People have different reasons for wanting to take up sailing. Some people do so for sport or competition, while others are simply looking for a new recreational activity. Others engage in sailing to socialize, while others see sailing as a contemplative pastime. Regardless of your reason, you need to understand that learning how to sail will require time and effort. Nonetheless, don’t let that deter you from taking up sailing. It’s a fun activity, and to help you out we have here some essential sailing tips to get you started.
The very first thing you need to do is to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Don’t worry, it shouldn’t be that difficult as long as you’re open and dedicated to learning this sport.
1. Sign Up for Sailing Courses
If you want to learn how to sail, the best place to get started is in a sailing school. Here you’ll learn the fundamentals of sailing like the basics of sailing, rules of the water, general sailing safety, and more. Aside from that, instructors will also give you a lot of opportunities to apply what you’re learning in actual hands-on training. You’ll get a chance to rig a boat, manipulate sheets and lines, and more. The best part is that you can enjoy all these in an environment that is safe and conducive for beginning sailors so you don’t have to feel pressured.
2. Join Your Local Sailing Club
Aside from enrolling in a sailing school, you should also join your local sailing club. In most instances, your school will have its sailing club which is open to all its students. If it doesn’t (or you’d like to expand your circle to include other sailing communities), you can look for a sailing club in your locality. Mingling with other sailors is an excellent way of supplementing what you’re learning in sailing school. Plus, you’ll get the chance to learn from their experience.
3. Get Licensed
Boat licenses will depend on several factors, including where you’re sailing and what sailing vessel you’ll be using. Some states will only look for a sailing safety certificate, while other states will be more stringent with their requirements. Besides, most states will require licenses for boats that have a motor in them regardless of the size. You should also consider getting a VHF radio license, as this is a requirement for larger motor powered boats in most states.
4. Sail with an Experienced Sailor
Before you commit to buying your boat, it is highly recommended that you get your feet wet first and do some actual sailing. This will give you the chance to experience how it feels like being out in the water without the school watching your every move and telling you what to do. Think of it as your baptism into the world of sailing. Of course, we don’t recommend that you do this alone. Instead, why not volunteer to be a crew for one of your local sailing club members for a while? This is a great opportunity to expand your learning and hone those skills you learned in sailing school.
Buying Your First Boat
Now that you have some experience, it’s time to get your sea vessel. Keep in mind that this is one endeavor you shouldn’t take lightly considering that a boat, regardless of the size or type, is a huge investment. To help you with the choosing and purchasing decision, below we have some tips to help you find a boat that you’ll love using.
5. Choosing Your Vessel
When people hear the term ‘sailboats’ they usually think of small boats with sails. However, ‘sailboat’ is a general term that refers to various types of boats used for sailing like dinghies and yachts. So when thinking about getting your boat, decide first which type of boat you really, really, want. If you’re content with sailing near the shore or on a large lake, then a decent-sized sailboat should suffice. However, if you plan on taking open seas and traveling to places, then you may want to consider getting a cruising yacht. Boats vary in price depending on the type, size, and condition. Also, try to find a boat that is similar to the one that you intend to buy from a rental shop and rent it for a day. You can also talk to your sailing club buddies and ask if you can take their boat for a spin (with them, of course).
6. Shop Around
Shopping for a boat nowadays is pretty convenient. Aside from local listings, you can also do your boat shopping online. So first, you’ll want to make a list of potential boats that you’re interested in and make comparisons. You can ask your sailing school instructor or your buddies at the sailing club to help you out and ask them for recommendations and suggestions. Regardless, be sure to shop around and don’t settle for the first boat you see (unless you’re completely sure that it’s the one you want.)
7. Inspect and Test
You should have a professional mechanic or surveyor along with you as you inspect the boat. They should be able to help you identify any problems with the boat that you may otherwise miss. Note that you may have to pay for their services, but this small fee will save you from huge expenses down the road caused by repairs and part replacements. Also, it is best if you could inspect the boat on land so you can see the underside of the hull of the boat. Lastly, be sure to take the boat for a test run and make sure that it’s fully operational before putting any money down.
8. Register Your Boat
Most states will require that you register your boat under the proper authorities. This is especially true if your sailboat is powered by a motor. Registration forms are usually available for download on the regulating agency’s website. An additional tip: make sure your registration papers are always updated and current, and have them with you on board always.
Tips before Heading to the Water
Excited to take your very own sailboat for a ride? Hold up just a moment and make sure that you get the following tips down first. Doing so will help make your first sailing trip more enjoyable, and more importantly, safe.
9. Check Your Vessel
Before you head out into the water, you’ll want to go over your boat and check that everything’s in order. For instance, you’ll want to make sure that the winches are clean and greased. You’ll also want to inspect the rudder, the drains and scuppers, the lines, and other parts of your boat. Check the battery and terminals for signs of corrosion or damage as well. There are so many things that you’ll need to check to ensure that you won’t run into any problems while sailing. You can go online and search for a boating checklist to help make your inspection easier.
