How To Learn To Sail

used laser dingy for sale

For most of us, stuck behind a desk all day staring at a computer monitor, nothing could be further away from our daily reality than the idea of getting out in the fresh air, getting exercise, experiencing the enjoyment and fulfillment that you get when you learn to sail. When you take up the challenge and learn sailing, however, this is exactly what you will gain from every sailing experience.

Every day is a different experience, and even a bad day out on the water is better than a good day in the office. So if you have had learning how to sail on your bucket list for a while, now is a good time to make a start and commitment to turning that dream into a reality.

Below are some sailing basics and handy tips to help you on your sailing journey. By committing and following the tips below, it could just change your life, so get out there and get started today…

What Not To Do When Learning To Sail

However, instead of looking at how to learn to sail, which in itself is a very broad topic, I want you to start by considering some of the things that you probably should not do if you are an absolute beginner who wants to learn how to sail.

Sailing basics - Learn to sail when the conditions are right

Sailing basics 101 – Learn to sail when the conditions are right

The first thing is, do not think about going out to buy your own boat unless you have some sailing experience under your belt.

Whilst for those of us who sail regularly, it is an unfathomable mystery how it could ever be true but there are some people who, for one reason or another, never really take to sailing. And if you are one of the people, buying a boat is going to be an awful waste of money. Let’s face it, owning and maintaining a boat can be an expensive exercise, so you really need to know that you are going to enjoy it before you fork out a heap of money.

And to really know whether you are going to enjoy sailing or not, you have to experience it. You can’t really imagine what it will be like until you are out there, with the wind in your face, seeing what it is like for yourself. I will mention a few tips later in this article regarding some ways you can try before you buy.

Another thing that I would really recommend you steer clear of as a first-time sailor is a full-on sailing holiday because once again, the same difficulties might apply. If you book a 14-day onboard holiday and discover after a couple of days that you are a rotten sailor or get sea-sick just by looking at the water, the next 12 days is likely to be purgatory!

A final point… watch the weather. If you have the option, you really don’t want to go out for your first day on the water when it is cold, raining and blowing a gale. Yes, some may find it exciting, but many find it uncomfortable, miserable, and even a little scary, and can be turned off for good. Of course, if you sail regularly, you can expect to go out on days that are less than ideal, but the good days make all the days of poor weather worth it.

So How Do You Learn To Sail?

Okay, so with some basic ‘warnings’ out of the way, let us begin to look at some of the things you should do if you want to learn to sail for the very first time.

Join / Visit a Sailing Club

Learning to sail can be challenging

Learning to sail can be challenging

One of the very first things that you may want to consider is to join an organized sailing club of which there are dozens in most Western countries. If you live near to the sea or nearby a river, lake or harbor, the chances are that you no more than a few miles away from the local sailing club… a place where you will find expert sailors with hundreds of years combined experience gathered together.

If you have not been sailing before, it may surprise you to know that most sailing folks are eminently approachable and friendly, the kind of people who are more than happy to pass on the basics of sailing and share their wealth and depth of their knowledge and experience to new people considering trying sailing for the very first time. Contrary to popular opinion, most sailing clubs are not elitist establishments, a fact which I have no doubt you will discover for yourself the first time you contact an appropriate club to establish how it works.

Here is another thing about learning to sail.

No matter where you are located or where you find a club, there are always more skippers and boats than there are crew members. This is good news for the beginner because it means that almost every skipper is always on the lookout for willing hands and more often than not, they will likely take you up on your offer to crew for them.

Once again, this is another advantage of being a member of an organized sailing club as this is where you will find experienced skippers who are happy to teach new crew members the ropes in return for the loan of a willing pair of hands! Experience helps, but is not always necessary… having the right attitude, being able to get in and pull some ropes or grind some winches counts for a lot.

Educate Yourself On Sailing Basics

Another way to get up to speed is to read up on some of the sailing theory before you actually go out on the water. It is good to understand some sailing basics as it will give you a better understanding of what the terms are and how everything works before you step on a boat.

You can continue reading through this website, or you can buy other material such as books to get the knowledge. A good one is “Fast Track to Sailing: Learn to Sail in Three Days“, by Steve and Doris Colgate, who have taught thousands of people how to sail, and is their passion. Get more details on their book here.

