Hitting the open water

There are many ways to enjoy the hobby of sailing – day sailing, racing or cruising in whatever sailboat suits the individual sailor's skill level, goals and budget.

Day Sailing

Day sailors enjoy time spent sailing and just relaxing on the water. Many prefer dinghies, small keelboats or catamarans, which are easier to maneuver, easier for beginners to work with and cost less to maintain.


Sailboat racing can be fun or serious, depending on your mindset. Serious racing involves spending serious money for up-to-date equipment and ongoing boat maintenance, plus a serious investment of time. Other racing includes club and regional racing, which use a handicap system to allow a wide variety of sailboats to compete.


Cruising home waters is a wonderful way to spend a sailing vacation. The flexibility to cruise as far as time and weather will allow or simply stay close to home means sailor and crew can choose how adventurous to be.

A cruise vacation in more distant places is almost as easy, if more expensive - there are sailboat charter companies all over the world, catering to people wanting to enjoy a sailing vacation in some faraway place without having to sail there.

No matter what or where, sailing takes more than just sailor and boat. Every sailboat needs equipment: safety equipment, navigation equipment and equipment that makes sailing easier.

The buyer of a used sailboat for sale from a private owner may find much of what he needs on board, but it is always wise to make sure that the equipment is both correct and adequate.

Safety Equipment

Sailors must check local and national regulations to make sure they have the correct safety equipment on board. Specifications depend on the size of the boat, but at an absolute minimum equipment should include:

  • A life-vest for every person on board, correctly sized.
  • A buoyant heaving line.
  • Flares.
  • Manual bailers.
  • Correct navigation lights.
  • A sound signaling device.
  • A waterproof flashlight.
  • An anchor and line, or oars or paddles on smaller boats.
  • Area charts.
  • A way to communicate with shore or other boats, like a VHF radio (and / or cell phone where suitable).

People have taught themselves to sail, but it is much easier, safer and more rewarding to learn from knowledgeable sailors. Sailing schools offer comprehensive courses, which cover boat handling, safety and the rules of the water and award certificates indicating a student's level of knowledge and ability.

Spending time on the water with an experienced sailor will help the beginning sailor learn or improve boat-handling skills. Books, magazines and Internet sources can also improve theoretical knowledge and help answer specific questions.

Learning Sailing

Sailing schools offer courses for different skill levels, from beginner to advanced, and for sailors with different interests. Schools certified by bodies like the ASA or US Sailing in the U.S., the CYA in Canada, or the RYA in the U.K. have to meet clearly laid out standards when teaching courses and issuing certificates.

Some charter companies offer certified course in conjunctions with chartering one of their boats. Yacht and sailing clubs and universities and colleges often offer certified courses as well.

Fair winds!

By Margaret Mair