Thinking of learning to sail? Read on to find out about where to take lessons in the UK, holidays and the Olympics
Sailing has been around for travel and fishing, but it’s only become a sport since the early 17th century. The Dutch are said to be the first nation who raced yachts for fun. They gave a ship to Charles II and the sport quickly became popular in England before being taken up in America.
Up until the second half of the 20th century, yachting was a luxury sport for the rich. However, during the 1950s and 60s, new materials became available – such as plywood – which made boat construction easier and cheaper than ever before, making the sport more accessible to everyone.
Today, it is a pastime enjoyed by millions of people worldwide – both competitively and non-competitively on lakes and rivers to the wide open ocean.
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Sailing specifically refers to the sport of using wind to power sails and propel the boat forward (rather than engines). Unlike windsurfing and surfing, the sport takes place in an enclosed boat rather than on a board.
Today it is mostly a recreational activity. There are two types of sailing – racing and cruising. Racing is the branch of yachting you will recognise from the Olympics, however cruising is probably what most people would enjoy on their holidays or on the weekends.
You can learn to sail on a yacht (usually around 9m long and can fit multiple people onboard) or a dinghy (around 2m to 4m long and fit one or two people inside).
One of the best ways to learn to sail is in a dinghy. Photo: iStock
Learning to sail takes a couple of days of tuition – but generally it’s a sport you will be able to pick up quickly in the right conditions. Gentle winds make for perfect weather for beginners.
The great thing about sailing is you can learn to sail a boat on your own from a young age. Children as young as eight years-old can learn to sail in Optimist dinghies – and many elderly folk in their 90s still go sail today.
WHERE CAN I LEARN TO SAIL IN THE UK?
You don’t have to live near the sea to learn how to sail. There are plenty of centres across the country on inland lakes and rivers, as well as coastal schools.
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the national governing body for sailing in the UK – it’s qualifications are widely recognised across the world, so if you learn to sail in the UK, you can take your certificates with you pretty much anywhere.
Despite the name, the RYA doesn’t just teach people to sail yachts – you can learn to sail single-handed dinghies as well, which is a really good way to get a proper understanding of how the wind works before you move into larger boats.
It’s a good idea to book onto a course when learning how to sail. Photo: iStock
We would recommend joining onto a beginners course or taking a couple of private lessons before taking a boat out by yourself. Most centres will require you to have at least an RYA Dinghy Level 2 before they let you hire a boat.
The RYA has a great list of registered schools for learning to sail. All you need to do is work out which course you want to do (if you are an adult, RYA Level 1 is a good place to start) then the website will help you search for your nearest training centre by typing in your postcode. It’s as simple as that.
Most beginner RYA sailing courses run for four days. For example, this beginner sailing course at at Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre in west London costs £230.
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You will be working towards gaining your RYA Level 1 and 2 dinghy qualification, which means have the basic skills to sail steer a single-handed dinghy in all wind direction and safely cast off/moor up.
From there, you can work towards your RYA Level 3 and then Seamanship skills. A great way to continue practicing your new-found skills is by racing. Ask your local club when they run friendly regattas, often anyone can join in.
WHAT SAILING GEAR DO I NEED?
When learning to sail, the number one piece of equipment I would recommend buying is a pair of neoprene shoes. You’ll wear these – rain or shine – in a dinghy. You can buy a pair from as cheap as £5 from M and M. It’s better to get a pair of longer ankle-high boots if you plan on sailing in winter.
What you wear really depends on the weather and time of year. If it’s a super hot sunny day in the middle of August and you are learning to sail on a small inland lake, then you can get away with wearing normal shorts and t-shirt.