Jargon Buster

New to sailing? Confused by some of the terms you hear?  Use our Jargon Buster lists to quickly find out.

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Bits of a Boat / boat anatomy

The forward part of a boat

The area of the boat, usually recessed into the deck, from which the boat is steered and sailed.

The entrance from the cockpit or deck to the cabin.

The generally horizontal surface that encloses the top of the hull.

“Draft” means the number of feet from the waterline to the lowest point of a cruise ship’s keel; the depth of water a ship draws; how low the ship sits in the water. The term “air draft” is the number of feet from the waterline to the highest point on the cruise ship.

see photo below
The draft of a cruise ship

The watertight structural shell of a boat.

A fixed appendage on the bottom of the hull that provides sideways resistance needed to counter the force of the wind on the sails. The keel also carries ballast, usually iron or lead, the weight of which counteracts the force of the wind that causes a sailboat to heel, or lean over.

A wire supported on stanchions around the perimeter of the deck to prevent crew from falling overboard.

A guardrail at the bow or stern of a boat to which (usually) the lifelines are connected.

The sailboat is steered by a fin-shaped appendage attached beneath the boat toward the stern which can be rotated to change the angle at which the water strikes it. Water must flow past the rudder in order fo rit to work so it will not turn the boat while at rest.

A metal post that supports lifelines.

The aft part of the boat. 

Controls the rudder at the helm of the boat. The person steering the boat is the helmsman.

The more or less flat surface that closes the hull at the stern

Controls the rudder at the helm of the boat. The person steering the boat is the helmsman.

Types of Boat

A dinghy is a type of small boat, often carried or towed by a larger vessel for use as a lifeboat or tender. Utility dinghies are usually rowboats or have an outboard motor. A dinghy’s main use is for transfers from larger boats, especially when the larger boat cannot dock at a suitably-sized port or marina. They can be made from wood or inflatable.

A typical sailing rig for a dinghy is a gunter with a two-piece folding mast stepped through a thwart and resting on the keel. It is raised by pulling a rope called a halyard. A single-sailed rig is usually preferred over a marconi or Bermudan (with a triangular mainsail and jib) because this rig is simpler, with no stays to attach.

Racing dinghies usually have a daggerboard or centreboard to better sail upwind. The trunk is in the middle of what would otherwise be cargo area. A self-rescue dinghy intended to be used as a proactive lifeboat has leeboards on either side, to allow for maximum open cockpit area.

The Topper is an 11 foot 43 kg (95 lb) sailing dinghy designed by Ian Proctor in 1977, produced in the UK and sailed mostly around the British Isles. The boat is constructed from polypropylene, and is popular as a racing boat or for sail training. At 11′ the Topper is named for the ability to transport it on the roof of a car, and the mast splits into two sections, allowing the spars to be stored and transported.

Although the Topper was originally rigged with an aft mainsheet, since 2004 the option to use a centre main has been allowed. The motivation for such a change being that most other dinghies, including the ones Topper sailors are likely to advance to, are rigged with centre mainsheets.

In 2005 a smaller 4.2 m² sail was approved, which can optionally be used in favour of the standard 5.3 m² sail.The smaller sail is more efficient than a larger sail that is reefed. The first 4.2m² national championships were held in 2010. In 2018, development began of a new 6.8m rig for the Topper.

Despite the age of the design, the Topper Class remains one of the fastest growing classes in the UK, with a very active national association. The Topper class is a recognised World Sailing International Class since 2005. The GBR Nationals and the World Championships often have over 200 boats.

The Laser Pico dinghy is a small sailboat designed by Jo Richards in the mid-1990s and used primarily for training and day sailing. It can be crewed by one or two children or an adult. Current models come equipped with both a mainsail and a jib, the jib however mainly functions as a training tool and provides little to no contribution to speed. The Pico functions mainly as a training boat for younger children because of its very durable nature and has little to no racing events dedicated to it.

A sport version is also available on this boat which includes a larger Mylar sail and upgraded control lines. This improvement changed the Portsmouth Yardstick from 1338 to 1269 (for the double handed setup). This version is used extensively in the one-design race series.

The hull is of thermoplastic sandwich construction, providing strength, stiffness, and built-in buoyancy. The cockpit is self-draining. The boat comes equipped with an aluminum two-piece mast, an aluminum boom, and a lifting rudder. For the more racy type, the pico can have a battened race sail attached instead of the cruising main. This sail is made of mylar and is much tougher and more powerful than its cruising counterpart.

