How to Sail a Yacht: The Beginner's Guide to Yachting

How to sail a yacht: A beginner’s guide

Sailing a yacht isn’t, unfortunately, something you can master simply by reading an article. Like anything worth learning, it takes hard work, perseverance, and passion. There are, however, things you can do to prepare yourself before you take your maiden voyage. Here are our top tips for beginners looking to learn how to sail a yacht.

Talk to experienced sailors

The first step on your sailing journey should be to learn from the masters. If you’re not yet sure how to get started or want some insider tips, experienced sailors can help put you at ease. Make sure to ask questions and keep notes – you never know when that advice might come in handy.

Learn the basics

Before you even step aboard a yacht, there are some boating basics including words and terminology you should be aware of. This terminology may refer to parts of the boat that you’ll be responsible for operating or monitoring or may be vital safety or geographical information. To get you started, we’ve broken down the basics below

Yachting terminology

Port = Left of the yacht
Starboard = Right
Bow = The front of the yacht– the pointed end
Stern = The back of the yacht – the wide end
Main sail = The big sail
Jib = The small sail at the front of your yacht
Mast = The main beam holding up your sail
Boom = Pole running at a right angle from the mast
Line = Rope used on board your yacht
Knots = The metric used to measure your yacht’s speed and wind speed

There are plenty more terms you’ll need to get your head around, if you need more information – check out this handy A-Z guide.
If you want to learn more about the types of yacht, and how much a yacht costs check out our guides.

Be a passenger

The best way to learn other than sailing is to be a passenger on board a yacht. While you’re still learning, get on the water as much as possible with more experienced sailors, observe them to understand the dynamics of a crew, how they handle challenges, and how you can apply that to your own sailing. You’ll also be able to see how all that terminology you’ve learnt works in practice and why it’s important to know before you set sail.

Get involved with your local yachting club

Once you’re ready, one of the best ways to get started in learning how to sail a yacht is to get involved with your local sailing or yachting club. They’ll be able to assess your current knowledge and competencies and set out a plan to get you out on the water. You’ll also be able to meet like-minded people and link up with potential future crew members. Want to find out more? Visit the Royal Yachting Association’s website to get started.

Preparing for your first voyage

Before you get on board, make sure you’re ready for your voyage – that means wearing the correct clothing – waterproofs and hats if required – and especially stocking up on suntan lotion if the weather outside looks warm. Read back your notes, and keep in mind everything you’ve learnt so far – but also be prepared for it all to go out of the window once that first wave hits!

Setting sail

On your first voyage, you’ll be with more experienced sailors who can coach you as you take off. Once you’ve stepped on board, your skipper will assign tasks. It’s vital that you listen to your role and understand what tasks you must take on during the voyage.

Before you set off, you’ll raise the main sail. At this point, the boom might swing from side to side so watch your head! Then, as you cast off, you’ll raise the jib which will help you control direction as you start sailing. Now you’re on the water, you’ll start to learn terms including trimming and tracking, which are methods of controlling and manipulating your sails to adjust speed and direction according to wind conditions. Now, let your sailing adventure commence!

Whether you’re a new yacht owner, or an experienced sailor GJW Direct yacht insurance offers comprehensive cover for a range of different vessels. Policies are subject to exclusions and limitations.


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