How To learn to sail in 2020

A photograph showing people at a simulator learning how to sail a dinghy

How to get into sailing

Sailing has taken me a long way. I have met some great friends along the way, and had some great experiences on the water, in nature, away from the day to day life.

This is short little blog post that I have written about how I got into sailing and how I would recommend others get into sailing!

How I got into sailing

This is probably the best way to explain how most people who sail, ended up getting into sailing.  It usually starts with their parents!

My Journey into sailing began when I was about 11. My dad used to do a lot of scuba diving in the UK. The problem with diving in the UK is that the water tends to be quite murky and if the sea is rough, then he couldn’t see under the water. His solution was to have another sport to go to that, that sport was sailing.

He used to have an old cheap Topper sailing dinghy. The best part of it, was that it fitted onto the roof of the car. The topper was a great boat for pootling around different places. Easily to rig, not very heavy, but sturdy enough to take most abuse. A perfect beach boat!

After a few years when I was growing up, I got more into sailing. So my dad went to the local sailing club – Southport Sailing Club. Here I got to go sailing on my own in this little boat around this little marine lake. Perfectly safely as you could stand up if you fell in! I started doing a little bit of racing with other kids. There was no formal training.

I guess thats how people can fall into sailing.

How I would recommend people get into sailing:

The problem with the above story, is that well, it was my Dad who got me into sailing. I guess not everyone has a dad who can get them into sailing. With this in mind I present the below:


What sort of sailing do you want to do?

There is a lot written by people about how to get into sailing. I guess it depends on what sort of sailing you want to do:


  • Yacht Sailing – what I guess most people think of as sailing, something with a lump of lead on the bottom so it doesn’t fall over, and some guard rails to stop you falling out.

  • Dinghy Sailing – Sailing along in small boats that you could tow behind your car, usually with one or more people

  • Windsurfing / Kitesurfing – the crazy cross. Most people tend to think of the wave sailors ripping up a wave, but theres also freestyle and racing

  • Powerboats – not really sailing, anything from a dinky thing that goes around a fair ground attraction to the bond villan super yachts (and all sorts between)


For me I have to say I would highly recommend learning to dinghy sail. The great thing about dinghy sailing is that you get to do it all:

  • Rig the boat

  • Launch the boat

  • Sail the boat

  • Recover the boat

The problem with Yacht sailing, is that at least to begin with you probably will only get the chance to do limited functions. This is because on a yacht if you don’t know what your doing, you can potentially kill someone. The forces are quite high, where as in a sailing dinghy they are much lower.

Kitesurfing and windsurfing can take a long time to learn, and if you don’t know to do them safely in the right conditions you can get yourself into some real trouble.

This is why I would recommend anyone wanting to learn to sail, to try dinghy sailing first of all.


How to get into Yacht Sailing

Yacht Sailing is great.

You can go cruising for a day or more (which is a little bit like camping on the water), and you can see places you might not see otherwise. Theres also the racing element of it to.

Being in a boat with other people can be great as well. You can get a real camaraderie going between everyone and it can be very social. My advice to people looking to get involved with yachting would be the following:

  1. Find a club that offers yacht sailing:

    • See if they have an open day or they offer any taster sessions – if they run training of any description its likely they have will have something worked out. They may want you to join the club first though, so bear this in mind

    • If you know someone who has a boat, ask them for a ride. One of the major headaches of owning a yacht (apart from all the maintenance (its worse than running a car)) is getting a crew to go sailing with. Often they will need more than 2 people to sail the boat. If its racing this might be even more.

    • Start a profile on a crewing website.

  1. If you think going yachting is something you would like to do more of, I would do some courses. Theres lots of different yachting courses out there. You could even combine it with a holiday aboard.

  2. See about doing some more cruising or racing, I would consider joining a club.

  3. You could buy a yacht, but remember there is a lot to it – buying the yacht is not the most expensive part, maintaining it is however:

    • Often you will need survey (a bit like buying a house) and the insurance will require things like rigging to be replaced every year

    • You will need some where to leave it – either a morning or some where to park it on a trailer – you may need another vehicle to move it around

    • You are likely to have to antifoul the boat at least once every two years. This involves taking the boat out of the water and a LOT of hard work – although like everything you can always pay someone to do it.