Laser Performance, the manufacturer of the Pico, has sold over 15,000 of these boats. The first UK National championships were held on 27–29 May 2006 at Gurnard Sailing Club on the Isle of Wight, the Pico’s spiritual home. The Laser Pico has no active Class Association with the last remnants of the website being removed in 2013.

The Mirror is a popular sailing dinghy with more than 70,000 built. Named after the Daily Mirror, a reknownded working class UK newspaper, the Mirror was promoted as affordable from the start. This has made dinghy sailing accessible to a wide audience. Although most popular in the UK, Mirrors are also sailed in a wide range of other countries,such as Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand, the Philippines and the United States.

The Mirror was designed by Jack Holt and TV do-it-yourself expert Barry Bucknell in 1962. The mirror is a robust, versatile and fairly light boat that can be easily maintained and repaired, and is quick to launch. If the transom is strengthened, an outboard motor can be used for propulsion.

Mirror class rules permit the use of a spinnaker. This may also be used by single handers as well – although flying a main, jib and spinnaker single-handed sounds complex, it is quite manageable with a bit of practice. The Mirror is light and stable enough to be sailed safely by two young teenagers or two adults. It is an excellent boat for children or teenagers learning sailing for the first time.

Despite not being a particularly fast dinghy, the Mirror is popular for one-design racing. Because of the very large number that have been made, it is fairly easy to find other Mirror sailors to race against in places where the Mirror is popular. The large fleet of similar boats coupled with the Mirror’s stability and relative complexity (for a boat of this size) make it the ideal boat to learn racing skills. It is a recommended UK Olympic pathway boat and many top sailors learned their trade in Mirrors. Mirrors are raced competitively worldwide.

Former world champion Ross Kearney won both the 2010 Mirror European championships at Sligo Yacht Club, and the 2011 Mirror World Championship held in Albany, Western Australia, with current crew Max Odell. The 2013 World Championships were hosted at Lough Derg Yacht Club in Ireland. The biggest event in the UK each year is Abersoch Mirror week, held in North Wales at S.C.Y.C. Abersoch Mirror week is an event for all sailors, from the very young and first time sailors to the mega keen adult, with boats from the 60s to brand new. In 2013 there were more Mirrors than the Nationals. In 2015 the 2015 Nationals were held alongside Abersoch Mirror week. The UK Portsmouth Yardstick number for single handed racing is 1369, for racing with two crew the UK Portsmouth Yardstick number is 1383.

Cruising – Although in the racing world Mirrors are associated with youths and beginners, as a cruising/pleasure boat they are very practical for adults, whereas modern racing dinghies are not practical. Compared to racing dinghies which tend to have low gunwales, are a wet ride, capsize easily, and cannot be rowed or motored; the Mirror is more like a traditional boat with relative comfort inside the cockpit, plenty of room for stowage, and both the crew and gear remain dry in light winds. In heavy winds, the hull form is very stable and this makes them very reliable for the more adventurous cruiser, knowing that capsize is less likely than racing boats of comparable size. Their small size and light weight means they are easy to handle, launch and recover, transport, tow, and store on land. They can be launched and recovered by hand from inhospitable places where cars and tractors are unable to go (eg deep mud estuaries, large beaches with gentle gradients, etc), which gives them an advantage over bigger dinghies. Their ability to take oars and an engine means that the cruising dinghy sailor can be self sufficient without relying on rescue boats in case of problems with the sails or rigging. With the right knowledge and equipment, Mirrors are suitable for cruising on rivers, lakes, and coastal waters; solo or in groups. Mainly used for day sailing but sometimes for multi-day passages, with boom tents allowing camping on the boat, or camping gear stowed to be used for camping ashore.

Other designs – Three other dinghy designs are also associated with the ‘Mirror’ name: the (Mirror) Miracle of 12 ft 8ins length, the Marauder (Mirror 14) (14 ft 6ins), and the Mirror 16 (16 ft 1ins).

The Sailfish sailboat is a small, hollow body, board-boat style sailing dinghy. The design is a shallow draft, sit-upon hull carrying a crab claw sail mounted to an un-stayed mast. This style sailboat is sometimes referred to as a “wet boat” because, with its minimal freeboard, the sailor often gets splashed by spray as the boat moves across the water.