10. Bring a First Aid Kit
Minor injuries like cuts and bruises can happen while you’re out in the water. When it does, you’ll want to be prepared to clean the wounds and bandage them properly to avoid infection; otherwise, you may find that you have to cut your sailing trip short and head back to shore. This is why having a well-stocked first aid kit is so important. This should include gauze, bandages, disinfectant, cotton, and several other items. You should also bring medicines for seasickness just in case.
11. Bring Safety Equipment
Because of the quickly changing weather and water conditions, you may sometimes find yourself in need of rescue while out in the water. As such, you’ll want to make sure that you have safety torches and flares which you can use to signal for help. You should also have a separate marine radio that works by a battery that you can use to contact authorities in case your engine fails. Aside from these, you should also have a fire extinguisher or a bucket to help put out fires in the kitchen or the deck. In some states, you will be required by law to bring several other types of safety and risk management paraphernalia. Be sure to check with your local authorities for a complete list of these items.
12. Bring Plenty of Food and Water
Sailing can be a physically demanding activity so you’ll want to bring along an ample supply of food and water. Unless you’re cruising on a yacht, you may find it difficult to cook or even reheat food, which is why you’ll want to take food that is easy and ready to eat instead. Also, bring lots and lots of drinking water especially if you’re sailing on hot days. Some experts recommend that you bring two different containers for your water supply just in case one gets contaminated.
13. Dress Appropriately
You don’t have to buy any specialist sailing clothing if this is your first time sailing. Instead, you should dress in comfortable clothes (shirts and shorts are okay when sailing on a warm day). You should also wear non-slip closed toe sailing shoes. Aside from these, you should also consider bringing a thick, rain jacket since the temperature is usually cooler out in the water than on land. Besides, avoid wearing excessive jewelry since these can get tangled up in the lines and sheets. If there’s any accessory that you should wear, that would be a hat and a pair of sailing sunglasses to cut off the sun’s glare and make navigation easier.
14. Check the Weather Conditions
One of the first things you should do is to check the weather before you leave the dock. Don’t be like other sailors who just look at their window and upon seeing the shining sun, turn their motor on and sail away. Instead, turn on your VHF radio and listen to the local weather forecast. There are dedicated channels that report constant updates on the weather and you can listen to this while you’re setting up your boat.
15. Study the Tides and Currents
Tides and currents are tricky creatures, and if you’re just learning to sail, these two are some of the first things that you need to understand since these factors can easily make or break a trip. Tides and currents are integral and relatively stable parts of the sea, and unlike storms and other weather phenomena, these can be predicted with accuracy which helps you to avoid a disastrous journey. Keep in mind though that tides and currents are not consistent and vary from one place to another. Thus, before heading out, be sure to consult a tide table so you know the times of high and low tides. Tide tables are usually available online or in print form.
Tips While on the Water
It can be easy to get lost in excitement while you’re on the water. Some sailors become complacent and forget essential sailing safety tips while out there. Don’t be like them. Keep the following tips in mind while you’re sailing and you’re bound to have an excellent time.
16. Keep an Eye Out for Floating Objects
It is pretty common to find floating debris on seas and lakes, from plastics to logs, fishing floats and trawl nets, and more. Whatever it may be, hitting any of this debris can be dangerous and put your sailing adventure at risk. So always keep an eye out for any floating object that may damage your boat’s hull or even get caught in the propeller-like nets and lumps of kelp.
17. Observe the Clouds
Weather forecasts have become more and more reliable over the years thanks to constant improvement in technology. However, this doesn’t mean that you should discount traditional methods of predicting the weather. This is why so many sailors also learn how to read the clouds despite all the fancy gadgets and electronics in their dashboards. Some of the notable things that they look at are the percentage of the sky that is covered by clouds. Generally speaking, if the sky is mostly covered by cirrus or stratus clouds, there is a huge chance that the weather will soon deteriorate. Also, gray cumulus clouds usually carry a lot of moisture which means that there’s an impending rain. By keeping an eye on the clouds, you can get a head start in deciding whether to continue sailing or head back to the port.
18. Be Careful around the Boom
The boom is that big, heavy bar at the foot of the mast and holds the mainsail. Whenever you tack and jibe your sailboat, the boom tends to swing across the boat. And when it does, you’ll want to avoid it at all costs. A swinging boom can catch you unaware and knock you overboard or seriously injure you. The best way to avoid this unfortunate accident is to simply get out of its way. Some sailors practice ‘sheeting in’ procedures to control the boom since letting it swing freely causes unnecessary wear on the boat’s mast.
19. Wear a Life Vest
Wearing a life jacket or vest is one of the golden rules of boating. It doesn’t matter what type of sea vessel you’re operating, whether it’s a large yacht, a small dinghy, or even if it’s a kayak or canoe. As long as you’re operating a boat, you should always wear a life vest. If you are taking passengers along, be sure that you have one life jacket for each passenger.
20. Watch Your Hands
There is a boating rule that goes “one hand on the boat and one hand for yourself”. However, be careful where you place your hands on the boat. Be sure that you aren’t standing or sitting on ropes and sheets and that you don’t wrap your hands around them. Keep your hands and fingers clear of blocks and winches.