    • If its got an engine that is going to maintaining

    • The same goes for electricals like radios etc…


How to get into Dinghy Sailing

If you want to get into sailing, I would highly recommend trying dinghy sailing out.

This is what I would recommend for someone who thinks that they would like to give dinghy sailing a go.

  1. Go along to an open day at a club local to you. You will be able to get a go in a boat. Normally a sailing instructor will sail you around for an hour or 20 mins – MAKE SURE YOU BRING a towl and a change of clothes – normally they provide a bouancy aid and some clothing, but better to safe than sorry. Most clubs have changing facilities at their club.

  2. If you think that you like the idea of going sailing and you would be prepared to spend more time doing it – get yourself on a beginners course – they will give you enough confidence to be able to take a boat sailing for a few hours. These are usually between 2 – 4 days long – depending on the course. There are training centers all over the world, but you might fancy combining it with a holiday aboard – see our map for more details of courses taking place near to you.

  3. After that, well I guess its up to you:

  • I would highly recommend other sailing courses – there are loads out there so that you can improve your skills.

  • Joining a club can give you somewhere local to go, often with good advice, changing rooms, racing and days when they have safety cover on. They normally offer some kind of a galley (for food) and a bar for something to drink.

  • Buy a boat?!

How to get into Kitesurfing / Windsurfing

Being a keen windsurfer, I can tell you that windsurfing is awesome. I imagine that kitesurfing is, but I have never tried.

Whats great about both these sports is the speed which you can go, the freedom that you have to try things out, and the fact that you can sail in places (beach breaks etc…) and in conditions (see the redbull storm chase) when you couldn’t be in a sailing boat.

One of the major problems with windsurfing and kitesurfing is learning it. Its quite hard to get into. It often helps you can sail a boat as this generally gives you a good idea for wind awareness and also how sails work (which I guess translates into kites as well).

Here is what I would do though in order to start off in these sports:

  1. Get a taster session somewhere. A lot of centers around the Uk and the world will offer 1 day taster sessions. This is a good idea as they are generally pretty cheap and it only takes up one day.

  2. If you really think its something you could be into doing go on holiday for a week to somewhere warm and learn! These sports involve falling in the water (a lot) whether your learning or not. The best way to get the most out of a course is if the water your falling into is not freezing cold. The cold saps your energy no matter how good your wetsuit is.

  3. If you think its definitely what you want to do after going on holiday and learning somewhere warm for a week, get yourself on a more advanced course. You need to get your skills good enough so that you are safe to go windsurfing or kite surfing on your own.

The WORST thing you can do is buy some cheap 2nd hand gear and just go for it. You are likely to find yourself needing to be towed back by a life boat, and you don’t really want to end up on the 6 o’clock news do you?!

My Qualifications

I started sailing back in 1994, sailing a Topper on Southport Marine Lake. After a few years of sailing there I moved to the club next door West Lancashire YC. I began to sail Lasers.

After a few years of doing this, it was suggested that I did my RYA Dinghy Instructors Certificate. I qualified in 2002. To be a qualified instructor, I had to also pass a:

  • RYA Level 2 power boat course – this is like a driving test of using powerboats and teaches you how to use them safely

  • RYA First Aid Certificate

  • Pre Entry assessment for the course:

    • This was the good old days. I had to be able sail a double handed dinghy around a triangle course without a rudder, stopping the boat as requested on any point of sail. It was intense full day

Also passed an RYA Safety boat course as well, but this was not required for the Instructors course. It was a good thing I did and very useful, as I was shown safe way to rescue different craft from the water.

My Work Experience

About a year after passing my instructors certificate and finishing university I found myself working at the wonderful Minorca Sailing. 5 years went by very quickly.

This is probably one of the best places to go dinghy sailing at. The equipment is extremely high quality and has a huge variety.

I learnt a lot about teaching (I spent my first 2 weeks sat in a rib with famous sailing coach Mark Littlejohn). I also learnt a lot about sailing different dinghys. After the first year I could take clients sailing on twin trapeze sailing dinghies as well as coaching a variety of different boats.

The years after that I worked as the equipment manager, ensuring that the equipment was well maintained and available for use. No small job when you have 200 boats to look after!

After this I have worked for 2ndhanddinghies, Pinnel and Bax, and more recently Solent Boat Works.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me!