How to get sailing experience

14th March 2022 Elena Manighetti

How to get sailing experience

Many people want to try sailing out before embarking a course, or to improve their confidence after getting their first certification. Yet, gaining sailing experience isn’t straightforward for newbies.

In this article, we look at different ways to get sailing experience under your belt without owning a sailboat. 

Join your local yacht club 

If you live near the water, join your local yacht club. Here, you will meet lots of sailors and boat owners who enjoy getting out on the water. 

Once you’re friends, you can offer to give them a hand when they plan to take their boat out. You’ll be able to practice a lot of useful skills even on a short trip out. Remember that you’re not a paying guest on board the yacht, so take the opportunity to do as much as you can to help out on board and always follow the captain’s orders.

Volunteer at a local race

Racing is an excellent way to get sailing experience. It involves a lot more trimming and reefing than a standard day out, so there’s lots to learn. At first, you’ll just sit on the rail, but from there you can observe what people are doing and you can feel how the boat reacts. If you go along often and are proactive, you will be taught more every time. Racers notice every change in the wind and the boat’s motion and act on them fast. It’s a very valuable experience.

how to get sailing experience

Make friends at a marina near where you live

Not all sailors are members of a yacht club or racers. Strolling the docks of a marina and chatting with boat owners will allow you to get to know fellow passionate boaters. Who knows, maybe one of them will be willing to take you under their wing. If not, you will be able to ask their opinion on the marina and the local cruising spots. 

Find new sailing friends on social media

Sailors and cruisers enjoy connecting with people passionate about boating and sharing drinks, meals, stories, and tips. There are lots of Facebook groups dedicated to cruising communities all over the world. Simply join a relevant group in your area and start making friends. On Instagram, you could find sailors in your region and befriend them. Many boat hitchhikers use these platforms to find yachts in need of non-professional crew.

Charter a boat on holiday

A sailing vacation is a great opportunity to refresh and practice all the skills you’ve learned on a course. Many companies stay in touch with their fleet on the radio during the trip and offer help and assistance in case of emergency, making the experience less stressful. 

Go on a skippered bareboat charter

If you’re a newbie, you could hire a skippered boat. While on the charter, you could offer to help the captain and ask them questions. Most skippers will love to see you’re interested in sailing, appreciate the offer, and be happy to share their knowledge.

how to get sailing experience

Join a sailing school

If you’re completely committed, you could go all in and sign up at a sailing school. Most schools have multiple trained instructors who will take you out with other students regularly to help you learn the ropes and practice your skills. It’s a long-term commitment, but it’s the fastest way to becoming a sailor.

Sign up to a crew-wanted website

If you have a qualification or two, you could sign up to a crew-wanted website. On these message boards, you’ll be able to find crew requests for deliveries and passages, which will offer invaluable sailing experience. 

If you do consider being crew for someone, meet them in person first, have a look at the boat, and ask to see their qualifications. They will be responsible for your life on the trip, so you need to be able to trust them fully. That said, if you dream of embarking on an ocean crossing, this is the best way to make it happen.

how to get sailing experience

Attend seminars at boat shows

Not all learning is done out on the water. Having a solid knowledge base is fundamental, especially for navigation. Attending seminars at boat shows will allow you to learn more about sailing, while meeting potential new friends. 

Make sure you document each experience fully in your logbook, especially if you hope to gain further qualifications or to buy boat insurance in the future. 

You can own a sailboat without knowing how to sail; however you need to be able to sail and have a license in order to go out on the water. So, if you want to buy the boat first, you’ll need to hire a skipper to take you out and teach you the ropes. You can always get your license after.

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