If you are a new sailor, understanding the small things that make life a little easier when out on the water is key to enjoying yourself and sailing stress free
Like any activity sailing can be filled with new lingo, new ideas and new things to remember for the new sailor. There are many sailing courses out there to help you get started, and these offer a great introduction to sailing and best practise for the new sailor.
However, when it comes to getting out on the water by yourself, sometimes understanding what you actually need to know in the real world is a little different to understanding what you’re taught in the classroom.
So where should the new sailor turn for advice on getting out on the water, making the most of their time, and (crucially) enjoying themselves? Here our panel of sailing experts bring you all their real-world hints and tips to give you the understanding and shortcuts you need as a new sailor to get the best of your sailing.
Traffic light reefing – Jayne Toyne
I deliberately chose a boat with all lines leading to the cockpit. This means that there’s a fair few lines knocking about when it gets busy in the cockpit and colour identification is important.
It can be daunting if you are a new sailor or invite non-sailing friends on a trip.
Four of the most important ones are the reef lines. My boat, Boogie Nights is equipped with three reefs in the main, the first two are single line reefs and the third is twin line.
The reefs follow a simple traffic light system. Red, amber, green.
The most dangerous reef to put in is the first, therefore red. This is because of the high risk of loose lines flying around while the sail area is being reduced, but with the power potential of a fully powered up sail and boom.
The second reef is easier but still moderately dangerous. By the time we get to the third reef, it’s fast and easy with far fewer issues with loose lines and a vastly reduced main.
It’s highly unlikely I’d ever be caught out with anyone new to sailing and be putting the third reef in but squalls can happen.
Even young children can understand the traffic light system and are keen to help out even if it’s just for fun.
Adding an element of familiarity with every day life can make a day out on a strange boat that little bit less daunting for non-sailing friends.
Watch your wake – Graham Snook
While you’re sailing, take a few moments every now and again to look at your wake and the trail of white bubbles your yacht leaves behind her.
Not only will this give a good indication of the helm’s performance, it will also give you hints if you know what to look for.
If it’s straight and true all is good with the world; better still, if it’s gracefully curving to windward, the tide is helping you on your way.
If, however, it’s trailing to leeward, be warned that the tide is against you.
If you see it zigzagging back and forth, before having a quiet word with the helm, check to see if you’d be better served with tucking a reef in and giving the helm an easier life without excessive weather helm.
Only buy what you need – Kika Mevs
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by advertisements, claiming that their piece of gear is the best or is essential for your yacht.
When we started sailing, we decided to go with the bare minimum – a hull that floated, sails, a strong standing rig and a proper anchor.
We then took our time, experiencing life onboard and learning how our boat sailed so we could work out what we truly needed.
Over time, we were able to make the upgrades we knew would improve our yacht.
Seacock closure reminder – Jonty Pearce
Like most yachtsmen I always close the raw water seacock on leaving my boat, even though it is awkwardly placed below our bunk cushions.
My immediate next action is to place a laminated ‘Seacock Shut’ sign behind the perspex engine panel – the sign actually obscures the starter key.
This ensures anybody starting the engine will know that the seacock must be opened first.
Other yachtsmen may have other reminders – a tag on the hook where the engine key is hung for example.
Watch out for weed – Graham Snook
The tranquil wooded rivers of the UK and northern Europe are a great place to unwind and explore at your own pace, especially if a storm is battering the coast.
If you are tempted to explore after wind and rain, be cautious when you’re motoring towards patches of seaweed. Winds and downpours will often displace branches from the surrounding trees.
Luckily, seaweed tends to get caught on floating branches, so if you avoid the weed, you can reduce the risk of hitting branches with your propeller.
The weather will not wait for you – Kika Mevs
Not having a schedule is one of the most challenging aspects of cruising life.
We’ve quickly learned to slow down more, and be willing to wait for the favourable weather window before taking on a passage.
We’ve realised that rushing to be somewhere at a specific time is when you inevitably run into trouble.
Sailors have the advantage of keeping an eye on the forecast, and choosing when it’s best for them to navigate the high seas.
There are always favourable winds even in the most dangerous waters, if one is patient enough to wait for it!
Keep sailing plans flexible – Harry Dekkers
When planning a voyage, we take into account the time available, the crew, the boat, the expected weather conditions and the area which we intend to sail.
When the day of departure comes closer, we start monitoring the weather systems more intensely, hoping the planned passage can go ahead.
In my early sailing years I often worried about not being able to sail the planned route, but over time I have learned to be more relaxed about changing my plans.
Now, the only thing I take into account when choosing a destination is to have the correct charts and books on board.
Don’t get fixed too much on the destination until the day arrives.
Make your dinghy visible at night – Graham Walker
Sadly, it is fairly common to see (or rather hear) sail boat tenders scudding around busy anchorages at night with not a single light showing, and accidents do occur from time to time.
We try to make our tender more visible when on the move.
When we had our dinghy chaps (suncovers) made we asked the maker to include patches of reflective safety tape around the edges. We have patches of highly reflective tape on the engine cowling and we also have a solar powered tri-colour light stuck on top of the engine to provide all round light.
The bonus is that we can spot our own tender, out of scores on the dinghy dock, at a single glance.
