Getting into sailing can seem an intimidating prospect at first.
After all, it is more complex than hopping in a boat and turning on the motor and pointing the helm to where you want to go.
In actuality, it is easier than it looks, and, as in most things, it gets easier with repetition.
Let’s take a look at why it is easier than you think!
1. The Mechanics are Straightforward:
It is important to keep in mind that the actual mechanics of sailing are limited and not difficult to comprehend.
You need to be able to steer, and you need to be able to trim the sails. In addition to these skills, you will also need to identify the direction the wind is blowing from.
Steering can be picked up in moments. Dinghies and many keelboats use a tiller, a long lever attached to the boat’s rudder. Larger keelboats use a wheel.
Moving the tiller or the wheel adjusts the angle of the rudder, which changes the direction of the boat. Trimming the sails means adjusting them to the angle of the wind and the strength of the breeze.
You will usually have two sails to pay attention to, the main and the genoa. They are adjusted independently, though in concert with each other.
Identifying wind direction is easy on windy days, as the force blows over your body. The breeze can be shifty on lighter air days, but many masts have windexs at the top that point into the wind, making it easy.
You can also tape a piece of yarn or light cloth to a shroud, and this will stream away from the wind.
Those are the basic mechanics. They can be easy to grasp, though difficult to master.
Beyond that are other skills such as understanding your boat’s heel, docking, and knot-tying. Then there is maintenance, which will vary widely depending on the boat you have.
But steering, sail trim, and identifying wind direction are the essentials, and you can learn them in a single afternoon on the water.
2. You Have a Friend to Show You:
If you are fortunate enough to have a friend who is already interested in sailing, this is the easiest point of all.
Go sailing with them!
This will introduce you to the ins and outs of sailing in a casual atmosphere, where you can ask questions and have everything explained at your own pace. Conversely, your friend might be a racer and have you on as a crew member.
This is a less-relaxed way to learn and more information-intensive than just sailing about, but you will learn practical, and if you continue on the boat as a crew, you will pick up a lot of knowledge over the course of multiple races.
Whether cruising or racing with your friend, your knowledge and understanding of sailing will expand at a brisk pace, and you will see that it is not that difficult to get into.
3. There Are Classes to Teach You
Most maritime areas will have some form of adult sailing classes.
It may be an informal, mid-week evening class sponsored by a local yacht club. It may be a regulated course developed by a national body like the American Sailing Association.
Either way, this is a more structured way to learn. Depending on what is taught and over how many lessons, it can be intense or gradual.
If you go this route, you will want to evaluate whether you want a crash course or learn at a slower pace. Whichever way you decide to go, this makes getting into sailing pretty easy.
There are even some online courses to get you into the basics, including a free one by the American Sailing Association.
4. The Abundance of Information Online
There are a tremendous number of places to gather information online.
Some simple, beginner sites explain how to use a tiller or trim your sails, while others get into complex topics like passage-making or small boat tactics.
In addition to information sites, there are vast numbers of videos. These range from practical boat-handling videos where the basics are emphasized to detailed analyses of races or even knockdowns.
Watching a number of these videos can show you that sailing is not too difficult in and of itself. Some of the more dramatic videos will serve as cautionary tales!
You will also see how many different opinions people have on certain aspects of sailing, such as proper sail inventory, small-course racing tactics, or even stowage.
Realizing that there are various ways to do some things right can help you find your own course with confidence.
5. There are Lots of Books on the Topic
In addition to information on the web, there have been thousands and thousands of books and magazine articles.
These again vary from simple how-to’s to theories of how sails work to rebuilding sailboats.
Books might seem to be less useful than online resources, but the right ones can be invaluable.
One reason for this is the loss of knowledge. As sailing has changed with newer boats and increased convenience, older knowledge of boat handling can get lost to newer generations.
Some of the old books have more traditional skills, such as navigation, that are less common among contemporary sailors.
Many one-volume references work on sailing that can teach terminology and knots, among other bodies of nautical knowledge.
These are always good to have, and older ones can be written entertainingly, too!
6. Lots of Used Dinghies are Available to get Started in
One reason sailing is easy to get into is the availability of used boats.
Many dinghy racing classes from the 1970s and 1980s have faded away in popularity, but many remain.
They can often be had for ridiculously low prices, even those in good condition. Even current classes, like Sunfishes and Lasers, have an abundance of boats available to those searching.
This makes getting into sailing affordable. Once you have a little bit of knowledge and you get a cheap, used dinghy, you can start learning more about boat handling and building your confidence at your own pace.
You can challenge yourself more as your skills develop.
You will need to learn how to right the boat when you flip or capsize in a dinghy because it is almost certainly going to happen.
But this is not a difficult skill to learn, so it is not an impediment.
7. Keelboats Can be Very Forgiving
Should you opt to begin sailing by purchasing your own keelboat, you ultimately will be in a safer boat.
They are far more difficult to capsize and become more stable the more they heel, as the righting force gets stronger.
You will still need to get your boat from the dock to the larger body of water to begin practicing, but once you do, you can begin experimenting with steering and sail trim in earnest.
Keelboats react more slowly than dinghies, which you’ll quickly discover, but they are a more forgiving platform to learn on as they will not flip (unless you decide to learn how to sail in a storm, which is not recommended!).
You might start learning with reduced sail area to see how the sails and the boat respond to your actions before graduating to full sail area.
8. People have Made Mistakes; You Can Learn from Them
Whether online, in a book, or drinking at the end of the bar, many sources are frank about the mistakes they have made sailing.
These can be the most valuable lessons you learn, as people have found themselves in trouble from seemingly innocuous situations.
These situations can be as simple as docking, adhering to a plan despite changing conditions, or failure to put the drain plugs in the hull.
While this may indicate that many things can go wrong, that’s not really the case. The real takeaway from these mistakes is to be aware of the boat and the conditions you are in and never stop learning.
Because even veteran sailors can get complacent and make simple mistakes.
The actual mechanics you must grasp to sail a boat are few and all related.
Understanding how these work together to move the boat is pretty easy once you start applying yourself to it.
Beyond the mechanics, there are several ways to break into sailing, and if you start small, it will not break the bank.