Learning to sail: This is how to start

Jessica Watson
Posted November 16 2016

Another post for those new to the water. Apologies to those with plenty of miles under their belts, but I come across a lot of people who are a little stumped as to how they can start sailing. Sailing doesn’t necessarily have a reputation for being easily accessible, but I’m not convinced that reputation is fair; sailors are an agreeable lot who, of course, have a vested interest in seeing their sport, hobby or lifestyle thrive. Starting out in sailing also doesn’t have to mean the huge expense of purchasing of a boat. Here are a few tips to get you out on the water.

Read, scroll and watch!

The perfect way to figuratively dip your feet into the water is with the help of a few good books. Sailing stories are a great way to learn a little of the vocabulary and provide some background before you jump right in.

Here’s my list of the most iconic sailing books. Although now I think about it, maybe it’s better if you leave Fastnet, Force 10, Fatal Storm and Red Sky in Mourning at the bookshop, along with any other sailing titles about storms—those books are a little intense, even for those with solid sea legs.

Of course, it’s not just the traditional paperbacks that will expose you to all things sailing. Social media is another great way to immerse yourself. Check out our list of the best Sailing Facebook groups to join. And just about everyone’s watching young Australian couple Riley and Elayna’s Sailing La Vagabond YouTube videos.

Discover sailing

When you’re ready to actually dip your feet in the water, it’s time to head to the Discover Sailing website. I’m afraid that this isn’t the most helpful suggestion for any internationals, but Sailing Australia has a fantastic initiative called Discover Sailing, which, as the name would suggest, helps you start out on the water. As part of the initiative, participating yacht clubs around the county put on free ‘Discover Sailing’ days, inviting anyone along to get a taste for sailing. The days are typically scheduled throughout spring and early summer, and all the details are on the Discover Sailing website.

Bareboat chartering

There’s a lot to be said for learning to sail in a lovely holiday location, and while some level of boating knowhow is usually required yacht charter companies cater those with little or no sailing experience. Charter boats are designed and set up for simplicity, and often come with manuals written in very plain language.

Your local club

And, of course, there’s nowhere more logical to start than your local sailing or yacht club. Many of the big clubs are fantastic with well-run programs and a greater variety of boats to sail, but I also encourage you to give the smaller clubs plenty of thought. Small clubs are guaranteed to be very welcoming and grateful for new sailors, but ultimately your choice will need to reflect the type of sailing and boat you most enjoy.

You would also be surprised by how many clubs welcome visitors looking to participate in their casual or twilight races, often with little or no experience required. Again, in Australia the Discover Sailing website is the place to go to find a suitable club and sail training programme.

Choosing your crewmates

If you have the misfortune of finding yourself on a boat with a skipper who likes to yell, feel free to ditch the boat. But don’t give up on sailing; there’s plenty of great skippers and crews out there. Choosing who you want to sail with is a choice that should be given as much if not more consideration as the type of boat you want to sail.

I’ve previously talked about the importance of a kids’ sailing instructor having a lovely cool, calm and collected personality, but this doesn’t just apply to kids; everyone is comfortable with different levels of intensities on board.

See you out on the water soon!

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Lucas Burns
Posted November 21 2016
All good advice. I'd like to add using some sailing apps to help learn the theory. I started by sailing once a month on the boat and then using the time between learning about parts of the boat/points of sail/ colregs/Nav signals/markers/etc through apps on my phone while on the train to work. Some that are information based and some that are tests. 2.5 years later I'm loving the sailing, doing races such as Brisbane-Gladstone and Brisbane-Keppel in short handed divisions.
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Jessica Watson
Posted November 21 2016
Hi Lucas,

Thanks for the tip, a great point! I love hearing stories of technology being used like this. Glad to hear that you are enjoying the racing and getting involved with shorthanded sailing.
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Captain Crayfish
Posted December 8 2016
Hi Jess, My "Bible" has been and still is "The International Marine Book of SAILING" by Robby Robinson.

McGraw Hill ISBN 978-0-07-053225-0.

I can read and re-read this over and over. Comprehensive and well put together .

For inspiration Kay Cottee's FIrst Lady, and True Spirit, for You Tube "how to's" I like Pantaenius (Pip Hare), I'm not keen on these really amateur efforts with swinging vertigo inducing cameras and woeful dialogue and audio. (Some people should never have a camera:) )

That's my thoughts and am enjoying yours -
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