Resource Guide for Learning to Sail

The term “sailing” refers to a boat using wind to power the sails to propel a boat forward. Sailboats come in many different shapes and sizes and are used for either racing or cruising. It takes excellent boat handling skills and lots of practice to excel at the sport of sailboat racing, but just getting a handle on the basics will allow you to gain entry into the sport and hobby for the joy of it. 

Cruising can be as simple as a day out near the coastline or extend to round-the-world voyages. Most people will find the sweet spot somewhere in between. With no shortage of wind, it’s a hobby that many enjoy. As a newbie to the sport, there is a lot to know. Read on to find out the steps to get started in the world of sailing and how to stay safe doing it.

5 Steps to Get Started on Your Sailing Adventures

If you’ve been wanting to learn to sail and sailing hints there’s no time better than right now! And remember, you don’t have to be oceanside to sail, reservoirs and lakes can be great places to learn the craft and enjoy a day out on the water.   We know you are eager to begin (and that’s the first step), but it’s not a good idea to head out sailing without understanding the basics first. These steps will get you prepared to glide on the open water in the most enjoyable and safe way possible.

Step 1: Take Lessons Through a “Sailing School” 

Though you can learn a lot from watching YouTube videos from experts on YouTube, it can be tough to put it all into practice without being on the water with an instructor right there to guide you. 

One of the best places to start is the American Sailing Association. ASA has sailing schools across the country that are skilled at teaching all levels of sailors – especially those who are just starting out. A complete list can be found here – check to see if there is an option where you’re interested in learning to sail.

Many are more than happy to help the newest of newbies who have never even set foot on a sailboat (though we’d recommend going out for a sail or two with someone else before taking lessons just to see if you love being out on the water on a sailboat!)

And though sailing may look daunting, Discover Boating shares that a skilled instructor will be able to teach you the basic skills in one afternoon lesson – and covering the rest of what you need to know over the next few lessons. 

With access to so many instructors across the U.S., there’s really no reason to wait getting started if sailing is something you’re interested in doing.

Step 2: Become an Expert in the Basics

Hopefully, you’ll learned a lot in the sailing course you take, but before you go off on your own, be confident in your abilities as an independent sailor. This means knowing the basics like the back of your hand. 

A few of the basics you need to know before sailing include the following:

  1. Know the Direction of the Wind – To sail your boat properly, you have to know specifically which direction the wind is coming from. Tying a piece of yarn to the boat’s vertical shroud is an easy way to figure this out. At that point you’ll need to practice navigating the wind properly to sail in the direction you want to go. 
  2. Be Able to Accurately Steer Your Boat – Sailboats don’t have steering wheels, but instead have something called a “tiller” that acts as the push/pull lever for a sailboat. Practice makes perfect since this is most similar to driving a car in reverse. 
  3. Be a Knotting Pro – Don’t worry, you don’t need to learn a ton of knots to be a good sailor, but knowing the most basic ones will help immensely. Sunsail shares their top 5 here. 
  4. Navigate by Trimming the Sails – Learning to trim the sails so that you’re “smooth sailing” (so to speak), takes practice and patience. Once you learn what to tighten, what to loosen, and when, you’ll be on your way!
  5. Learn the Lingo – There is a lot of sailing jargon you’ll need to learn or you won’t know what anyone is trying to teach you. Be sure to get all of these words straight as soon as possible. Here’s a complete list from the American Sailing Association.  

Cruising on a small sailboat is one of the best ways to perfect these new skills you’ve acquired during your training. Read, “Small Sailboat Sailing Basics,” for more on how to utilize each of these techniques with your very first sailboat. 

Step 3: Get the Gear You Need

An extended sailing trip will require more gear and careful planning than a half-day sailing outing, but there are some essential pieces of gear you will need to get started.

  1. Satellite Phone – Having a satellite phone will keep you connected even when your cell phone is out of reach. Our top recommendations can be found here, and be sure to read below in the Safety section why having a satellite phone is so important while sailing. 
  2. Boat Shoes – This special type of shoe with non-marking rubber soles will provide you with extra traction on wet boat decks.
  3. Jump Starter – This will provide backup for motorized sailboats in an emergency.
  4. Sailing License – According to Life of Sailing, there are only 8 states that will allow you to sail without a license. If you don’t live in California, Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Maine, South Dakota or Arkansas, you’ll need to be sure to check with your specific state’s licensing requirements. 
  5. ASA/US Membership Card – Membership can give you lots of benefits, so it’s definitely something worth looking into.
  6. Utility Knife
  7. Life Jackets – Don’t skip the life jacket no matter how good of a swimmer you are. This is a basic safety precaution.
  8. Handheld Depth Sounder – This is a handy tool for sailors that gives them an instant depth reading of the water.
  9. First Aid Kit
  10. Toiletries
  11. Sun protection – Don’t make the mistake of not protecting yourself from the sun; sunglasses, a hat, and a long-sleeve shirt should be worn on every sailing adventure.

We’ve put together this handy checklist to use as you pack and shop so that you can be sure you have everything you need.

