Sailing is an incredibly versatile and varied sport – for some it’s a sociable and relaxing pastime, for others it’s the opportunity to push themselves to the limit, either in competition or extreme conditions. It’s can also be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, whether you fancy going solo or taking the whole family. Additionally, thanks to the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), sailing is becoming increasingly accessible for everyone, so there’s really no excuse.
If you don’t have a keen friend with a boat to teach you, the best option is to get in touch with your local RYA training centre. With over 2,500 RYA recognised training centres worldwide, and around 1,500 RYA affiliated sailing clubs, you’re bound to find something near you. Structured learning with a trained instructor is the safest way to immerse yourself in the sport and quickly build your skills and confidence on the water.
The next step would be to join your local sailing club. These are very sociable organisations who are always keen to welcome new members, so you’ll find yourself surround by keen sailors of all abilities willing to impart their knowledge to a newbie. Lots of sailing clubs also organise trial days to encourage new members too, which could be your perfect opportunity to get your first taste of sailing.
If you don’t have your own boat or the funds to buy one yet either, don’t panic! Many sailing clubs will have their own boats for beginners, and there’s always people looking for extra crew as well. Often, you’ll be able to borrow a wetsuit and a buoyancy aid for your first few sessions as well, and when the day comes for you to buy your own kit, we’ll be here for you.
Obviously the water can be a dangerous place and safety is pivotal, therefore a certain amount of training is strongly recommended in order to get the most out of your boating experience.
Over 165,000 people take RYA courses each year. These are globally recognised qualifications that cover all aspects of the sport, from beginner level to racing and yacht sailing, ensuring you develop the skills and knowledge to sail competently and safely.
The RYA’s National and Youth Sailing Schemes offer various 2-day courses for anyone wanting to learn in dinghies, small keelboats or multihulls. Designed especially for beginners, they teach you the basic skills needed to sail independently in light winds, right through to becoming a confident sailor in harsher conditions.
To continue training at a higher level, the RYA’s advanced and improver courses suit all sailing interests, from Performance Sailing to Day Sailing, or even Seamanship Skills.
Kit will vary depending on your chosen type of sailing and the time of year:
The key thing to remember when it comes to yacht sailing is water repellence. Whether the conditions are harsh or not, chances are you'll be getting sea-sprayed all year round. That's why waterproof outer layers are a staple item to any yacht sailor's wardrobe, regardless of the weather. In summer, go for lightweight base layers with wicking properties which will offer great moisture management. In winter, thicker thermal base and mid layers will provide extra insulation and protection from the elements. Accessorize with sailing boots or shoes, gloves, a hat and life jacket, and you'll be ready to face the seas!
As dinghy sailors are in closer contact with the water, many opt for a wetsuit for optimal warmth and comfort. In summer, a Long John wetsuit and neoprene top are a popular choice; meanwhile a thicker wetsuit (check out our Thickness Guide if you're unsure what thickness you need) or drysuit and undersuit will keep you sheltered from harsh wintery conditions. Neoprene boots are the most appropriate footwear for dinghy sailing, and gloves, a hat and buoyancy aid will complete your look.
Do I need to buy a boat?
No! It may come as a surprise, but many active and competent sailors manage to completely avoid the expense and responsibility of boat ownership, either by borrowing a boat or crewing for a friend in a double-hander. Of course, in the future you may decide to invest in your own vessel, in which case second-hand dinghies from local clubs may only set you back a few hundred pounds, while small, older cruising yachts with updated equipment can be bought for around £10,000.
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