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Learn How to Sail a Sailboat

Key Information for Beginners and Sailors Who Already Know Some Basics

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Father and son sailing
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Want to learn how to sail? You've come to the right place to get started!

There are many ways to learn to sail. You can just jump in a boat with a friend and try to learn from experience. You can sign up for a formal course at a sailing school. You can buy or borrow a small sailboat and do it all on your own. But no matter which way works best for you, it really helps to understand the boat and what's involved in sailing first before you're out on the water where suddenly you might get into trouble. We're here to help you with that part.

Sailing involves both specific knowledge and skills. Reading about the basics of sailing in the articles referenced here will really help you get started. You might want to bookmark this page so you can come back to other sections you don't have time to look through now.

Following are the basic steps of learning to sail - as much as you can learn while not actually on a boat. You don't have to follow this order, and skip ahead if you already know some of the basics. But if you're mostly new to sailing, you might want to proceed through these steps like chapters in a manual.

  1. To get into sailing, you have to understand the words that are used to talk about the sailboat and the skills used to sail. Start here with a review of basic sailing terms. Don't worry about memorizing everything - many of these terms and concepts will become clearer as you read on about how to do it.

  2. Before you go the boat, it's really helpful also to know the words used for different parts of the boat. Even if you have an instructor, he or she won't say "Grab that rope over there and pull it" but instead will say "Haul in the jibsheet!" Here's a review of the basic boat terms you'll need to know.

  3. Now you're ready to learn more about what all those parts of the boat are used for. Here you can start an online learn-to-sail course by learning more about the parts of the boat along with a lot of photos so you'll see what to do.

  4. Read to go sailing now? Hold it a minute - you have to rig the boat first by putting on sails and making other preparations. Here again are a lot of photos of what to do on a typical small sailboat used by beginners.

  5. OK, now you have the boat ready - so what do you do now to make it go? How do you manage the sails to go in the direction you want, and all that? Learn basic sailing techniques here.

  6. Sailing in a set direction is reasonably easy - but eventually you'll have to change direction, and that often involves tacking and gybing. Take a moment to learn what's involved in these critical maneuvers.

  7. Now you've got the basics down - great! But did anyone ever tell you that small sailboats often tip over if the wind is gusting? Better be prepared and know how to recover from a capsize!

  8. Now you're out there sailing and you've got the boat under control. Want to go faster? Learn how to dock or anchor the boat or use some of the equipment you've ignored so far? Take a look at some of these additional sailing skills.

  9. All set to go and get some practice - but it's cold or raining? For thousands of years, sailors have used such times doing things like tying knots. Maybe it sounds dull at first, but knots are really important on a sailboat - you will need to learn at least some basic sailing knots to sail at all.

  10. At this point, plus some practice on the water, you're good to go - except for one more thing. It's good to remember that water is a dangerous place and learn the basics about sailing safety so that you don't become one of those terrible statistics. Staying safe just makes it a lot easier to keep having fun out there.

That's it! Now get out there and use all your new knowledge and have the time of your life!

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