The distinctive low-aspect ratio crab claw sail gives the Sailfish a unique squat appearance compared with today’s more familiar high-aspect ratio Bermuda rig sailboats. First impression of this low profile rig might be that it sails awkwardly, however, the crab claw sail plan shifts the advantage toward better performance in light air and also contributes to it having good down-wind characteristics. The crab claw sail along with its simple two line rigging made the Sailfish one of the easiest boats ever to learn fundamentals of sailing on.

The Laser is a highly popular family of small one-design sailing dinghies using the same common hull and interchangeable rigs with different sail areas. The Laser is designed to be sailed single-handed although class rules permit two sailors. Bruce Kirby designed the Laser in 1970 with an emphasis on simplicity and performance.

One of the most popular dinghy classes in history, there were more than 215,000 boats worldwide in 2018. It is an international class with sailors in 120 countries, and has been an Olympic class since 1996. Manufacturered by independent companies in different parts fo the works, it’s easy to rig and sail and provides very competitive racing due to the very tight class association controls which eliminate differences in hull, sails, and equipment.

The Laser’s hull is made out of glass reinforced plastic. The deck has a foam layer underneath for strength and buoyancy. The daggerboard is removable for storage and transport.

The Laser’s hull being fitted with different interchangeable rigs with varying sail area and similar parts means that a wide range of sailors can sail and compete in a range of wind conditions despite the Laser’s small ideal crew weight range for a given rig. Other ‘Laser’ branded boats with different designs are also available, some examples are: the Laser 2 and Laser Pico.

The Drascombe Scaffie, now marketed as the Devon Scaffie, is a British trailerable sailboat that was designed by John L. Watkinson and first built in 1978. The modern Scaffie is based upon a traditional British boat design that dates back several hundred years.

The Scaffie design is one of a large range of similar Drascombe boats with different hull, cabin and rig configurations.
The design has been built by Honnor Marine Classics in Swanage, Dorset, United Kingdom. It remains in production.

The Scaffie is a recreational sailboat, built predominantly of fibreglass, with hardwood trim. It is an open boat, with no cabin. It has a lug sail rig with Sitka spruce spars and a loose-footed, terylene mainsail. A sloop rig is a factory option. The lapstrake-style hull has a spooned raked stem, a rounded transom, a transom-hung, wooden rudder controlled by an ash wood tiller and a fixed triple keel. It has a central long keel and two side bilge keels, allowing it to remain upright when left high and dry at low tide. It displaces 463 lb (210 kg) and weighs 748 lb (339 kg) when fully equipped. Foam buoyancy is fitted. It uses flooding water ballast, which is drained for road transport.

The boat has a draft of 1.21 ft (0.37 m) with the standard triple keels.

The boat is normally fitted with a small, well-mounted, 2 to 3 hp (1 to 2 kW) outboard motor for docking and manoeuvring. It also comes with oarlocks for rowing.

Operational history
In a 1994 review Richard Sherwood wrote, “the Drascombe Scaffie is a design that has been used in coastal sailing for over 200 years. Scaffies have been built for many years in England, and they are now also built in Maine. The loose-footed lug sail is carried on an unstayed mast. Since there is no centerboard trunk the cockpit has a lot of space, and with a tent, the Scaffie is used for cruising.”

In a 2018 review for Watercraft Magazine, writer Alice Driscoll stated, “she’s incredibly easy to sail and manage but still has the power to make for an exciting sail. And yet, if the wind dies to nothing or you realise you’ve only got a short time to make it to the pub for lunch, then you can quickly power her up and chug along with the outboard.”

The Drascombe Lugger is a recreational open sailboat, built predominantly of fiberglass. The Drascombe Lugger is a British trailerable sailboat that was designed by John L. Watkinson and first built in 1968. Production started in 1968, with more than 2,000 boats completed and the design remains in production.

The Drascombe Lugger design is the basis of a large range of similar Drascombe boats with different hull, cabin and rig configurations. Watkinson, a former Royal Navy officer wanted a small boat for his own family which could be used for day sailing with trailerability, that would be stable and safe, but still exciting to sail for experienced sailors.

