My top 10 bits of advice for newbie sailors

by Tom Scott, Morgan 30 Whimsy, Date: 11/8/13

1) Read and conceptually understand the basics of sailing – points of sail, sail controls, terminology, basic maneuvers (tacking, jibing, docking, anchoring).

2) Find a “sailing mentor”; someone who has sailed for some time and has some experience. Do this by joining a sailing club or association.

3) Sail on other people’s boats. Get as much sailing experience as you can sailing with others. You’ll learn what you like, what you don’t like, and be exposed to a variety of boats, sailing philosophies, and techniques. While sailing with others, ask questions. Observe.

4) With some basic experience, get involved in sailboat racing – even if “racing” sailboats (…a crazy idea if ever there was one!) is not what you dream of doing. Racing experience will provide you with a better understanding of what it takes to make a boat perform well, how to handle close situations, crew work, and provide feed back on what works and doesn’t. You will learn more racing for one season than you will sailing alone for 5 years. Racing also will get you out on the water (with more experienced people beside you) in conditions you should not be out in by yourself – a huge plus.

5) With the experience above, and some guidance from your sailing mentor and new found sailing buddies, find a basic boat to buy for your very own. The smallest boat that will accomplish your goals is often the best one. Smaller boats provide more immediate feedback for what you are doing and experiencing, and can teach you faster. Depending on your age, physical condition, geographic area, and bank account, the ideal first boat could be a Sunfish, a small dingy, a ballasted (self-righting) over-nighter, or small keel boat. You should have a good idea of what may work best for you by this point, having sailed with others.

6) Resist the urge to change things on the boat you buy. Sail it as it was intended to be rigged by the builder and designer for at least a season or two before you decide that you know better about how to “improve” it. Keep an open mind, and don’t assume that you need everything that all the magazines and web sites say you need. Less is often more.

7) Sail. Sail a lot. Nothing is a substitute for time in (and on) the boat. You can read and listen to all sorts of advice and opinion, but your experience needs to be the foundation of the choices you make. “Actually sailing” is THE way you need to gain experience. Continue to sail with others every chance you get.

8) When sailing on your boat, pick your days. As you start out, only sail when conditions are well within your comfort level. If conditions are getting close to uncomfortable, stay closer to port so you can get back quickly. Gradually expand your “limits”, but be patient. When conditions are close to or beyond your limits, chose that day to sail with somebody else on their boat – or perhaps bring that experienced sailor aboard your boat to help out. Or, don’t go sailing that day.

9) Be safe. Exercise good judgment. Oh, you WILL make mistakes along the way – just make sure they are small mistakes, and learn from them. Hopefully the first mistakes you will be exposed to will be on other people’s boats while racing. (…lot’s of opportunities there!). Boiled down to essentials, sailing is really nothing more than “problem solving”. So, expect problems. Be prepared.

10) Have fun! If you are not having fun, stop. It doesn’t matter what others are doing or not doing in any given conditions – if you aren’t enjoying yourself, stop …change …go a different direction ..whatever it takes. Sailing is what YOU make of it, and you are the “captain of your ship”.

Having said all that, your mileage may vary. Tom Scott, Morgan 30 Whimsy

(Editor’s comment: This Article is from the Trailer Sailor Bulletin Board, (, and reprinted here with permission from Tom Scott. Tom used to sail on Lake Sinclair and Lake Juliette when he was stationed at Warner Robins AFB from 1986-1993. He had a Precison 18 named “Alert”.)