a self-governing activity. So not only do sailors have to be temperate enough to recognize the strength of the teams who speed past them during a competition and learn accordingly, they also have to make sure they respect the rules and uphold the integrity of the sport.
Spatial awareness and concentration
You may not know it, but as an athlete your eyes are the first point of contact between you and your environment. Sailing increases your awareness of the dimensions of your vessel and the distance between it and the obstacles around you. And with this constant need to be focused on the task at hand to stay safe comes a sense of mindfulness. Sailors are encouraged not to multitask but to see what they’re doing through to completion before moving on to the next.
Seeing the world
From distant seas to sailing a boat down your local river, being on a boat allows you to visit far flung parts of the world. And not-so-distant views from a different vantage point. Whether you sail competitively or for leisure, seeing the world with a new set of eyes is guaranteed on-water.
Traditionally, a level of affordability has been attached to sailing, but this has changed since the sport gained popularity and has opened itself up to wider society. Like any sport or activity, sailing is as expensive as you make it. If you’re thinking of buying your own yacht, prepare to spend a great deal more than the average dinghy sailor, for example. The best way to start out is to attend a taster session at a local sailing club. Joining clubs is a great way of making things more economical, with fees starting from just £5.
The best part of joining a local boating club is that it greatly reduces the cost of sailing while introducing you to a group of mixed ability you can learn from. Professional instruction and guidance is also available in most clubs for those who want a more personalised approach to their learning.
There are hundreds of sailing clubs in the UK and, according to the Royal Yachting Association’s statistics, “There are more than 2,400 recognised RYA Training Centres worldwide, with more than 600 of these outside the UK across 58 different countries”, if you’re looking for RYA accreditation at the end of a course.
Search for your local sailing club on the RYA website here.
Buying vs renting a boat
Purchasing a boat is an expensive commitment, but it all depends on your usage. Like renting a home compared to buying one, if you’re doing it over a long period of time, you could be paying out more in the long run. Plus, also like a home, looking after your boat means you’ll get maximum resale value. So consider how frequently you’ll be using the boat, whether you can find one that suits your budget and what your capability as a sailor is like. If you’re just starting out, rent and get your sea legs before investing in something for the long term. Also be aware that if you’ll be using the boat regularly, renting means that you’ll have to carry all your belongings, fishing rods, coolers and kit, for example, on and off the boat after every trip. This means the likelihood of breaking something also increases, whereas on a boat of your own, you can leave your gear onboard for as long as you want.
SAILING IS A SUM OF ITS PARTS
Learning to sail is a bit like learning an instrument for the first time: to understand the mechanics, try and get acquainted with the names:
- The aft is the back of the boat and the bow refers to the front
- When facing the bow, the port is the left-hand side of the boat and the starboard is the right-hand side
1) IT’S ALL IN THE TECHNIQUE
And just like learning an instrument, once you know what you’re working with, it’s all about technique. Tacking and jibing are the two most basic maneuvers you’ll need to know.
- Tacking: Angle the bow of the boat through the wind. You’ll notice the wind switching sides, telling you that you’ve carried out the maneuver correctly.
- Jibing: Turn the boat into the wind, so the wind switches from one side to the other.
2) KNOW THE HAZARDS
… both on and off the boat. A novice sailor’s ideal conditions are uncrowded waters and light winds that allow you the space and the environment to build your confidence up in. And when executing a tack, jibe or any other maneuver, always be aware of the position of the boom (the horizontal pole that extends from the mast). A common cause of most sailing injuries is neglecting to know where the boom is, leading to concussions or even being knocked overboard.
3) CHOOSE CALM WATERS AND START SMALL
If you’re just starting to learn sailing basics, one of the most important beginner sailing tips to remember is to practice in ideal conditions of light winds and low traffic. This will give you ample space and agreeable weather to practice and gain confidence in your skills. A smaller boat will allow you to learn how to sail with fewer obstacles. A dinghy is responsive and easier to maneuver while practicing tipping the boat underwater and correcting it – a technique known as capsizing.
4) CHOOSING THE RIGHT SAILING GEAR
Choose what type of sailing you want to pursue and your kit accordingly. Beginners in small boats in calm waters should look to kit that provides excellent freedom of movement, such as Musto’s Flexlite Alumin Collection. One of the best Dinghy collections on the market, the pieces provide exceptional protection and ample stretch due to an eco-conscious neoprene construction. As you progressively get better and move on to faster dinghies, look for pieces in the collection that feature D3O Impact Technology to safeguard you against knocks and scratches. Check out Musto's what to wear guide for Dinghy sailing