Made with wooden spars and trim, it has a Gunter rigged yawl with and a boomkin for the mizzen sail. It features a spooned raked stem, a raised transom, an internally mounted fold-up rudder controlled by a tiller and a centreboard. It can be equipped with a bowsprit and cutter rig. It displaces 600 lb (272 kg) and carries 100 lb (45 kg) of ballast in the steel centreboard.

The boat has a draft of 4.00 ft (1.22 m) with the centreboard extended and 0.83 ft (0.25 m) with it retracted, allowing beaching or ground transportation on a trailer. For docking and manoeuvring, the boat is normally fitted with a small outboard motor, located in an aft well.

The Wayfarer is a wooden or fibreglass hulled fractional Bermuda rigged sailing dinghy of great versatility; used for short ‘day boat’ trips, longer cruises and for racing. Over 11,000 have been produced as of 2016.

The boat is 15 feet 10 inches (4.83 m) long, and broad and deep enough for three adults to comfortably sail for several hours or longer trips by enthusiasts. Popular with sailing schools, due it its size, stability and seaworthiness, it’s known as a family boat being found in a wide variety of locations.

The sail plan consists of a Bermuda rig with a main, jib, and symmetrical spinnaker. The boat uses a retractable centreboard. An optional asymmetric spinnaker and spinnaker chute is available; also available is a “sail patch” which provides flotation for the mast in the event of a capsize (and particularly to prevent mast inversion – Turtling).

Not only a versatile cruising dinghy, Wayfarers are also raced with a Portsmouth Number of 1101. As of 2013, it has a Portsmouth Yardstick rating of 91.6. There is also a twin versions in circulation – a double-hulled Canadian clone, the only difference being its simplified rig. Genuine Wayfarers can be identified by the “W” symbol on their sails.

Designed in 2002 by Paul Handley, the RS Feva is a two-person sailing dinghy. It is manufactured and distributed by RS Sailing. The RS Feva is available in two versions; the RS Feva S ( for pleasure sailing and has an unbatterned main sail with the option to upgrade to a jib and/ or gennaker) and RS Feva XL (the racing version). The boat is suitable to be sailed by two young sailors or by adult and child teams, the RS Feva may also be sailed single-handed.

RS Feva owners and sailors around the World are supported by an International Class Association and a network of National Class Associations which organise the World, European and National Championships.

The RS Feva XL has the same hull and spars as the RS Feva S but the sail package comprises a full-battened mylar racing mainsail and includes the jib and gennaker. The design allows both the jib and gennaker to be used at the same time for power reaching. When racing in a mixed fleet, the RS Feva XL uses a Portsmouth Yardstick handicap of 1210 in the UK or 105.2 in the USA.

The RS Feva is popular in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong, and is being re-introduced to the market in North America. In the United Kingdom the RS Feva has been approved by the RYA for the RYA Onboard scheme, and by several schools and sailing centres and clubs for junior sailing programmes.

A scow is a type of flat-bottomed barge. Some scows are rigged as sailing scows. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scows carried cargo in coastal waters and inland waterways, having an advantage for navigating shallow water or small harbours in the American Great Lakes, other parts of the U.S, in southern England, New Zealand and Canada. Their flat bottoms meant they could easily navigate shallow waters found in docks and harbours compared to keel boats.

In modern times their main purpose is for recreation and racing. The squared-off shape and simple lines of a scow make it a popular choice for simple home-built boats made from plywood.

The term scow is used in and around the west Solent for a traditional class of sailing dinghy. Various towns and villages claim their own variants (Lymington, Keyhaven, Yarmouth, West Wight, Chichester), they are all around 11 feet (3.35 m) in length and share a lug sail, pivoting centre board, small foredeck and a square transom with a transom-hung rudder.

Built in Britain from 1976 to 1990 the Hunter Sonata 7 is a 7 m (23 ft) small racer-cruiser yacht manufactured by Hunter Boats Ltd (now British Hunter).

The Sonata was designed by David Thomas, and is a One-Design, Cruiser-Racer Class. It has a glass-fibre hull, with a low-profile glass-fibre deck, a Bermuda rigged aluminium mast, and an iron keel (or keels). It has a relatively large sail area and the rig is a fractional one. When fitted for cruising it has four berths, with two further occasional bunks. Mechanical power is provided by a demountable outboard motor mounted on a sliding bracket on the port side of the transom.

