How To Learn To Sail

best sailing watches

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, and 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.

Why Learn To Sail?

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 to learn 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.

Some people sail for a hobby, while others sail for professional reasons, like training for the Olympics. Regardless of your reason for learning how to sail, it is a skill that can be taught and learned by most people who have a little patience, a lot of dedication, and a willingness to learn.

To help you learn how to sail a laser dinghy, here are some basics as well as some handy tips that can help you get started. Committing and following the tips below could just change your life, so get out there and get started today…

ImageTitleRatingMore Info
The Laser BookThe Laser Book (Laser Book: Laser Sailing from Start to Finish)
4.2 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
laser sailing bookThe Complete Book of Laser Sailing
4.5 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
Laser Campaign ManualThe Laser Campaign Manual
4.4 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
Laser HandbookRYA Laser Handbook
4.7 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
laser racing bookChampionship Laser Racing
3.9 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon

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 that 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 need to know that you are going to enjoy it before you fork out a heap of money.

And to know whether you are going to enjoy sailing or not, you have to experience it. You can’t 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 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 seasick just by looking at the water, the next 12 days are likely to be purgatory!

A final point… watch the weather. If you have the option, you 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. But if you are a beginner, set yourself up for success and go for your 1st sail on a nice day weather-wise if possible.

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 the sea or a river, lake, or harbor, the chances are that you are 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, and 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 sailing theory before you 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 materials 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.

ImageTitleRatingMore Info
The Laser BookThe Laser Book (Laser Book: Laser Sailing from Start to Finish)
4.2 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
laser sailing bookThe Complete Book of Laser Sailing
4.5 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
Laser Campaign ManualThe Laser Campaign Manual
4.4 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
Laser HandbookRYA Laser Handbook
4.7 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
laser racing bookChampionship Laser Racing
3.9 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon
laser sailing bookFast Track to Sailing: Learn to Sail in Three Days
4.6 out of 5 stars
buy from Amazon

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

Fast Track to Sailing - Learn to Sail in Three Days

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.

If you are a parent and want your kids to get into sailing, another option is a summer sailing camp. These are popular in some parts of the world and can be a great fun introduction to not only sailing but other land and water activities. Plus it’s a great way to meet new people and for kids to develop great life skills. Read more about summer sailing camps for kids here.

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.

Probably the best way to learn how to sail is by taking a lesson from a qualified professional who has the experience you desire. A great way for you to get up-to-speed with the basics of sailing while on your own would be to research online and read the books mentioned above that provide easy-to-understand tips and instructions on what you need to do in order for you to start sailing immediately following your learning experience. It’s also good to get to know experienced sailors in your area as they will be a great resource of sailing knowledge.

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!

best sailing watches


  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.

  4. haris on August 29, 2018 at 6:44 am

    hey, i am laser 4.7sailor and i am new in my team so i have some problems with getting out of the water

    • Admin on August 30, 2018 at 8:26 am

      Hi Haris
      I have put some tip on this page, so make sure that you check them out.
      I’m not sure of the specific problems you are having, but make sure to get down to your local club and talk to fellow sailors and teammates to discuss any issues you may have. You may be able to hook up with some of the folk there and get a ride on another boat (larger dinghy or yacht) just to learn some of the sailing principles and for the other crew to give you some tips. This may give you a bit more confidence for when you want to head out solo in your Laser dinghy.
      Let us know how you go, and stick at it. The hard work when you are learning is worth it!

  5. Veronika on March 12, 2021 at 9:35 pm

    Hello! Thank you for sharing all these tips with us! I really appreciate it! I am waiting to go somewhere as well with
    Hopefully to use some of your tricks and tips!
    Have a great day!

    • Admin on March 13, 2021 at 9:21 am

      Thanks Veronika

  6. Clementine on August 11, 2021 at 3:43 am

    Hi, I have never sailed a dinghy (apart from opti which I’m fine at) but I sail hobie 16 catamarans regularly and at a pretty good level. Do you think it would be a bad idea to go out and rent a laser just to try it out? Is it dangerous on the sens that I might have a problem of some kind that I would be able to deal with? Thanks.

    • Admin on August 11, 2021 at 3:16 pm

      Hi Clementine
      Thanks for your comments and question.
      Obviously I don’t know much about you, but speaking generally, if you take the right precautions, you should be fine. If you are comfortable in an Opti and have catamaran experience, then you should know the basics. Lasers are pretty easy to get started with… but of course, it depends on your fitness, the weather, and lots of other things. If you are concerned, you could hire one out to see if you like it, or you could maybe borrow someone’s dinghy and take it for a quick spin. It might be worth going down to the local club next race day to have a chat with the local laser sailors and they can give you a quick run-down of the controls and what to look for. If you are really worried, it might be worth going out with someone in a tinny / runabout who can follow you and help if you get into trouble.
      Hope that helps. All the best with it!

Leave a Comment