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How to Get into Sailing: A Beginner’s Guide

Walking past rows of shiny yachts moored along quays and jetties you may have emitted a wistful sigh more than once in your life. The thought of getting out onto the big blue sea, the wind in your hair and a sense of freedom blowing through the sails is a distant dream, a sport saved for the elite few. Or is it? In fact, boating caters to everyone – people of all ages, financial means, and physical ability are finding that it couldn’t be easier to get into sailing.

Whether you want to get into the exhilarating world of yacht racing, explore new places, or simply want a leisurely bob on the sea or a lake, sailing is a wonderful way to get active. You don’t need to be a strong swimmer or even have stepped foot on a boat before. Here we take a look at how you can embark on a new hobby that will change your life.


Join a Sailing Club

Sailing clubs are the best place to get absorbed into the world of yachts. Not only do they offer the chance to hire boats and get yourself out on the water regularly, but you’ll be able to meet like-minded people, enjoy social activities and embrace the sailing lifestyle. Throughout the year sailing clubs host everything from races to club dinners and family-friendly events, so it’s a wonderful way to get involved in the sailing community.

There is a membership fee to join the clubs, and family discounts or packages. If you buy your own yacht and want to keep it at the club there will be additional fees, but otherwise, you can hire boats and spend your weekends out on the water – whether that’s at the coast or inland on a lake. Sailing clubs may also offer, or help arrange, sailing courses.


Take Sailing Courses

Undertaking sailing courses is a great way to build confidence, spend time on the water with an experienced instructor, and gain the qualifications you need to keep your family safe on board. Each country has its own accreditations and sailing associations, but entry-level qualifications will always focus on steering a yacht, sail handling, rope work, and safety.

In the UK, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has a range of beginner’s courses including the National Sailing Scheme for those wanting to learn in dinghies, small keelboats or multihulls. Levels 1, 2 and 3 will enable you to progress in a few days from complete beginner to being ready for more advanced courses such as Seamanship Skills, Day Sailing, Performance Sailing, or Sailing with Spinnakers.

The American Sailing Association (ASA) has a comprehensive package of progressive sailing certification programmes to get you started. Sailors can cherry-pick the courses which suit their interest and skill levels, whether it’s ASA 101 Basic Keelboat Sailing, ASA 103 Basic Coastal Cruising, or ASA 104 Bareboat Cruising. As an example, Bareboat Cruising would teach you how to sail a sloop-rigged 30'-45' sailboat during a multi-day cruise in moderate winds and sea conditions. The course would include provisioning, boat systems, auxiliary engines, advanced sail trim, coastal navigation, anchoring and mooring, docking, emergency operations, and weather.

Across the world, there are sailing associations with invaluable resources and training schemes to help get you started. In Australia, Discover Sailing, part of the national Australian Sailing Association is the best place to start, while the World Sailing Organisation, the world governing body for the sport of sailing, is a good resource for those wanting to get competitive.

Based in Canada, International Yacht Training Worldwide (IYT) is an independent sailing and boating training organization which offers recreational and professional courses all over the world. They are the largest organisation of their kind and have been endorsed by the world’s leading regulatory authorities. You’ll find over 250 schools in 56 countries using the IYT curriculum.


Hire a Sailboat

Before spending money on clubs and extensive training courses, you’ll want to decide if sailing is right for you. If you’re lucky enough to have friends with a boat, offer to bring the picnic and spend a fun day out together. Otherwise, you could consider the option of hiring (or chartering) a boat. While charter companies will require at least a basic qualification if you want to sail it yourself – known as bareboat charter – you could also opt to hire a skipper (and crew) and learn from a professional. While you won’t be manning the helm, you get to experience the joys of being on the water and the boating lifestyle.

Boat charters are available for as little as a couple of hours in your local seaside town or can be weeks’ long sailing charters somewhere exotic. From the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, there are charter companies offering the utmost in luxury or a simple dinghy.


Buy a yacht

Once the sailing bug has bitten you, there’s no turning back. A lifetime of new adventures awaits, and what better way to experience them than in your own boat? Owning a yacht may seem a daunting prospect, and there is much to consider before making a decision, but ultimately it is easier than you may think. You might want to start small, with a dinghy or ketch. Consider if you would prefer to go for a monohull or a multihull, and learn to sail in your own boat. If you have dreams of sailing around the world once you’ve found your sea legs, then you’ll want to be looking at buying blue water yachts with enough room for long voyages.  

Purchasing a boat doesn’t have to cost the earth, and there are in fact many affordable boats for a 5-metre sail boat. Financing a Boat is a sound option, allowing you to own your very own yacht.


Take the Plunge

There is no time like the present to get into sailing and, as we’ve seen, the help is out there to get you on the right path. There are fantastic programmes for children, where they can learn to sail small optimist and laser boats or be part of a team sailing a larger yacht. There are also many opportunities for people with disabilities to get into sailing. The RYA has a national programme, Sailability, which aims to encourage people with disabilities to take up the sport.

Far from the expensive and exclusive hobby, it was once seen as sailing is a sport open to anyone. All you need is a sense of adventure.



Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

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