The Sonata was built in several forms with varying keels. The Hunter Duette with twin keels and also available with lifting keels was fitted out for cruising rather than racing. The Hunter Horizon and other variants with the same deck moulding and the Hunter Medina (20ft) which is a scaled down version of the Sonata design.

The Sonata is a National class in the United Kingdom and is raced across the country. The class is governed by the National Sonata Association in conjunction with the Royal Yachting Association.

Designed in 1967 by Oliver Lee as a successor to the Ajax 23, a Squib is a type of small racing keelboat. It is a strict “one-design” class of boat, having a length of 5.79m, beam of 1.87m, a sail area of 15.8 sq m upwind, 29 sq m total and a weight of 680 kg. The boat can accommodate two people, either during racing or cruising. When raced the Portsmouth Yardstick is applied at 1129.

The National Championship started in 1972 and is held at a different venue every year throughout. An average of between 80 – 100 boats compete each year. There is also an Inland Championship which has been held on Rutland Water every year since 2995. Squibs are one of the largest fleets at Cowes Week. In 2008, there were 40 Squibs racing, appropriately in the Squib’s 40th year.

Counting regional championships, invitational events and regattas, Squibs compete in 25 open events each year – all over Britain and Ireland and, occasionally, on the Continent. Ranked by attendance at National Championships, the Squib is consistently one of the top ten classes.

The Squib is a favourite boat for people with disabilities, featuring in the in the 2009 Special Olympics (for people with learning disabilities) held in Leicester. The class is beginning to have international aspirations.

The Squib lends itself well to cruising, with fleets at Newhaven and Seaford YC and a version of the Squib cruised from Glasgow to Inverness – and one crossed the Atlantic.


The America’s Cup, is a match race held between two sailing yachts: one from the yacht club that currently holds the trophy (the defender) and the other from the yacht club that is challenging for the cup (the challenger).It is the oldest international competition still operating in any sport. .There is no fixed schedule, with matches held several years apart on dates agreed between the defender and the challenger. The most recent America’s Cup match took place in March 2021.

From 1870 until 1967, there was always only one challenger. In 1970 multiple challengers applied, so a selection series was held to decide which applicant would become the official challenger and compete in the America’s Cup match. This approach has been used for each subsequent competition. The Prada Cup (known as the Louis Vuitton Cup from 1983-2017) is awarded to the winner of the challenger selection series.

The America’s Cup is reknownd for its prestige, attracting the world’s top sailors, yacht designers, wealthy entrepreneurs and sponsors. It is a test of sailing skill, boat and sail design,along with fundraising and management skills.

Over the years the spefication and size of the yachts has varied considerably, from 90ft yachts in the ealry matches to J lLass in the 1930s, to 12 metre yachts after WWII, then reverting to 90ft in 2010. AC72 catamarians have als been raced in latter years. Currently, The America’s Cup is currently held by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, using an AC75 foiling monohull called Te Rehutai. The next America’s Cup will be held between the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the Royal Yacht Squadron, at a date to be determined. Both the 37th and 38th America’s Cup matches will be sailed in AC75 class yachts.

Cowes Week is one of the longest-running regular regattas in the world. With 40 daily sailing races, up to 1,000 boats, and 8,000 competitors ranging from Olympic and world-class professionals to weekend sailors, it is the largest sailing regatta of its kind in the world. Having started in 1826, the event is held in August each year on the Solent (the area of water between southern England and the Isle of Wight made tricky by strong double tides), and is run by Cowes Week Limited in the small town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The Round the Island Race is an annual yacht race around the Isle of Wight. It starts and finishes in Cowes, and is organised by the Island Sailing Club. The course is about 50 nautical miles (93 km) long. It was first held in 1931. The race is generally chosen to be the Saturday in June with the most favourable tides; a date in late May or early July may be chosen if there is no suitable date in June.

The Southampton Boat Show is an on-water boat show, one of the largest in Europe and the biggest of its type in the UK. The show is held annually in September in Mayflower Park, Southampton, England and run by British Marine, the trade association for the leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry.

The Southampton Boat Show is an important sales platform for both national and international businesses, attracting over 110,000 visitors. The show attracts high net worth individuals from the UK and around the world, with an attendance sex ratio of 77% male, 23% female and an average age of 51 years. The average amount spent at each show is over £880 per head (excluding spending on boats).


