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Sailing for Non-Sailors

Congratulations! You’ve been invited to go sailing, now what? Aside from keeping an open mind (and thanking the skipper with a 6-pack of beer), the first thing to consider when accepting an invitation to go sailing is that you’re going to be confined on a boat for at least a couple of hours. No, we can’t just turn around real quick and no, the boat doesn’t go any faster.


As long as you have an idea of what to expect then those hours will be a unique and fun way to experience nature.


So, before stepping aboard, make sure you have the following:

  • Time: If your skipper says the plan is to be back at 2:00 pm, add some cushion time to your personal calendar. Sailing is a weather-dependent hobby with a likelihood of something going wrong. Perhaps the wind completely dies, the engine doesn’t start, or you linger while watching dolphins. Don’t commit to picking your brother up from the airport at 3:00 pm the same day you plan to get back from sailing at 2:00 pm.

  • Right expectations: Are you being invited to sail when the boat is participating in a regatta or is it a sunset cruise? Don’t be shy about asking questions ahead of time. Even if you are not participating as an active crew member during a regatta, the boat vibe will be different than when everyone is relaxing.

  • Right gear: Expect windy conditions and wear non-marking shoes. Wear something you can quickly move around in; you’ll likely be in tight quarters and will need to climb around if you want to walk around on deck. I.e., Save those strappy heels for another time. Check out the blog post “Basic must-have sailing gear!”. Your skipper should have a life jacket for you, and you likely won’t need sailing gloves.

  • Right attitude: There are a lot of moving parts to sailing and a lot of factors that can’t be controlled. Most of the time everything goes great, but just be prepared to exercise your patience.

  • Understanding of the rules:

  • Know where to find and use safety equipment.

  • Know where the life jackets (PFDs) are on board. If you ever feel uncomfortable or your skipper suggests you wear a life jacket, put one on.

  • Know and understand man overboard.

  • Your skipper will go over the basics, but the main points are to keep an eye on and point at anyone who falls overboard, throw something that floats, and never ever jump in after someone who goes overboard.

  • Protect your head from the boom and hatches!

  • The boom of a sailboat (where the bottom of the mainsail attaches) can swing with a tremendous amount of speed and force.

  • "Keep one hand for yourself and the other for the boat"

  • Don’t panic.

  • Sailing can be dangerous so it is important to listen to the skipper and respect any directions he or she gives. Sometimes the skipper or crew may raise their voices or yell, either because the wind makes it hard to hear or because something time-sensitive needs to be addressed. Don’t take these raised voices as anything personal and if you don’t understand a direction being given, don’t start pulling on ropes, simply state that you don’t understand.

While exploring a used bookstore, I came across a humorous and informative small book from 1985 by Stan Rosenzweig titled “Sailing for Non-Sailors: What every sailboat guest should know before he steps aboard!” Below is an excerpt from the book that sums up sailing for non-sailors best:


“Failure to protect yourself not only risks your pain and suffering after you get home but puts unfair pressure on the skipper while at sea. Many times I have been faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue ahead on a beautiful, breezy, balmy day as most of the crew implored me to do, or turn around and head for a dock just because one thoughtless crew member, running around shoeless, practically tore off an entire toe on a cleat or turnbuckle.


The decision to return can be more painful than the injury, and skippers would prefer that new crew be a little more thoughtful and not place them in such difficult situations. So, on behalf of harried skippers everywhere, mind your manners and please, please don't mess up everyone else’s day by walking around without shoes, or by getting a bad sunburn, or by any other acts of selfish masochism.”


It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the sentiment rings true, your actions on a sailboat will affect everyone else, so prepare yourself!


Stay tuned for a future blog post on “The art of being in the way” which will cover how non-sailors and novice sailors will be in the way of the crew at some point and how it’s perfectly fine.


Miss anything you wish you knew or your non-sailor guests knew? Let us know!


P.s. Planning a trip to Newport, Rhode Island next summer (you should!)? If so, sail with Hope San, pictured above!


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