If you are a new sailor, understanding the small things that make life a little easier when out on the water is key to enjoying yourself and sailing stress free

Like any activity sailing can be filled with new lingo, new ideas and new things to remember for the new sailor. There are many sailing courses out there to help you get started, and these offer a great introduction to sailing and best practise for the new sailor.

However, when it comes to getting out on the water by yourself, sometimes understanding what you actually need to know in the real world is a little different to understanding what you’re taught in the classroom.

So where should the new sailor turn for advice on getting out on the water, making the most of their time, and (crucially) enjoying themselves? Here our panel of sailing experts bring you all their real-world hints and tips to give you the understanding and shortcuts you need as a new sailor to get the best of your sailing.

Traffic light reefing – Jayne Toyne

Tip for new sailor: A traffic-light system for reefing lines with red being the toughest to put in. Credit: Jayne Toyne

A traffic-light system for reefing lines with red being the toughest to put in. A useful tip to help a new sailor. Credit: Jayne Toyne

I deliberately chose a boat with all lines leading to the cockpit. This means that there’s a fair few lines knocking about when it gets busy in the cockpit and colour identification is important.

It can be daunting if you are a new sailor or invite non-sailing friends on a trip.

Four of the most important ones are the reef lines. My boat, Boogie Nights is equipped with three reefs in the main, the first two are single line reefs and the third is twin line.

The reefs follow a simple traffic light system. Red, amber, green.

The most dangerous reef to put in is the first, therefore red. This is because of the high risk of loose lines flying around while the sail area is being reduced, but with the power potential of a fully powered up sail and boom.

The second reef is easier but still moderately dangerous. By the time we get to the third reef, it’s fast and easy with far fewer issues with loose lines and a vastly reduced main.

It’s highly unlikely I’d ever be caught out with anyone new to sailing and be putting the third reef in but squalls can happen.

Even young children can understand the traffic light system and are keen to help out even if it’s just for fun.

Adding an element of familiarity with every day life can make a day out on a strange boat that little bit less daunting for non-sailing friends.

Watch your wake – Graham Snook

Tips for a new sailor: Looking back at the wake can show how steady your course is or show you when to reef. Credit: Graham Snook

If you are a new sailor, looking back at the wake can show how steady your course is or show you when to reef. Credit: Graham Snook

While you’re sailing, take a few moments every now and again to look at your wake and the trail of white bubbles your yacht leaves behind her.

Not only will this give a good indication of the helm’s performance, it will also give you hints if you know what to look for.

If it’s straight and true all is good with the world; better still, if it’s gracefully curving to windward, the tide is helping you on your way.

If, however, it’s trailing to leeward, be warned that the tide is against you.

If you see it zigzagging back and forth, before having a quiet word with the helm, check to see if you’d be better served with tucking a reef in and giving the helm an easier life without excessive weather helm.

Only buy what you need – Kika Mevs

Tip for a new sailor: Get to know your boat before deciding on the gear you need. Credit: Sailing Uma

Get to know your boat before deciding on the gear you need. Credit: Sailing Uma

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by advertisements, claiming that their piece of gear is the best or is essential for your yacht.

When we started sailing, we decided to go with the bare minimum – a hull that floated, sails, a strong standing rig and a proper anchor.

We then took our time, experiencing life onboard and learning how our boat sailed so we could work out what we truly needed.

Over time, we were able to make the upgrades we knew would improve our yacht.

Seacock closure reminder – Jonty Pearce

Once the seacock is closed leave an obvious reminder. Credit: Colin Work

Once the seacock is closed leave an obvious reminder. Credit: Colin Work

Like most yachtsmen I always close the raw water seacock on leaving my boat, even though it is awkwardly placed below our bunk cushions.

My immediate next action is to place a laminated ‘Seacock Shut’ sign behind the perspex engine panel – the sign actually obscures the starter key.

This ensures anybody starting the engine will know that the seacock must be opened first.

Other yachtsmen may have other reminders – a tag on the hook where the engine key is hung for example.

Watch out for weed – Graham Snook

Tips for a new sailor: Take care when motoring towards patches of seaweed, in case there is other debris. Credit: Graham Snook

Take care when motoring towards patches of seaweed, in case there is other debris. Credit: Graham Snook

The tranquil wooded rivers of the UK and northern Europe are a great place to unwind and explore at your own pace, especially if a storm is battering the coast.

If you are tempted to explore after wind and rain, be cautious when you’re motoring towards patches of seaweed. Winds and downpours will often displace branches from the surrounding trees.

Luckily, seaweed tends to get caught on floating branches, so if you avoid the weed, you can reduce the risk of hitting branches with your propeller.

The weather will not wait for you – Kika Mevs

Patience is a virtue when waiting for the ideal weather window. Credit: Sailing Uma

Patience is a virtue when waiting for the ideal weather window – something to accept if you are a new sailor. Credit: Sailing Uma

Not having a schedule is one of the most challenging aspects of cruising life.

We’ve quickly learned to slow down more, and be willing to wait for the favourable weather window before taking on a passage.

We’ve realised that rushing to be somewhere at a specific time is when you inevitably run into trouble.

Sailors have the advantage of keeping an eye on the forecast, and choosing when it’s best for them to navigate the high seas.