You can also spend time educating yourself with the thousands of YouTube videos available. There are heaps of good videos to help you learn about all different aspects of sailing, including:

  • how and/or why people get started with sailing in the first place,
  • the basics of sailing,
  • fitness,
  • rigging,
  • beginner through to advanced sailing technique tips,
  • repairs, etc.

For example, see the video below to learn how Olympic Gold Medallist Tom Burton got into Laser sailing, and what it takes to be the best…

Do A Sailing Course

Another option is to actually do a sailing course. This is another great way to learn but can be a bit more pricey.

There are many courses available… just do a Google search and you will find options including Sunsail, American Sailing Association, US Sailing, etc. They have courses running all the time for students of all different levels, from absolute beginners right through to experienced and seasoned sailors. Courses are a mix of online and instructor-led, so you have plenty of options to find something suitable.

It’s Not That Hard To Learn To Sail

Learning to sail is not at all difficult as long as you avoid the mistakes highlighted in the first half of this article, whilst following the advice in the second half. Like most things in life, there is a bit of a learning curve, but starting with the basics of sailing can be a fun experience.

If you commit to learning, the adventure, exercise, and enjoyment of sailing can quickly become a major part of your life, and you will never look back once it does!

So get out there and learn to sail today!


used laser dingy for sale


  1. mr Kevin Longworth on March 25, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Dear sir or madam I am 66 years of age quite fit but would very much like to sail a Laser. I have sailed dinghies before but many years ago. At my age do you think I am to old to start sailing Lasers. I wait with anticipation for your reply.

    • admin on March 25, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Hi Kevin
      Thanks for your question. I know a few sailors in their 60’s that enjoy Laser sailing regularly, but don’t personally know of any that have started the sport at this age.
      A lot depends on your general fitness, health and ability. As I don’t know your specific circumstances, any information provided below is of a general nature only.
      Of course, as with everyone, safety should be your primary concern.
      If you are seriously considering starting, you should probably go and get a check-up by your doctor to make sure that he/she is happy with your fitness and health. Laser sailing can be a very demanding sport on your body, especially in windy conditions and when you capsize. When you are learning, you may be slower to respond to gusts and not have the sails or boat trimmed correctly, meaning that you may have to work harder than you should. And this means that if your fitness is not up to scratch, you can tire extremely quickly.
      If you get the go-ahead, before you go out, do some research on the internet (there are plenty of good sites, and don’t forget YouTube) to learn about what to expect. Also talk to some people down at your local club. People generally always want to help and give advice where they can, so don’t be afraid to ask. They can give advice about anything, including local conditions (including weather, obstacles and water temperature), rigging, sailing basics, hydration, clothing, safety gear, fitness, etc, etc.
      You would want to pick a day with good conditions. Make sure that someone goes out with you (they can go on a motor boat and follow you around), so that if you get in trouble, you can get some immediate assistance.
      Don’t over-do it. You will build up your skill level and confidence over time.
      Let us know how you go. I’m sure there are others in your situation, so please share your experience.

  2. Andre on July 27, 2013 at 12:50 am

    hey, im going to a whole bunch of majo0r competitions ans stuff and im wondering if you could give me some tips on high and low wind

    • admin on August 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Andre. thanks for your question. It’s a pretty broad one – it’s a bit hard to know where to start. If you’re going in some major competitions, you want to be as fit as possible, and have done heaps of training beforehand. You can’t expect to enter into events and be competitive unless you are at the top of your game. Practice in a variety of conditions – don’t just go out when it’s nice and sunny with a moderate breeze. On training days, see if you can hook up with a few other keen sailors and have some match racing against them. This way you can test out things and compare speeds, and they can give you feedback on style. You may be able to get someone to video you also, to check your style while hiking, tacking and gybing. Hope this helps. Good luck in the comps.

  3. Yash Katoch on July 9, 2015 at 1:59 am

    i am 13 years old and i am a laser 4.7 sailor and i sail in India and i have an experience of 1 year i want some tips and guidance to sail better faster and smoother. i want some tips for capsize drill also.

    • admin on July 9, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Yash.
      Thanks for your comments.
      Sailing fast and smooth takes practice, practice and more practice. Educate yourself as much as possible. Read the forums on the internet. Watch youtube videos. Talk to other sailors. Watch how they sail and observe the set up of their dinghy. Immerse yourself, and then try different things to find what works. Don’t just race, also head out and practice with some friends… have some match races so you can test different settings and how it affects your sailing.
      As for capsizing, I have written some info here, so make sure you check it out.
      All the best.

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