27 Sailing Tips for First-Time Voyagers

Thinking about sailing out on the water for the first time? You’re probably a little nervous but excited too. But before you rush down to the dock and cast off the lines, there’s a few things you’ll need to know. That’s why we’ve put together a list of sailing tips for your maiden voyage.  

Understand the Basics

1. The American Sailing Association lists three items every sailor needs to grasp. These include the wind, the sails, and the points of sail. Being able to monitor the wind’s speed, direction, and changes is important. 

But it’s also important to understand how your boat’s sails use the wind and which ways the boat can go.

2. Learn what the different parts of the boat are called, such as keel and stern. Become familiar with what common sailing terms like heel and mainsail mean. 

3. Enroll in an online sailing or 101 certification course. You can search for online or in-person classes in your area. Or you can start with professional organizations like the United States Sailing Association.

Start Small

4. Choose a day with good weather. You don’t want to learn to sail when there’s a thunderstorm in the forecast. Start on a clear, sunny day in calm waters.

5. Pick a smaller boat that’s easier to navigate. Some experts recommend learning on a dinghy, while others say you can begin on a 22’ keelboat. Whatever boat you choose, make sure the sails and equipment are not too complicated. 

6. Have an expert on board. You wouldn’t learn to drive a car without an experienced driver by your side. And, you shouldn’t embark on your first sail without someone who knows the ropes either.

Invest in Your Adventure

7. Stock up on protective equipment. This means getting a life jacket, other flotation equipment, a wetsuit, boots, and everything you need to stay warm and dry.

8. Don’t forget about licenses. Depending on where you’re set to sail, you may need different licenses for your boat and radio equipment. If you plan on renting, you probably don’t need to worry. However, it’s still a good idea to check your area’s rules for sailing.

9. Prepare for your journey. Stock up the boat with enough food and water before you go. Expect the unexpected and have plenty of clothes in case the weather changes or there’s an emergency.

10. Ask other sailors. If there is a local group of sailors or an online forum, ask them how they prepare. Learn from others’ mistakes and insights.

Safety First

11. Follow the obvious. Let someone on land know when and where you’re sailing. That way if something happens, they’ll know you and your boat may be in jeopardy. If you don’t know how to swim, learn now.

Yeah cowboy…this probably isn’t the best idea for your first time sailing.

12. Plan your route. Have an idea of where you’re going. Make a copy of your route and leave it with someone on land. Stick with areas you know. 

13. Know what the weather’s going to be like. Research the forecast, including how strong the winds and tides are going to be. If you think there might be a few surprises in store, you can choose another day.

14. Become knowledgeable about changing conditions. There are several ways to tell if the forecasters got it wrong. Ask fellow sailors how to look at the clouds and determine there’s trouble coming.

15. Know your currents. Before you set sail, you’ll want to check the area’s currents. Learn how they travel and switch directions. It’s best to sail with the currents instead of against them.

16. Understand tides and water changes. A tide schedule or timetable can help you avoid large waves. Try to avoid going out on the water when the winds go against the tides. To avoid shallow areas, understand how to read differences in the water’s appearance.

Know Your Way Around the Boat

17. Be mindful of the boom. The boat’s boom is a large, heavy bar located at the mainsail’s foot. Be aware of when and how it’s swinging across the boat to avoid getting hurt.

18. Learn navigation tools. Become familiar with how all of the navigation equipment and lights work. Learn what different signals mean and when to use them. Know how to use less sophisticated tools in case your onboard instruments fail.

19. Know how to use the winch. Learn safety guidelines for raising your mainsail and keeping your hands free of the winch and the line. Ask more experienced sailors to show you best practices, including safe ways to remove the winch handle.

20. Practice steering techniques. When driving a car, you need to know how to master the steering wheel. The same is true for boating.

21. Learn how to tie knots. Check out some online videos or ask an expert about basic knot tying techniques. You’ll need these when you’re out on the water and when you come back to shore.

22. Drop your anchor. Want to stop and rest somewhere? Learn the proper way to drop your boat’s anchor and pull it back out of the water when you’re ready to go again.

23. Avoid collisions. Chances are there are going to be other boats out on the water. Know who gets to pass first and when. Study the unique rules for the areas you’ll be sailing in.  

24. Command the sail. Get training on adjusting your sail to the wind. Know how to master turns and stop adjusting.

25. Understand different roles. Learn what each crew member does and how those roles fit into making a successful team.

26. Conduct emergency drills. The best way to prepare for an emergency is to practice. Do dry runs for someone going overboard, capsizing, and on-board fires.

27. Don’t give up. Keep practicing until you master the basics. Remember that learning how to sail takes time and help from your fellow mates!

We hope these sailing tips have helped you get ready for your first voyage. Fair winds ahead!