One-Design is a racing method which may be adopted in sports which use complex equipment. In sailing all boats have identical or very similar designs or models ( i.e. strict specification and measurement requirements) to ensure the class race is competitive but fair. The one-design idea was created by Thomas Middleton, Shankill Corinthian Club located near Dublin, Ireland in 1887

In sail boat racing there are two primary methods of competition: One-Design and handicap. One-design refers to a racing class that consists of just one model or design of sailboat, in this case the first boat to finish wins the race. Where as with handicap racing, time is added or subtracted from the finishing times based on design factors and mathematical formulas to determine the winner ( e.g. Portsmouth Yard Stick).

Generally, the tolerances are strictest in smaller boats like dinghy classes and small keelboats. The specified tolerances can be confidential and generally, design and production is limited to the same factory or very few, e.g. the Laser, Melges 24. Alternatively, if the specfication is published, a license to manufacture is required and can be exclusive to a country or region, e.g. the Olympic Finn and 470.

Medium- to large-sized boat classes, are required to conform to a standard specification, with the possibility of alterations within certain tolerances. Examples are the Dragon, J/24, Santana 20, Tartan 10, Etchells. In other classes, the one-design class may occur around established fleets of similar boats linked other for commercial purposes such as canoes, skipjacks or Scows.

This is contrasted with handicap racing, where time is added or subtracted from the finishing times based on design factors and mathematical formulas to determine the winner.

In contrast to ‘one-design’, other sailboats race under a variety of handicapping rules and formulas developed to allow different type boats to compete against one another. Formula rules include the Square Metre Rule, the Ton class, the Universal Rule, and the Metre Rule. Handicap rules include Portsmouth Yardstick, PHRF, IOR, IMS, IRC, Americap and LYS.

Handicap forms for sailing vessels in sailing races have varied throughout history, and they also vary by country, and by sailing organisation. Sailing handicap standards exist internationally, nationally, and within individual sailing clubs.

Typically sailing vessel classes are defined by measurement rules, which categorise vessels accordingly into classes of vessels, and vessels compete within their class. Handicapping allows vessels to compete across classes, and also allows vessels and crews to compete based on performance and equipment on an equal basis, by adjusting the race outcome data, to declare a handicap (adjusted) winner as distinct from a line honours (first over the finish line) winner.

Other handicap systems of a simplified measurement type are designed to allow very different yachts of diverse designs to compete on an equal basis. This is particularly so for trailer sailers that may race in trailer sailer fleets or in mixed fleets. For example, Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF), Class Based Handicap (CBH), and Yardstick which is based more on previous individual performances rather than vessel design characteristics.

The Portsmouth Yardstick (PY) or Portsmouth handicap scheme is a term used for a number of related systems of empirical handicapping used primarily in small sailboat racing ,where the racing boats vary in specification. Allowing boats from difference classes to race against each other.

Sail Checklist

Top Tips

Before you venture out on your first trip, be sure to acquaint yourself with important sailing terms. When sailing with a group as part of the crew, the skipper (person steering the boat) may call out directions using these terms. You will need to know them to be an effective crew member and act quickly, as there are often situations that arise when sailing that will require you to act fast.[1]
Stern refers to the back of the ship.
Bow refers to the front of the ship.
Port is the left-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow (front).
Starboard is the right-hand side of the boat when you are facing the bow.

Before you sail, learn what it means to tack and jibe. Also, familiarize yourself with the direction of the wind—a sailboat can’t sail directly into the wind, so you’ll have to adjust the sails to maintain a certain angle to the wind if you want to move forward.

You can also use a product called Windex that will show you where the wind is coming from, but with time, you’ll learn to tell the direction of the wind just by feeling it on your face.
Tacking refers to a sailing maneuver in which the sailor(s) turn the bow of the boat through the wind. The wind will change from one side of the vessel to the other side.

Jibing refers to a sailing maneuver in which you turn the boat so the bow faces away from the wind. Jibing is not as common as tacking since it can be much harder to do correctly.

The boom is the horizontal pole which extends from the mast (the tall pole-like object) and is part of the mainsail. Some of the most common sailing injuries are a result of not being aware when the boom is about to swing. This usually happens during a tack or jibe. To avoid a bump to the head, or even worse, being knocked overboard, one of the most important beginner sailing tips to always remember for both passengers and crew is to be conscious and respectful of the boom at all times, especially when the skipper yells out for the crew to execute a tack or jibe.

