Is Sailing Actually Good For You? (Explained)

Whether you sail competitively or simply for fun, one thing that we can all agree on is that sailing is good for you.

Being outside in the fresh air feels good, and even moving around on a boat can be a form of exercise, but how good is sailing for you?

In this article, we will look into the health benefits of sailing and why sailing is so good for you:

Here’s Why Sailing is Good For You:

Sailing is an excellent way to enjoy being out in the fresh air, but sailing also requires you to use your muscles for passive exercise, keep your balance, and become proficient with boating skills. Learning a new skill, staying fit, and getting outside is good for you.

How Does Sailing Affect The Body Long-Term?

Whether you go for day-sails in the bay, compete in club racing, or plan to cross an ocean, there are many long term benefits of sailing for both your mind and your body:

Benefits For The Body:

  • Helps to build strength – all that pulling or winching when hoisting or changing sails helps develop muscle strength in your arms, shoulders and your back.
  • It gives you a cardiovascular workout – sailing, and especially competitive sailing will improve your cardiovascular health, which will help to reduce the risks of heart disease, hypertension, and obesity.
  • Improves flexibility and agility – the different tasks that go with sailing all help to improve your flexibility and agility. Activities like winching and even moving around on a moving boat can significantly improve your hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
  • Strengthens your inner core – with the constant need to keep your balance, you will, even subconsciously, activate your inner core muscles to keep you steady. Strengthening your inner core helps keep your balance when sailing but also helps to provide you with better stability when carrying out other daily chores.

Benefits For The Mind:

  • It creates a sense of well-being – just being out on the water will put you in a good mood, but this is not only because of the salty air. The saltiness of sea air contains positive ions that help the body absorb oxygen. A good level of oxygen in the body helps to balance your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a key hormone that gives you that sense of well-being and happiness.
  • Lowers stress levels – a beautiful, calm day on the water with the wind in your sails has been proven to be a soothing sensation, which lowers stress levels, especially when there is no sound of an engine.
  • Increases concentration – the ultimate goal of sailing is to have a safe and smooth journey. Taking the helm on a sailboat can improve your concentration as you have to steer, take into account the wind, and monitor the boat instruments simultaneously. Paying attention to all these details helps to improve your concentration, which can help you with multitasking in everyday life.
  • Improves communication skills –  how often have you seen a husband and wife team screaming at each other when coming in to dock? This is not a great example of good communication. Everybody on a sailing yacht has a role to play, and learning to communicate well is integral to smooth and happy sailing on a boat.

Do People Use Sailing As Physical Exercise?

Sailing is a recognized sport that can be used as a physical exercise, especially at a competitive level.

While sailing conjures up pictures of sipping champagne cocktails and gin and tonics at sunset, today’s yacht racing couldn’t be further from this image.

Competitive sailing can be brutal, and the modern-day sailor must be physically fit to race. Sailing can be used to increase your core and muscle strength, improve your aerobic fitness levels and improve your balance and agility.

Even just moving around a  sailboat and finding your sea legs will help you strengthen your core muscles and improve your balance.

In addition, activities associated with sailing can be used as physical exercise.

Snorkeling, swimming, or rowing your dinghy to shore can all be considered substantial physical exercise.

Are Sailors Less Sick Than People Who Don’t Sail?

Generally speaking, sailors are less sick than people who don’t sail.

People who regularly sail have a certain level of fitness, plus being out on the water and outside in the fresh air creates a healthy lifestyle.

In addition, sailors who cross oceans and spend weeks if not months at sea are less exposed to bacteria and viruses that spread easily on land.

However, if one crew member has some viral infection, this will easily spread to the other crew members due to their proximity within the confines of a boat.

Are There Any Physical Disadvantages Of Sailing?

There are really no physical disadvantages of sailing.

Quite the opposite, in fact! Even people who are physically disadvantaged or disabled can sail.

With sailing, the ability is what is important, more so than the disability.

What Are The Most Common Health Issues Among Sailors?

While sailing is considered a ‘healthy’ sport, there are some common health issues among sailors.

The most common are as follows:

1. Seasickness

The movement of the boat causes seasickness or motion sickness.

Not everyone will suffer from seasickness, but for those that do, it can be debilitating. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, headaches, cold sweats, and tiredness.

Different medications can treat seasickness, but these often cause drowsiness.

Another option is to put the person who is showing signs of becoming seasick on the helm.

The steering gives them something else to concentrate on, and looking at the horizon helps to cure the feeling of seasickness.

2. Dehydration

It’s straightforward to become dehydrated on a boat. Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough liquids.

Symptoms include feeling thirsty, passing dark-colored urine, dizziness, headache, and tiredness. Seasickness can be the main cause of dehydration, as can sweating while sailing maneuvers or even diarrhea.

It’s important to make sure you drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration, and by that, we don’t mean beer!

3. Sunburn

Being on a sailboat will expose you to the sun, which in turn can cause sunburn.

Sunburn causes your skin to turn red, can be painful, and make your skin feel very hot. Repeated exposure to sunburn can lead to more serious skin problems such as melanoma or skin cancer.

When you are out sailing or on any boat, make sure to protect yourself by using a high factor water-resistant sunscreen, cover up with long sleeves and wear a cap or a wide-brimmed hat.

4. Heat-Related Problems

There are different heat-related problems, including heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash.

The most serious is heat stroke, which happens when the body can no longer manage its own temperature to cool down. Symptoms of heatstroke can include a person becoming confused, having slurred speech, losing consciousness, having hot, dry skin, or profusely sweating.

Heatstroke treatment includes cooling the body as soon as possible as if left untreated, and heatstroke can be fatal. To avoid any of these heat-related problems, it is best to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day.

However, this is not always possible when you are sailing. Other things that help prevent heat-related problems are staying in the shade, drinking plenty of water, and wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

5. Hypothermia

If you are sailing in a cold water environment or winter, you need to be aware of the dangers of hypothermia.

Hypothermia is not only a problem if you fall in the water but can also be caused by sweating under your many layers. Suppose your clothing gets wet, whether from cold water or sweating, you are at risk.

Symptoms may include a person becoming confused, shivering, having slurred speech, blurred vision, lips and fingernails appearing bluish, and the loss of feeling in the extremities. Treatment should include getting the person out of the elements, removing wet clothes and replacing them with a dry set, and covering them with blankets to warm them up slowly.

Warming a victim of hypothermia too quickly may result in the body going into shock. In addition, with hypothermia, you should always seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Is Sailing Physically Demanding?

Depending on the type of sailing you participate in will determine how physically demanding it is.

While there will always be an element of physicality, crossing an ocean in the trade winds means that sometimes sail plans won’t be touched for several days or even weeks, and you’d better have a good book handy.

However, daysailing and even racing will require a certain level of physical fitness. Different size boats and different sailing situations will demand different physical capabilities of both the captain and crew.

So meeting the different physical demands of different sailing situations will help you keep yourself, your crew, and your boat safe while you are sailing.

While you need to consider all the fitness aspects involved (balance, coordination, agility, strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health) as key to being an active sailor, you must remember that sailing is open to everyone.

There are sailing courses for children, and there are more than enough ‘salty seadogs’ out there who are still on the water, which can tell you a few sailing stories while sitting at your yacht club bar.


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Sailing and sports medicine: a literature review

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