The joys of introducing kids to sailing

14th July 2021 Jessica Watson

The joys of introducing kids to sailing

Parents love the idea of sailing with their kids. Heading out on the water with wide-eyed, excited youngsters can give you a fresh appreciation for how fantastic sailing is.

I love seeing little arms and legs sticking out of lifejackets, the actual kids hidden under hats and sunscreen, and I’m always impressed to see the little bundles of wetsuit heading out to sea on the cold days that I’ve chosen not to leave the beach.

It’s often the kids who take to sailing more naturally than adults. I’ve taught kids who barely listen to my explanations but get out on the water and instinctively know what to do.

However, not all kids have this natural ability, confidence or interest in sailing, and it can be tough on parents who would love to hit the water with their kids and want to see them enjoy sailing as much as they do.

I’ve heard a few horror stories about kids (and parents!) who are taken out on the water on a rough day and scared away from sailing. So introducing kids to the water should be approached cautiously.

Firstly, I’d highly recommend kids starting out in dinghies, even if it’s just for a few lessons. Small boats are much more responsive and give you a “feel” for sailing, and of course you’ll learn much faster when a small mistake turns the boat upside-down, depositing you in the water!

It’s important that you choose your weather conditions carefully, so be sure to wait for a quiet day with a gentle breeze for a kid’s first sailing experience.

But that doesn’t mean that the stormy days have to be wasted. When I was young and terrified of the windy weather, I’d be left to play on the beach. But seeing how much fun the other kids were having eventually gave me the courage to venture out onto the water myself. 

The next thing you need to consider is, well, you might not be the best person to teach your kid how to sail.

A good sailing coach needs a very calm “everything is okay” voice when faced with cold water and repeated capsizes. Of course, the coach should also be confident enough in their own abilities to allow them to focus their efforts on helping the kid, rather than sailing the boat. 

When I tell kids to leave their parents on the beach and go sailing with their friends, the parents aren’t impressed. But I know that it wasn’t sailing with my parents that got me hooked; it was the first few years I spent giggling (and often drifting in the wrong direction!) with my best friend that made me realise that sailing was pretty cool.

I do know many young sailors who were immediately drawn to the competitive element of sailing. Of course, this is fantastic, but I still stress the importance of learning to enjoy sailing as more than just a means to win races.

I’ve seen promising young sailors, confronted with new priorities, walk away from not only racing but sailing more generally as well. I hate to see sailing become purely about competition, the simple joy and adventure forgotten.

 Learning to sail should be, first and foremost, about falling in love with sailing, and competing can be prioritised after that. If a kid falls in love with sailing, it’s something they will enjoy for life.