Just starting out in sailing? Here are a few sailing basics which should help you in the early days.
Get to grips with basic sailing terms
Before you hit the water, make sure you’ve read up on some of the basic sailing terms you’ll need. Being familiar with these terms will enable an instructor to impart information to you more easily, meaning that you’ll really get the most out of your sessions.
Don’t try and teach yourself on the water. Not only is this dangerous, it is also likely to be a time consuming and therefore costly. By all means invest some time learning the basics from guides and books, but practical instruction should come from someone with good sailing experience. A good sailing course is worth investing in.
Start in calm, uncrowded waters
One of the best tips for sailing beginners we can give is to start out in calm and quiet waters. Nobody wants to be starting out in rough open waters or surrounded by boats containing skilled yachtsmen who clearly know what they are doing. If you’re just starting to master the basics, then start out in conditions where winds are light and traffic is low. A contained marina is perhaps the safest option.
Like no-one chooses to learn to drive using a bus, the same applies to sailing. Start with a small boat, ideally a small dinghy. This will be much more responsive and easy to manoeuvre. It will also be far easier to deal with in the event of capsizing, which you will inevitably do as some point.
Once you are ready to go out alone, it always pays to check conditions beforehand. Check information concerning tides, wind and weather conditions so that you are prepared for whatever may come your way. Be sure to have the right gear and provisions as required.
No we’re not crazy, but you really need to have practised how to deal with your boat capsizing. It is better to do this within a controlled environment where there is help at hand, rather than confronting this eventuality when you are in open water. Trust us, you will capsize at some point, so a test-capsize is essential.
Boom or bust
Watch out for the boom – the horizontal pole that extends from the bottom of a mast – as it can cause injury or even send you overboard. The boom is most commonly responsible for onboard injuries, so always keep a watch for when the boom is about to swing. It might just save you a major headache or worse.
Your safety is of paramount importance. No matter what your level of experience there are certain safety precautions that should always apply. These include informing people of your intention to head out on the water, wearing a floatation jacket, and of course, being able to swim.
Know the right-of-way
It’s not a sailing free-for-all out there – there are rules to govern how sailing craft should manoeuvre to ensure they do not collide with one another. How you move is based on many variables including what side the wind is on, what type of craft it is, whether you are planning to overtake. Get familiar with these nautical rules to prevent mishap.
Always maintain a lookout
It may seem obvious, but always look where you are going! Sailing is fun but there are plenty of other craft out there, so maintain a proper lookout using both your eyes and ears to help prevent collisions. To give you sufficient time to respond to danger you should always maintain a safe speed.
Basic Sailing Terms
Sailing has so many terms that it’s likely that only the saltiest of sea dogs would know them all, but knowing these ones will be a great start.
Aft – toward the stern, or back, of the boat.
Boom – the horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast. Adjusting the boom towards the direction of the wind is how the craft harnesses the power of the wind.
Bow – the front of the sailing craft.
Craft – a sail boat or board.
Class – the actual model of craft. For example, ‘Laser’, ‘470’ and ‘Finn’ are all classes of craft used in the Olympic sailing regatta.
Jibing – A basic manoeuvre which refers to turning the stern (rear) of the boat through the wind with the sails changing the side they fill on. The opposite of this is tacking (see below). Sometimes referred to as ‘gybing’.
Lashing – a rope used for securing any movable object in place.
Leeward – the direction opposite to the way the wind is currently blowing (see windward).
Port – the left side of a boat when looking forward towards the bow.
Rigging – ropes and wire stays of a boat that secure the masts and sails.
Rudder – a flat piece of wood, fiberglass, or metal located under the boat used to steer the craft.
Starboard – the right side of a boat when looking forward towards the bow.
Stern – the back of the sailing craft. Sometimes referred to as the aft.
Tacking – turning the bow (front) of the boat through the wind with the sails changing the side they fill on.
Windward – the direction in which the wind is currently blowing. Windward is the opposite of leeward.