Step 4: Expect the Unexpected by Taking Precautions

Though sailing is generally regarded as a safe form of recreation, there are risks. According to the United States Coast Guard, accidents and death were most common due to collisions, grounding, flooding and falls overboard. Though rare, accidents can and do happen. These statistics shouldn’t make you fearful, but instead should serve as a reminder that it’s important to be prepared for anything and to not do anything risky.

Here are five of the top ways you can be sure to stay safe while sailing:

  1. Have a Satellite Phone – Having a satellite phone will ensure that you always have an open line of communication if something amiss arises. Because cell phones don’t typically work once you stray from the shoreline, you’ll need to have a back-up communication method. Our best satellite phone recommendations include the Iridium 9555 or IsatPhone 2. And if you plan to be gone for days long trips, we recommend having a satellite device that provides internet, such as the Thales VesseLINK MaritimeRELATED: Satellite Internet at Sea: Hardware, Airtime and Pricing
  2. Don’t Consume Alcohol – Accidents and deaths out on the water and more common when alcohol is involved. The best way to avoid this from happening is to avoid drinking alcohol when out  on the weather – especially the person who is the captain of the boat.
  3. Keep a Close Watch on the Weather – If you know it may storm, don’t go out sailing. And if you’re already out and see one coming, it’s time to head in to get off the water.
  4. Have what’s called a “Float Plan” – This is a written summary of your boating itinerary that’s given to someone in advance who won’t be sailing with you. Get My Boat shares exactly what you’ll want to include in this.
  5. Don’t Enter Crowded Areas – With collisions being one of the top cited boating incidents, it’s best to avoid a close encounter altogether.

For a complete list of safety tips, check out this article from the National Safety Council

Step 5: Enjoy Your Adventure

You do not need to be a pro at sailing to have a good time. You just need to prepare so you have what you need (don’t forget the yummy snacks) and have the proper know-how to be comfortable in your cruising abilities while keeping everyone aboard safe. 

And if you are not quite ready to sail on your own, there are plenty of ways to get out there and enjoy the water. We recommend a day out on a chartered sailboat (or perhaps a full-blown vacation) and if fishing suits your fancy, be sure to read, “8 Best San Diego Fishing Charter for Your Next Fishing Trip.”

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Amazing customer service and product! They are always there when you need them with anything. Iridium phone kept me connected to my family while I was traveling for work. Wouldn't do another trip without one. If you are looking for a reliable product and great prices contact these guys!
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Best Satellite Phones for Sailing

Thales vesselink: Sailing

The impressive Thales VesseLINK utilizes the Iridium Certus satellite service to provide mission critical communications capabilities during your sailing, from anywhere on the globe.  This is a commercial solution, with a military-grade design that rises above your challenges regardless of whether you operate a single vessel or control an expansive fleet.

Thales VesseLINK
Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone front

Iridium 9555 Sailing Kit:

The Iridium 9555 is the ultimate go-to satellite phone for all campers. If you are looking for a satellite phone for your basic talk and text needs.


Learn How to Sail: A Step-by-Step Guide to SAILING

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Sailing Resources

Sailing FAQ

Most frequent questions and answers about sailing

Children can go sailing with you from an early age – there is no age limit. However, their stay on board should be closely monitored by adults. Be sure to choose the safest cabin for a child (e.g. the front cabin) and a place for them to play (cockpit is a relatively safe place). You can also put a safety net along the sides of the boat, and children should by all means wear life vests.

You should bring baby food along, since it cannot be bought in every supermarket within the marina. You should also consider choosing shorter routes and visiting marinas more frequently in order to provide safer berthing, as well as comfort.

The choice of the vessel depends entirely on your wishes and preferences.
  • Sailing boats are excellent for both family and active vacations.
  • Catamarans are very stable, comfortable, and ensure fast sailing.
Before choosing a vessel, please bear in mind the following details:
  • How many people will be on board?
  • Does your group consist of pairs who can share the same cabin, or do some crewmembers require a separate cabin?
  • Do you prefer comfort?
  • Do you require a skipper or not? If you need skipper’s services?

: It’s a fun, exciting physical activity!
Sailing can be as fast and as exciting as you want. It can also be easygoing and relaxing. It can be competitive, if you like. It challenges all your senses. It can also take you to remote magical bays, new friendships, better physical condition, exciting discovering of unknown events, places, people… The choice is yours!

Sailing has been considered a safe activity. Possibility of injury is minimal. Participants are expected to have adequate equipment and clothing, to comply with the guidelines and to follow the instructions. By doing so, the risks are minimized.

The American Sailing Association is an association of sailors, professional sailing instructors, sailing schools and charter companies. The ASA is dedicated to promoting safe recreational sailing in the United States by administering an internationally recognized education system.

Every charter company has their own standards to qualify prospective charterers. Some may accept the ASA Bareboat certification alone; most will also ask for resumes of experience.

Charter companies look at a variety of variables in qualifying a charterer: experience, certifications, size of boat being applied for, charter area and conditions, and the experience and certifications of crewmembers. A certification in Bareboat Chartering or higher will show the charter company that you have received formal training and have passed a rigorous program with specific standards.



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