Beginners’ guide to yacht sailing

Chris Warwick, principal of Universal Yachting, gives essential advice for beginners thinking about starting yacht sailing.

You only have to head to the coast to see the wide array of yachts large and small, old and new, tucked away in marinas, anchorages, river moorings and harbours, all full of people enjoying themselves.

There is nothing better than the relaxation and sense of freedom it offers. Talk to boat owners and they will all have their own reasons why they love getting out on the water.

How to get started

Taking a sailing course is one of the best routes to quickly getting a grasp of the essentials. The RYA Start Boating website details the range of starter courses along with which approved training centres offer which course. See

Most training centres also offer less formal weekends or day sailing sessions more geared towards just having a go and enjoying time on the water. Starting with a taster session or short course can certainly help save both time and money when deciding if you want to go further. You can go along on your own, with a group of friends or family.

Which sailing school?

All RYA Training Centres and training yachts have to comply with a defined code of practice. Inspected annually, you can reasonably expect all to have a certain standard of equipment on board.

Whilst you might expect one sailing school to be the same as another, there are certain things you should check that might significantly impact the enjoyment of your first sailing trip.

Which course? Ask the centre for advice on what you want to do – formal course or taster session. Ideally speak to the principal or chief instructor to get an impression of how the course is run, where you will go and the types of things you will do whilst on the course.

Age of the boat? If the centre is near to you go down and have a look at the yachts they use. Age should not be a barrier and many schools use older boats, but there is no excuse for yachts that have been poorly looked after; after all this will be your home for a few days.

Time of year? Whilst there are no guarantees of perfect conditions at any time of year, certainly your chances are increased in the spring and summer.

How many on board? Fewer students mean more hands-on time to practice and generally more room on board.

What size of boat? A 33ft boat with five on board will be very cramped. Most training yachts are 37 – 39ft.

What is included? Food on board and on shore, mooring fees and gear?

Accommodation? Remember you may find yourself sharing a small cabin with a stranger. If you prefer a little privacy ask if there are any own cabin options available.

Location? When starting out it is better to learn in well-protected waters, with plenty of harbours to visit to add variety and interest.

The key thing to remember is if you have a good experience you will be more likely to carry on. Importantly, if you are trying to encourage friends and family to give it a go, be sure to cover these details for a fun and memorable experience, even if you have to spend a little more.