First Time Sailing: Important Tips for Beginner Sailors

Sailing is a wonderful thing; steering your own little ship across the vast blue sea is a fantastic experience. Many who try sailing become avid fans, attracted by freedom, relaxation and even creativity found in this sport. But to others, those who have not yet tried, sailing may seem complicated. This is not quite true; although it will take you years of sailing to turn you into a proper sea dog, the basics can be grasped in no time. We offer some tips for beginner sailors, for the first time sailing, on how to make your learning process as pleasant and fast as possible.

It’s important to mention that beginner sailors should practice their sailing skills in calm waters; naturally, if you’re only learning how to sail, you should do it in ideal conditions – in low traffic areas with light wind. We also recommend using a small boat – they are easier to sail and manoeuvre, more responsive and often have only a single sail – factors that will certainly make your learning process easier. You should always have information regarding wind, weather and tide; checking the forecast is one of your top priorities. Familiarize yourself with sail control – you should always know how to react to different wind conditions. Usually, the sail should be flat when the wind is either very light or very strong, and full in cases of moderate wind.

First time sailing: Obligatory boat equipment

What equipment should you bring on a sailboat? Life jackets for all crew members are an absolute must, as well as rubber-soled shoes (they won’t slip on wet decks), bad-weather clothing, some basic medicines, gloves, hair bands, sunglasses, hats, a sunscreen. A water-resistant backpack will always come in handy, especially to protect water-sensitive technology such as cameras and cell phones. Be sure to bring plenty of water and food as well.

Obligatory boat equipment depends on the boat size and type, but the following is always needed: Extra line, fenders, tool kits (plus basic spare parts), enough fuel, anchor and anchor rode (chain and line), binoculars, charts and a compass, a boat hook, plus all necessary safety-related equipment (a fire extinguisher, a flashlight, flares, foghorn, whistle, navigation lights, a VHF radio, a radar reflector, a bilge pump, first aid kit, a knife, man-overboard recovery gear)

When you’re at the deck, be careful – don’t stand on ropes and sheets, and certainly don’t wrap them around your hands. Try to hold onto something at all times; there’s a common saying among sailing enthusiasts – one hand for you, the other for the boat. Having a mobile phone or a wallet in your pocket is unwise as these items often end up lost overboard.

First time sailing: Sailing terminology

It’s good for beginners sailors to get acquainted with sailing terminology – grasping some of the key terms will ease your communication with other people on board, as well as other boats. There are many sailing terms, but, as a beginner, it’s good to start out with the basic ones:

  • Bow – The front end of a boat is called a bow. Knowing what is the bow paves the way for defining two other important sailing terms – port and starboard.
  • Starboard – When you’re facing the bow, starboard is the right side of the boat; sailing requires this definition because “left” and “right” tend to become confusing when used in open waters.
  • Port – The left side of the boat when you’re turned towards the bow.
  • Back of a ship, also known as the stern of a ship.
  • Windward – Term which denotes the direction in which the wind is blowing
  • Leeward – Direction opposite to the current wind; sometimes called ‘lee’ as well.
  • Rudder – A piece of wood or metal, located beneath the boat, used to steer the vessel. Larger ships control it using a wheel, while small boats usually have a direct steering mechanism.
  • Boom – A horizontal spar along the bottom of a sail; the movement of a sailboat depends on adjusting the boom to the direction of the wind.
  • Tacking – A basic manoeuvre of turning the bow into the wind, which changes the direction from which the wind blows from one side of the boat to the other. This will also shift the boom of the boat from one side to the other
  • Jibing – The opposite of tacking, but not as common as it involves turning the boat directly into the wind. The manoeuvre consists of turning the boat’s stern through the wind, which changes the direction of the wind from one side of the boat to the other.

First time sailing: Important water traffic rules

Some areas especially suitable for sailing tend to get crowded when the weather and wind are optimal, so it’s important for beginner sailors to know basic water traffic rules before first time sailing to prevent any possible accidents. Remember the following:

  • When you meet another sailboat, the boat which is on starboard tack has the right of way over the boat on port tack
  • The leeward boat has right of way over the windward boat
  • An overtaking boat must keep clear

Usually, large ships have right of way over smaller ships, especially in confined areas such as channels; this is because these large ships can’t slow down or turn very easily and in a short period of time. Sailboats have right of way over power-boats (the exception is the previously mentioned larger ship rule). If you’re making a course change to avoid a possible collision, make your turn early and make it large, so that the other vessel clearly understands what you’re doing.

Overall, using your common sense, putting safety first and following rules and regulations will make first time sailing experience for beginner sailors a pleasant one. Of course, your knowledge will continue to grow with each new day spent at the sea. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from other, more experienced sailing enthusiasts – their advice will also help you improve. And, above all, don’t forget to have a great time doing it; in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Infographic - First Time Sailing: Important Tips for Beginner Sailors - Orvas Yachting Croatia

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