There are always favourable winds even in the most dangerous waters, if one is patient enough to wait for it!

Keep sailing plans flexible – Harry Dekkers

Be flexible about your sailing plans...it will make cruising more enjoyable

Be flexible about your sailing plans…it will make cruising more enjoyable

When planning a voyage, we take into account the time available, the crew, the boat, the expected weather conditions and the area which we intend to sail.

When the day of departure comes closer, we start monitoring the weather systems more intensely, hoping the planned passage can go ahead.

In my early sailing years I often worried about not being able to sail the planned route, but over time I have learned to be more relaxed about changing my plans.

Now, the only thing I take into account when choosing a destination is to have the correct charts and books on board.

Don’t get fixed too much on the destination until the day arrives.

Make your dinghy visible at night – Graham Walker

Reflective safety tape makes your tender visible at night. Credit: Graham Walker

Reflective safety tape makes your tender visible at night. Credit: Graham Walker

Sadly, it is fairly common to see (or rather hear) sail boat tenders scudding around busy anchorages at night with not a single light showing, and accidents do occur from time to time.

We try to make our tender more visible when on the move.

When we had our dinghy chaps (suncovers) made we asked the maker to include patches of reflective safety tape around the edges. We have patches of highly reflective tape on the engine cowling and we also have a solar powered tri-colour light stuck on top of the engine to provide all round light.

The bonus is that we can spot our own tender, out of scores on the dinghy dock, at a single glance.

Let everyone helm into a marina – Oliver Perkins

Let everyone have a go at helming in a marina to help build confidence. Credit: Oliver Perkins

Let everyone have a go at helming in a marina to help build confidence. Credit: Oliver Perkins

Marinas are probably the most terrifying experience for new skippers, with thousands of pounds of damage just a small slip-up away.

To reduce this stress we’ve helmed into tight berths since becoming teenagers.

This means mistakes can quickly be corrected under the skipper’s watchful eye before any gelcoat is damaged.

Once I started to skipper myself I could be confident in my berthing abilities and I now make sure everyone who sails with me has the chance to gain the same confidence.

Bucket days – Helen Melton

Vital for seasick crew or catching dinner! Credit: Helen Melton

Vital for seasick crew or catching dinner! Credit: Helen Melton

One of our most valuable items on board is a collapsible bucket.

Easy to store when not on the boat, we pull it out whenever on passage and pop it in the cockpit, threading a long lanyard onto it for ease of attachment.

Apart from using them for queasy crew members, they have also come in quite useful for youngsters needing a wee without becoming anxious about going below or leaving the safety of the cockpit to attempt the manoeuvre over the guardrail.

After thorough cleaning, they can also be utilised as a receptacle for freshly caught mackerel.

Boat departure checklist – Oliver Perkins

Tips for new sailors - a boat departure list

Having a list of all the jobs you need to do before leaving the boat will mean nothing is forgotten. Credit: Oliver Perkins

It is easy to forget important steps when leaving the boat, so we have a laminated checklist behind the chart table with all the jobs for leaving the boat.

This means the boat is always kept perfectly, whoever has sailed her. Plus it stops crew asking what they can do to help – just guide them to the list.

And you can rest secure the gas is off.

Easy measuring on board – John Willis

Laser measuring pointer

A laser pointer makes working out replacement halyards a breeze. Credit: John Wills

It was blowing a hooley with lashing showers, when I decided my flag halyards should be replaced.

Attached to the spreaders eight metres or so off the deck, I began to wonder if there was a way I could work out how much replacement line I would need, and how I could do it easily by myself.

Eureka! There was! I happened to have in my man bag a small domestic laser measuring device and I decided to have a go with that.

I held it at the same height as the stay-mounted cleats, aimed the laser at the bottom of the spreader, steadying myself against the gale, and switched it on.

It took a few seconds to get the little red dot on the underside of the spreader and hold it steady enough to take a reading.

Bingo! Despite the wind and rain, the little screen gave me the height – double it and I had my measurements. Easy!

Sailing can be comfortable – Kika Meva

Wind vane steering is like having another pair of hands on the boat

Wind vane steering is like having another pair of hands on the boat

When we first started, we had no concept of the equipment we needed onboard, nor did we have the funds to add any gear, so we started with the bare minimum.

After two years cruising, hand steering and pulling 75m (250ft) of chain up by hand, we learned that being comfortable on a passage makes a huge difference when it comes to enjoying a long journey.

We slowly upgraded our gear, based on what we knew we needed.

We added a windlass (which saved us all the back pain); a wind vane (not hand steering 24/7 means we can avoid exhaustion at sea), a chart plotter in the cabin (we found being able to stay warm on night passages very valuable) and a stack pack system (being able to quickly drop the mainsail in a matter of seconds) to make life onboard easier.

Finding the centre of the wheel – Oliver Perkins

A Turk’s head knot helps inexperienced helms centre the wheel. Credit: Oliver Perkins

A Turk’s head knot helps inexperienced helms centre the wheel. Credit: Oliver Perkins

The centreline position of the rudder can be difficult to gauge on a wheel, especially for inexperienced crew.

I’ve tied a Turk’s head knot where the wheel is centred so everyone can see and feel when they are steering straight ahead.

This gives beginner helms confidence to steer the boat in a relatively straight line


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