21. Keep an Eye on the Water’s Color
Aside from watching the waves and the tides, you should also be mindful of subtle changes in the water’s color. This is especially true if you’re sailing in shallow reefs, submerged rocks, wrecks and narrow reef entrances, and poorly charted waters. This will help you to avoid crashing onto the shallow parts of the water, which in turn helps you to prevent damaging your boat’s hull and getting grounded.
Essential Sailing Safety Tips
Safety is of paramount concern while you’re sailing. Unfortunately, despite all your preparations, there will always be one instance where you find yourself in precarious situations. So here we outline some of the dangers you may face at sea and how you can deal with them.
22. Man Overboard Situations
One of the biggest fears of many beginning sailors or first-time boat passengers is falling overboard. And accidents like these do happen, especially when sailing in rough waters. This is why it is recommended that everyone in the boat wear a life jacket. But because we can’t always predict what will happen, it is best to take a proactive approach and prepare ourselves by practicing man overboard situations.
23. Dealing with Fire Onboard
Many sailboats are made from wood or have wooden decks. They also have sails made from fabric. These make your boat prone to fire hazards, which can happen when you’re cooking onboard or carelessly throwing cigarettes everywhere. As such, it is recommended that you have a fire extinguisher or two in your boat. Place them in areas where they can easily be seen and grabbed. More importantly, be sure that everyone with you on the boat knows how to use the fire extinguishers.
24. Know the Mayday and Pan-pan Protocols
Certain protocols are used to send out distress signals, and the Mayday protocol and Pan-pan protocol are two internationally recognized distress signals. The Mayday protocol is used when there is an immediate danger that can result in the loss of life or vessel. For instance, a sinking boat, a fire in the emergency room, or someone on board is experiencing serious injury or illness. On the other hand, the Pan-pan protocol is used for emergencies where the vessel and its passengers are in serious jeopardy but no immediate dangers exist like a leak or a dead engine.
25. Learn to Read Paper Charts
Most boats nowadays have electronic charts, and most sailors rely on these for navigation. However, there are instances where these electronic gadgets fail for certain reasons. In this case, you’ll want to be able to read and understand paper charts. Not only will this skill be helpful in emergencies, but it will also make you feel more confident about your skills as a sailor.
26. In Case of Leaks
Gate valves in the boat are known as seacocks and are located wherever there is an opening in the hull below the waterline. Sinks and toilet outflows in the boat, for instance, will have seacocks. When these seacocks fail, the boat is at risk of flooding and sinking. Seacocks are usually operable with the turn of a handle, but even these handles when not regularly checked and cleaned can corrode and eventually fail. Although failing seacocks rarely happen, it is still prudent to be prepared just in case it does. Thus, you’ll have to regularly check the seacocks and have them serviced if necessary. Also, make sure that the bilge pumps are working properly, and if you have a manual bilge pump, be sure that it is within easy reach.
27. Know the “Right of Way” Rules
As it is with land traffic, there are also right of way rules in the water. This is necessary to prevent sea vessels from colliding against each other. There are international collision regulations that apply to most waterways in the country, and you should know them by heart. This way, in the unfortunate event that you do end up in a collision, at least you know that you’re on the right side of the law.
28. Use Your Navigation Lights
Navigation lights are mostly used when you’re sailing at dusk or evenings, though as a beginning sailor you may want to avoid sailing during such times. Navigation lights are also necessary for other situations aside from lighting your way. For instance, you can use your navigation lights to inform others of where you are. There are also different colored navigation lights that are used to indicate the direction you’re traveling to. Thus, you should always check that your navigation lights are in good working condition before you raise your anchor and set sail.
29. Learn How to Deal with Grounding
Most sailors won’t admit to getting grounded while sailing, thinking of how embarrassing it is. However, it does happen especially when you’re sailing near roving sandbanks. But aside from being embarrassing, it also puts your vessel at risk of damages. Because there is no plausible way to practice how to deal with grounding (unless you’re okay with intentionally running your boat to the ground), you can only learn in theory how to best deal with it. You should consider having a grounding protocol printed, laminated, and placed near the wheel or in a drawer within easy reach just in case you find yourself in such a situation.
30. Understand the Different Weather and Water Phenomena
Many water and weather phenomena happen out in the sea like waterspouts and squalls. The worst part is that many of these usually come out of nowhere and without warning. Understanding what these are and how they form will make your sailing adventure much safer.
31. Have Fun
Oh, and for our final tip: always remember to have fun and enjoy your time in the water; breathe in the cool ocean breeze, soak up the sun, and keep an eye out for dolphins.
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Whether you’re cruising or competing, socializing or contemplating, a great amount of preparation is necessary to ensure that your time in the water is as safe as it is enjoyable. Listen to the sailing tips and advice from your sailing instructors and experienced sailors in your local sailing club, and make sure that your boat is always in tip-top condition before you head out to the horizon.
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