Let everyone helm into a marina – Oliver Perkins
Marinas are probably the most terrifying experience for new skippers, with thousands of pounds of damage just a small slip-up away.
To reduce this stress we’ve helmed into tight berths since becoming teenagers.
This means mistakes can quickly be corrected under the skipper’s watchful eye before any gelcoat is damaged.
Once I started to skipper myself I could be confident in my berthing abilities and I now make sure everyone who sails with me has the chance to gain the same confidence.
Bucket days – Helen Melton
One of our most valuable items on board is a collapsible bucket.
Easy to store when not on the boat, we pull it out whenever on passage and pop it in the cockpit, threading a long lanyard onto it for ease of attachment.
Apart from using them for queasy crew members, they have also come in quite useful for youngsters needing a wee without becoming anxious about going below or leaving the safety of the cockpit to attempt the manoeuvre over the guardrail.
After thorough cleaning, they can also be utilised as a receptacle for freshly caught mackerel.
Print you manuals – Harry Dekker
In the old days, new gear came with paper manuals. Nowadays, you are referred to the internet.
However, out at sea, many of us have no internet access.
Typically, the manual you need most will be the one you can’t access.
I print out all of my manuals and keep them organised in two thick binders onboard for when I need them.
Boat departure checklist – Oliver Perkins
It is easy to forget important steps when leaving the boat, so we have a laminated checklist behind the chart table with all the jobs for leaving the boat.
This means the boat is always kept perfectly, whoever has sailed her. Plus it stops crew asking what they can do to help – just guide them to the list.
And you can rest secure the gas is off.
Easy measuring on board – John Willis
It was blowing a hooley with lashing showers, when I decided my flag halyards should be replaced.
Attached to the spreaders eight metres or so off the deck, I began to wonder if there was a way I could work out how much replacement line I would need, and how I could do it easily by myself.
Eureka! There was! I happened to have in my man bag a small domestic laser measuring device and I decided to have a go with that.
I held it at the same height as the stay-mounted cleats, aimed the laser at the bottom of the spreader, steadying myself against the gale, and switched it on.
It took a few seconds to get the little red dot on the underside of the spreader and hold it steady enough to take a reading.
Bingo! Despite the wind and rain, the little screen gave me the height – double it and I had my measurements. Easy!
Sailing can be comfortable – Kika Meva
When we first started, we had no concept of the equipment we needed onboard, nor did we have the funds to add any gear, so we started with the bare minimum.
After two years cruising, hand steering and pulling 75m (250ft) of chain up by hand, we learned that being comfortable on a passage makes a huge difference when it comes to enjoying a long journey.
We slowly upgraded our gear, based on what we knew we needed.
We added a windlass (which saved us all the back pain); a wind vane (not hand steering 24/7 means we can avoid exhaustion at sea), a chart plotter in the cabin (we found being able to stay warm on night passages very valuable) and a stack pack system (being able to quickly drop the mainsail in a matter of seconds) to make life onboard easier.
Finding the centre of the wheel – Oliver Perkins
The centreline position of the rudder can be difficult to gauge on a wheel, especially for inexperienced crew.
I’ve tied a Turk’s head knot where the wheel is centred so everyone can see and feel when they are steering straight ahead.
This gives beginner helms confidence to steer the boat in a relatively straight line.
Consider learning on your own boat – Helen Melton
In the early 2000s my husband and I bought a 35ft Westerly Oceanquest, but felt we needed to improve our sailing capabilities before venturing too far afield.
Work and family commitments meant carving out time for further sailing qualifications was proving challenging and led us to contact Ken, a now retired Yachtmaster Instructor who at the time was working for a well-known sailing school on the South Coast.
He offered a 24hr rate to join us on our boat and teach us along the way.
It worked fantastically well. Ken cheerfully jiggled our baby whilst directing me to reverse down a fairway in Lymington, and chatted to the toddler as he guided us through a blind navigation exercise off Osborne Bay.
He passed on useful tips to the young teenagers and accompanied us on our first foray across the Channel to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue.
Following the successful return leg, he even treated us to his own delicious recipe of cheesy hot dogs at anchor in Alum Bay.
It was similar to one-to-one language or ski tuition, and turned out to be a really effective way to learn, and our sailing skills developed immensely.
Careful planning – Ben Sutcliffe-Davies
When planning your voyage, I find that it’s best to plan your passage on a chart.
Make sure you consider alternative routes, which you might need to use at short notice, especially if you have problems with gear which can’t be fixed at sea, or a change in the weather.
Don’t overestimate the speed of your boat either.
Safe stepping off and on – Harry Dekkers
Often when we are in a hurry, we sometimes forget that we are on a yacht, and getting on and off the boat is not the same as stepping into a building or car.
Yachts move, decks can be wet and jetties can be slippery. We also have to negotiate guard wires, which are specifically designed to keep us on board.
Therefore, when embarking or disembarking, I make it a two-step process.
When getting off, I first step over the guard wire (preferably while holding on to the rigging) and only then do I step ashore.
When getting back on board, I do the same in reverse order. This might be second nature to regular sailors, but not for family and friends with no experience.
Make sure you tell them how to disembark to avoid funny moments, or worse, injuries.
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