Beginners to sailing should choose a small, simple boat to get started with. Small boats can be just as much fun as larger boats, with a lot less responsibility.
- Learn the basics in a small boat. It’s easier to learn with fewer lines and sails. Small boats are more responsive in light winds, and the skills learned can be applied to any size boat.
- Begin on a boat rigged with one sail. It will be easier to focus on learning the fundamentals.
- Choose good water. Avoid rivers with strong currents, crowded swim areas and power boaters. Allow twice the clear space you think you’ll need.
- Learn from a friend with experience. Don’t try to teach yourself. Read sailing books for learners, found in most libraries. Practice in light airs with an experienced sailor.
Choosing a Sailboat
Beginners to sailing should choose a small, simple boat to get started with. Small boats can be just as much fun as larger boats, with a lot less responsibility. In fact, many large boat owners will admit to having the most fun on smaller boats. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re choosing a boat to learn the basics:
- Simple Rig: A boat with one mast and one sail is good to start with. Some small boats, such as catboats and Optimists are designed to give good performance with just one sail.
- Monohull: A conventional single-hulled boat will be fine for learning and enjoying. The multihulls, catamarans and trimarans, are more high performance boats and can be a bit “hyper” for learners.
- Size: Be sure your boat is big enough for two people. It should be 12′ or larger for two adults, or 10′ or larger for two children.
- Hull Material: Fiberglass boats are lightweight, easy to maintain and fairly easy to repair. Wooden hulls have a nice solid feel in the water, but require more maintenance.
- Keel: Centerboard or Daggerboard designed boats are good because they allow you to sail in shallow water and can be pulled up for better performance when sailing with the wind behind you. Leeboards are designed for the same purpose but are fussier because they have to be changed with each tack.
This little sailboat is 10′ long, with a gaff sail and a daggerboard. The sail is fairly small and low (low aspect) which is slower but safer. A good beginner boat for one or two children.
This is my son Aran in his first sailboat. When he turned 15, he and I built a 14′ Herreshoff-designed Biscayne Bay daysailer. Here are a few pictures.
Buying a Used Sailboat
- Stand a ways back from the boat, directly in front or behind. Sight along the hull for symmetry, side to side. Look for twist, which is fairly common in small boats, often due to improper storage. Don’t buy a twisted boat!
- Look for cracks around the base of the centerboard, or daggerboard, trunk. This is a point of stress and is also easily damaged when the boat runs aground. Where the centerboard trunk joins the hull should be rock solid.
- Mast step (the block on the floor where the bottom of the mast sets) and the area around the mast hole on deck should be solid and free of cracks.
- Check rudder and centerboard for warping. This is a common flaw and these parts may need replacing.
- Rudder fittings are often under great strain. Inspect for good solid attachments.
- Mast should be straight. Masts can bend if not stored properly, and re-straightening is not always possible.
- If wooden boat, check for rot at the top of the ribs (under deck) or any areas where there is poor airflow, such as in closed compartments or under the deck at the bow. Tap suspect areas with a light hammer – rot sounds “soft” while good wood sound “hard”. You can also probe suspect areas with a nail – if it’s easy to push into the wood, rot may be present.
- Inspect sails for frayed edges and signs of wear. Check stitching around the grommets.
- Sail with a friend.
- Always wear a PFD with a whistle attached.
- Beginners should sail in light winds only. (Under 12 knots).
- Be sure to have a bail bucket, or two, and tie it in with a few feet of line.
- Always have a pair of oars or paddles on board.
- A small folding anchor with line is recommended.
- Know how to swim!
- Have a “chase boat” ready. If possible, a boat with motor on standby is a good backup in case the learners are having difficulty righting a capsized boat, or if the sailors don’t return on schedule.
- File a sail plan. Even on the smallest outings, tell someone ashore where you’re going, when you expect to return and what to do if you don’t show up on time.