Nicholas Monsarrat, the author of The Cruel Sea, has a famous sailing quote, “Sailors, with their built-in sense of order, service and discipline, should really be running the world.” Sailing takes courage, knowledge, and skill. It may seem difficult to learn, but with any activity, when you have the knowledge, take time to practice your skill, sailing can be a new, easy and fun outdoor recreational activity. Here is some information to consider before you take the plunge.

Sailing Basics

To sail, there are three things to remember:

Wind – The wind can be your friend or foe. You must be aware of which direction the wind is blowing and it can be tricky at first, but many boats have equipment to help you. Sailboats have a wind vane that shows wind direction.

Steering – For some, it can take only five minutes to learn how to steer and the key, of course, is to steer the boat straight.

Control the sail – You control sails by, “trimming” them, which means controlling the tension of the sail to orient it at an angle relative to the wind in order to drive the boat forward. Since wind changes, you must re-trim accordingly. This is the trickiest task to keep your boat moving in the right direction.

Kinds of sailing

There are many types of sailing and it’s important for you to decide what kind of adventure you’re looking for. If you want to escape land by yourself or with family or friends, then small boat sailing could be your recreational activity. It is a sociable way to be out on the water. If living on a boat dreaming of faraway places is how you want to spend your time, yacht sailing might be more for you. The Royal Yachting Association can help you figure out which type of sailing is for you and with any other questions or sailing needs you might have along the way.

What is The RYA?

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is responsible for fulfilling the potential of Britain’s sailing and windsurfing talents; nurturing potentials from the early stages of their career to the promise of winning Olympic medals. In America, the equivalent is the American Sailing Association (ASA). The RYA can help you get the skills and certification you need to feel confident recreationally sailing and has courses available for adults and children. As a one-stop information guide to getting you started, we recommend searching their website for upcoming courses and sailing clubs near you.

Where to start sailing?

The RYA courses are taught with specialized RYA training charts, almanacs, and a simulated GPS plotter, giving you the best materials to make you knowledgeable and safe in the water.

Another advantage of the RYA program is that it is based on your prior knowledge of sailing, and you can enter the program at any point without completing all the prior courses. For example, if you have prior sailing experience, you can take a written and an on-the-water practical test (for a fee) and skip the intro courses. The RYA even has a youth program to train up-and-coming sailing enthusiasts. They run a program called Onboard, providing windsurfing and sailing through their school’s PE program.

Many keen sailing enthusiasts have begun their on-the-water life by chartering a yacht with an experienced skipper and picked up knowledge and experience from them.

How much training do I need?

That depends on the course and what you’re looking to do on the water. For example, if you want to take the small boat sailing course, level 1 can be completed in 2 days. To increase your skill, it will take at least three 2-day courses before you can proceed to advance modules. Check the RYA website for school locations and online courses.

The cost
An exam will cost somewhere between £60-250 and courses vary depending on the certificate courses and location. You could jump in with both feet and decide to take your training course in Spain. One RYA school lists an RYA Day Skipper Practical Course (the entry-level skipper certificate) for £595 for 5 days of sailing aboard a yacht. Boats are expensive, but sailing doesn’t have to be an expensive activity! Your local sailing club might have boats that members can rent or even borrow for free. Joining a club is a great way to find boat owners who welcome beginners as crew members. Other clubs have social sailing sessions that give you the opportunity to practice your newfound skills.

If you’ve read this far, you have an interest in sailing and we recommend learning more about the Royal Yachting Association and the schools available near you. Sailing is a fun and easy way for you, your family and friends to enjoy the water.