When sailing, it can be much cooler on the water than it is on shore, due to the wind exposure. It can be helpful to combat this by dressing in layers. Comfortable casual clothes and non-slip shoes are usually suitable for sailing. If you know are going to get wet, wear a swimsuit underneath your layers and leave the nice clothing at home. Tie back long hair and avoid excessive jewelry, which could pose a safety risk if it got caught in the ropes or elsewhere. Bring a raincoat or jacket to protect yourself from rain or wet weather.

It’s best to wear closed-toe shoes for your own safety.

You can buy shirts with sun protection built into them. These are often sold at sportswear stores or can be found online.

If you are crewing a boat or sailing your own small vessel, wear clothes that can get wet, such as spandex or Lycra. These are usually materials used in swimwear. There are also websites that specialize in selling sailing gear, such as SailingWorld.com.

Wear a life jacket at all times. When sailing, there is always a possibility that your boat capsizes (overturns into the water) and you become separated from it, carried away in a current, or are too exhausted to swim to shore. Avoid a dangerous situation and wear a proper-fitting life jacket at all times. These can be purchased at boating stores.

Whenever you are sailing, you will be handling ropes. Sailing gloves provide protection, grip, and warmth. In order to handle these ropes without getting rope burn or being unable to adequately grasp the ropes, you will need to purchase a pair of sailing gloves. Sailing gloves look like gloves that are used for weightlifting and will usually be finger-less. They can be purchased online at sailing apparel websites or in boat stores such as West Marine.

It is difficult to shield yourself from the sun on a sailboat, unless you are onboard a large boat with a living area(s) below decks. Pack plenty of sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and be sure to wear a hat. Pack an extra hat or two just in case one of your hats goes flying off your head in the wind.

Pack a small drawstring bag or backpack with a few bottles of water, snacks, a towel, and some first aid items. For longer trips, you should also include extra changes of clothes, something nice to wear in the evening if you head to a coastal town for dinner, toiletries, non-slip shoes for walking around the sailboat and a suitable pair of shoes for wearing off the boat, your prescription medication, and a small flashlight.

Invest in a good sailing course through a community sailing club or center near you. In-depth, formal, and in-person instruction is the best way to learn how to sail. You can start at any age!

It is usually not possible to begin sailing without a course, as most sailing centers won’t allow you to take out their vessels without either taking a course from them or demonstrating your sailing knowledge.

The best way to get confident at sailing is to commit a lot of time to it. It’s a lifelong process, because no matter how long you’ve been on the water, there’s always something new to learn.

One of the most important parts of sailing is to notify the sailing club or another person of your whereabouts. Let them know the area you plan to sail in and when you plan to be back. This will give you and others peace of mind before you head out to the open water.

Even if you are going to meet your sailing instructor, notify a third party of your plans.

Always have a float plan before you leave the dock. Know where you’re going to sail, and about how long you plan to be gone, and give that information to your contact on shore. Also, be sure to include the names of everyone who will be on board.

If you’re just starting to learn sailing basics, one of the most important beginner sailing tips to remember is to practice in ideal conditions of light winds and low traffic. This will give you ample space and agreeable weather to practice and gain confidence in your skills.

It’s easier to learn how to sail with fewer lines and sails. A small dinghy will be more responsive and easier to maneuver, and is also perfect for practicing capsizing (tipping the boat underwater and then correcting it).

Choose a boat with a single sail or perhaps just the mainsail and a jib (the small sail located in front the main sail). Starting on a boat that’s rigged with only one sail will make learning sailing basics easier and less complicated.

Capsizing is inevitable in sailing, more so with small vessels less than 20 feet long than the larger yachts. This may seem odd, but it’s better to practice how to handle a capsized sailboat in a controlled environment, as opposed to an uncontrolled one.

New sailors learn best from experience, and the valuable sailing basics you’ll pick up from going through a test-capsize in a small dinghy will serve you well in the event of a real-life one.

 The best sailors are the ones who are able to adjust sail settings to take advantage of different wind and water conditions. In general, sails should be relatively flat when the wind is either very light or very strong, and full when there is a moderate wind.


1. http://www.discoverboating.com/resources/article.aspx?id=243

2. Nitzan Levy. Sailing Instructor. Expert Interview. 24 April 2020.



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